On COVID Clouds and Silver Linings

The past few months, by any account, have been hard for us all.  I, for sure, have always been an optimist.  Rarely down or depressed, I’ve always found the silver linings to every situation.  But the cloud of COVID was different, perhaps because in its path it also destroyed all the aspects of life that allowed us to weather such storms.  Social interaction, hobbies, exercising in a gym, dining out, enjoying the weather and outdoors – all of these were hampered, if not by legislation then by fear of contracting an invisible threat.  So, for the first time in many years I found myself working hard still, but without the ability to cope in normal fashion, and hence became a little down.

I definitely recognized this in me.  Outwardly the same, but on the inside a quieter time.  I retreated into myself more, finding fun things to do alone or with my son - movies, exercising at home or in Central Park, and listening to music.  But, for a relative extrovert these things don’t always do the trick.  We miss the social interaction, the drive to do something new and exciting, the value of moving forward and not stagnating, not standing in one place too long.

But, there were silver linings, and some of these helped us crawl out and reflect on the good.  And as you search for these they were many and quite unexpected.  Being at peace with yourself and finding happiness being alone, something introverts have mastered, is a good skill for the extrovert.  So, I found long drives in my car to be fun, reflecting on life and letting my mind wander into new territories.  I started listening to music more and, yes, even dancing and singing at home to them – flashbacks to my days on an a capella group.  I wrote more, a lot more, and now have a dozen papers in various stages of publication.  I joked the other day that this is the first time since graduating fellowship that all my academic pursuits are up to date, my table clean!  And, of course I’ve relaunched this blog.

But, it was more than these things.  Friends near and far were now immediately available on Saturday night video-based hang sessions.  One group of friends, those from my hobby collecting original comic book art, includes guys from California, Maryland and here in New York, while my college friends include those from Mumbai India, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.  Other friends came out of the woodwork too, like my medical school roommate in Atlanta.  Why did we lose track of each other before this and why did we find each other again now?  We have all been brought together by the grounding nature of the pandemic — an understanding that relationships and family fundamentally matter more.

And those relationships extended to work as well.  Telemedicine turned the tables on us, allowing a glimpse into our patients’ homes.  We became their guests for a short time, seeing how they live, letting them invite us in with open arms and a great big smile - a unique angle of the doctor patient relationship we never had.  And, also at work, doctors, nurses and all other staff pitched in wherever necessary – the silos rapidly torn down to make way for collegiality and collaboration to get the job done.

Which brings us to now.  As race tension heats up nationally and indeed globally, its roots lay here too.  The COVID cloud showed us all, whether we realized it or not, that humans are susceptible; all of us, all ethnicities, all ages and gender – because we are all the same to that small unrelenting enemy.  And in that moment of realization that we are all the same and all susceptible comes a realization that we mustn’t have enemies within our ranks when there are enemies ready to pounce from outside.

So, here we are.  Uncertainty gave way to anxiety, anxiety to fear, fear to depression, depression to hope, and finally hope to awareness and a drive to reimagine ourselves and society.  The COVID cloud was the darkest we have seen, at least in my lifetime, but as with all darkness, the darker it is, the more blindingly bright the silver lining is when you finally come out.    

Until Next Time,

Srihari S. Naidu, MD

Srihari S. Naidu, MD, FACC, FAHA, FSCAI is Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at Westchester Medical Center and Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College.  He is Trustee Emeritus of Brown University, a Past Trustee of SCAI, and President-Elect of the NY Chapter of the American College of Cardiology.