I imagine those of you who’ve been coming to my office and have sat in my chair are keenly aware of how much I love being a dentist. More specifically, I love being your dentist.
I regale in our personal interactions just as much as I enjoy the actual dentistry I perform for you. (Notice I said for you, not to you. A single word can make all the difference.)
Due to the Covid outbreak, I was forced to shut down my practice for over two months last year. It was singularly the greatest professional hardship I’ve ever had to endure. An out-of-body experience where I was denied the ability to practice my beloved craft for people who have become a part of my extended family.
And now I’m back! Amen and hallelujah!!! I’ve been joyfully visiting, conversing, and interacting with, and treating my patients since last June. I have rediscovered my mojo, which was on a thankfully brief hiatus.
The other day I had an epiphany of sorts. In a cathartic moment, I realized how fortunate I am. Not only do I get to visit with people every day and engage in active banter, but I also get to see their faces. Not just eyes, mind you, but entire countenances! A year ago, who would have guessed just seeing another’s face on full display and in person would be such a novelty?
Because of the measures and precautions I implemented to make my office safe: advanced filtration and aerosol mitigation systems; always-donned PPE including N95 masks, face shields, disposable surgical gowns, surgical caps; and gallons upon gallons of hand sanitizer, my patients’ facial expressions are safely and unabashedly on full display while they’re in my chair.
I see smiles, grimaces – especially after a poorly-delivered joke by yours truly – the occasional smirk and the full range of human emotions that are so sublimely communicated with just one look.
For my patients and staff, socializing up-close and personal has been a welcome respite from the restrictive life that has befallen us. And, many patients have eagerly shared their personal accounts of “Life During Covid.” As an active (and I hope) perceptive listener, I’ve noticed that almost everyone ends their Covid tale with an almost-resigned shrug – and the following words: “We’re all in the same boat.”
However, I have been pondering that oft-stated euphemism lately. And, it’s occurred to me that the metaphor, “we’re all in the same boat,” is inaccurate. In fact, we are not all in the same boat. Rather, we are all attempting to ride out the same storm in our own personal boats. Boats as different as the individuals who occupy them.
Some of us are fortunate. We’re ensconced and protected in large, comfortable, and airtight vessels. Our loved ones are close-by to serve as able crew members. We have been able to batten down the hatches and carry-on as we navigate the tumultuous waters.
Then, there are the multitudes of people working hard to remain afloat as they negotiate the peaks and valleys of the pandemic-driven swells aboard vessels of many different sizes and degrees of seaworthiness.
And finally, there are those who are alone. With nary a shipmate or crew, these singular maritime occupants have been struggling to ride out the storm in dinghies. Dinghies large enough for only one and not nearly as sea-worthy as the bounty of boats weathering the same seas.
Truth-be-told, the pandemic has had far-reaching effects on our collective lives. It has affected people in many different ways. But the unknown and unspoken-for individuals, alone and fending for themselves, are potentially the most vulnerable.
They’re the ones for whom I’m quite concerned.
What follows is something that crossed my screen the other day. It’s a Facebook post written by one of my professional friends. This post literally stopped me in my tracks. Never in a million years would I have guessed this particular person could be feeling this way. I am sharing it here anonymously for obvious reasons:
If an obviously successful professional is feeling this way despite the love of friends and family and uses Facebook as a platform to cry for help – what does it say about those who are truly alone, feeling isolated, and in despair?
Yes, the pandemic has been a catastrophe. A catastrophe filled with illness and death. Yet, at some point, it will end. At some point, it will start to become a memory. But, the aftermath for so many will be anxiety, depression, and mental illness that was born of, or intensified by, the pandemic. It will linger long after herd immunity has been achieved.
As the above Facebook post proves, there are people you know, people you assume are riding out the storm in perfectly airtight boats. – who could actually use a life preserver. Or perhaps just a message in a bottle that says:
“You are not alone. I am here for you.”
It behooves those of us who have been able to keep our ships on course to take a moment to connect with people with whom we have lost touch. So, take some time to reach out. Check-in on an old friend or acquaintance. See how they’re doing.
Do it now.
As Bill Withers sang…
“We all need someone we can lean on.”