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Silver Linings of the Pandemic

Blue sky with heart shaped form by cloudThe Great Influenza—the deadliest pandemic ever—was first reported in 1918 in the sparsely populated county of Haskell, Kan. This was an H1N1 flu virus that likely mutated in a pig and spread to humans on a farm in the southwestern corner of Kansas.
Subsequently, a few new recruits from Haskell County reported to Camp Funston, located within Fort Riley, near Manhattan, Kan. At this camp, 56,000 U.S. soldiers were in training, waiting to be shipped out to Europe to fight in World War I (WWI).
At least one of these young volunteers from rural Kansas unknowingly carried the novel and lethal virus on arrival to Fort Riley. He went on to infect some of his fellow recruits, many of whom fell ill in transit to, or shortly after arriving in France.
From there, the contagious virus spread like wildfire around the globe. The Great Influenza eventually infected about 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population. It killed at least 50 million individuals, including 675,000 Americans, at a time when the world’s population was only one-fifth of what it is today.
My grandparents were born between 1903 and 1908. They survived the Great Influenza, and then suffered through WWI, the Great Depression, and World War II (WWII).
Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. My grandmothers always seemed to be happy and hardy, strong women of family and faith. On the other hand, one of my grandfathers died of alcoholism shortly after WWII, and alcohol nearly killed my other grandfather before he “quit the drink for good.”
In early March 2020, we suddenly found ourselves in an unimaginably dire worldwide catastrophe, and now we’re living through perhaps the worst “tough time” of our collective lives. The weight of this crisis can crush us—or it can make us stronger. Look at what our grandparents lived through—it’s not for nothing that they are called the Greatest Generation.
Our current pandemic has presented us with ongoing challenges and disruptions. It’s easy to get dragged down, especially with the sensationalized negativity on the news. Alternatively, we can offer ourselves a perspective shift by looking for things that may have actually changed for the better, and things for which we are grateful. With this thought in mind, I asked my friends, family, and co-workers if they had found any silver linings in the black clouds we’ve been living under in 2020, and here’s what they said:
Christina LeGay:
“With gyms closed, my fiancé and I turned to the outdoors and at-home workouts, which have included a lot of yoga. Through all the uncertainty at the start of the pandemic, and now the second-wave, yoga has connected us in a new way and allows us both to center ourselves. One of the most empowering quotes from our favorite online yoga instructor is, ‘All the strength and energy you need resides within you.’ I have repeated that many times to myself since and have shared it with friends and family.”
Allen Jetmore, MD:
“People are riding bikes like crazy, and fishing too. There have not been so many kids fishing since the 1950s!”
Ryan Holiday:
“As much as time has blurred together for some of us, it’s also slowed down. Don’t you feel like you’ve been really living lately—even though you’re doing less? You’re more focused. You’re more rooted. You know what matters.”
Randy Thompson, MD:
“The pandemic has forced me to slow down my overly busy life. I’ve been able to spend more time with my wife and adult children, to sleep properly and to exercise more regularly. Despite the stress around us, with respect to our health and sense of well-being we’re doing better than before the pandemic.”
Andrew Kao, MD:
“One of the biggest impressions or surprises for me has been the number of patients who go out of their way to ask how I am doing and to urge me to please stay safe. We have all dedicated our careers to caring for others, never expecting anything in return. These genuine expressions of concern and encouragement from patients have been so touching and very much appreciated. It gives me the extra energy to keep soldiering on, doing what I am trained to do.”
Shaun Hamontree:
“When we, like many others became victims of the various financial and social burdens that the pandemic brought, my amazing wife and I chose to embrace the tactile all around us. The feel of soil. The real smell of a flower. One note on a piano that you let completely ring out. Staring at my dog’s eyes and noticing her pretty chestnut colored speckles. Over the past months I’ve noticed how we’ve both slowed down and relished our moments, both together and in our individual endeavors. And while the stresses are very much there, they’re now muted by a home full of slow-brewed love and music we are creating ourselves. These simple pleasures have always been here, we just never stopped and noticed them until now.”
Tracy Stevens, MD:
“Because of the pandemic, we now have a new member of our family - Hank. We lost our family dog over a year ago. Our son Alex brought home an orphaned shelter dog to foster for the weekend. Hank stole our hearts and we adopted him for good; he has brought us such laughter and pleasure since then. Brian and I escaped to our farm a number of times, and I relearned how to sit quietly and listen to the sounds of nature. I can’t recall the last time I just stared up at all the beautiful stars. The experience has been the best treatment for my blood pressure.
As a member of SLCC for over 23 years, I have never been prouder to be part of this amazing group. My colleagues have shown unmatched resilience in addressing the challenges in health care brought on by the pandemic. Although we are working harder than ever, we remain committed to our patients, community, and each other.
The pandemic has also given me an opportunity to visit patients in their homes via virtual visits. I have been able to meet other members of their families, including their four-legged family members who insisted on being part of the visit. I have been given virtual tours in their homes, have seen the family photos and have heard some of the greatest fishing stories after seeing the fish mounts on the walls!”
Laura Schmidt, MD:
“My twins, Eva and Vivian, are getting along so much better now than they were pre-pandemic. They used to bicker and pick on each other constantly; six months at home with only each other has made them best friends. We’re cooking more and eating healthier. We’re now better about making a meal plan and grocery list. By not traveling and eating out, we saved some cash too. Staycations meant finding new ways to have fun at home. I had always wanted to get into gardening and didn’t have the time to do so. My gardens this year were the best they’ve ever been, and I learned again how much I love being outside puttering in the garden.”
Katie O’Keefe, Licensed Professional Counselor:
“With my work as a psychotherapist now on a telehealth platform, I can work virtually anywhere, which means I can spend weeks at a time with my mother in North Dakota. And without a commute time and a much lighter ‘social calendar,’ I have been able to enjoy more play time — hiking, knitting, painting, cooking, more time outdoors, and even neighborhood pickle ball! Prior to the pandemic, with life in full swing, it was more of a challenge to find that healthy work/life balance. As a society, the brightest and most far-reaching silver lining has been our focus on, and boosting of, wellness efforts. The pandemic has exposed just how pervasive our collective struggles are with anxiety, depression, and substance use. Having been stigmatized for far too long, we are now talking much more openly about mental health and wellness. The silver lining here is how people are sharing, seeking out support, and learning new strategies for living and thriving.”
Felice Gersh, MD:
“As COVID took hold, my career was ultra-busy, with a full-time medical practice and frequent lecturing at conferences. COVID initially slowed my medical practice, and all the conferences I was slated to speak at went virtual, ending my travels and reducing my workload. These changes suddenly provided more time for other activities—leisurely outdoor lunches, hiking local trails, reading books I’d had no time for, and the opportunity to write articles for medical journals. We have this amazing gift—our lives. We can live only in the moment. Facing a pandemic with its potential to steal our lives or those of our loved ones, can lead to fear and inaction, or can enable us to live each day with more awareness and gratitude for what is real and meaningful to us...and that is what I have endeavored to do, and to more deeply appreciate everything and everyone...each and every day of my life.”
Peggy Panis:
“Thank God for technology. Video chat and FaceTime were a game-changer when my dad was in the hospital without visitors. We were able to have conversations with the doctors when they made rounds. Seeing and hearing friends and family made the pandemic feel less isolating.”
Joseph Glynn:
“Pre-COVID, my work required significant travel. Along with the rest of the world, my business travel came to a crashing halt. My wife, Kerry, was always working from home, but now our son Daniel was home from college doing virtual classes, and son Jack was working from our home too. It was wonderful; we had more together time as a family. Homemade pizza, with everyone helping in a festive manner, became a Friday norm. At quitting time, Jack and Daniel would have the soccer ball or badminton rackets out in the backyard. Kerry and I found solitude hiking and biking on obscure trails deeper in the foothills near our Boulder, Colo., home.”
In Good Health,
James O’Keefe, MD, FACC