A Letter to ColleaguesMark Earnest, MD, PhD Sep 7, 2021
The following message was written by Dr. Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, division head of the Division of General Internal Medicine, to the Internal Medicine faculty. It is a beautifully written message that resonates with all of us.
Dear GIM Colleagues,
I hope you all have managed to enjoy the 2-ish months of near-normalcy we’ve had this summer. I know I have. After more than a year of isolation, it felt strange at first to gather with friends, eat in a restaurant, or board a plane. Mostly it felt wonderful. For a few brief weeks, it seemed like normal would be arriving soon. Then came the delta variant and another surge. (Not to mention a host of other disturbing events on the nightly news.)
I’ve been struggling to find words to describe my reaction to that sudden change of momentum and expectations. “Disappointed” feels a little too mild. “Angry” has been a hotter word than I’ve felt comfortable claiming. To date, I can find nothing in the word “tired” to disagree with.
Things look and feel very different from the first surge – when neighbors howled their encouragement from porches every evening and children rendered thank you’s in chalk on sidewalks. In that first round, it felt like everyone was focused on the same opponent: SARS CoV-2. We were all marching in the same direction. With the end of the pandemic within our reach, it’s hard to tell what some people are fighting for. Everyone is tired, that much is clear.
My struggle for the right words was clarified last week when I found myself with an unvaccinated, high-risk patient that I’ve cared for years. Her ambivalence and blasé response to the question of vaccination triggered me in a way I didn’t expect. Commingled with my concern for her was anger. Anger at her for her indifference as well as anger toward everyone that has fed it. I spent twice the 20 minutes allotted for her visit to try to break through her resistance. In the end, she said she thought she would get the vaccine, but that she wanted more time to think about it. As I walked out the door, she said “Thank you. I know that you care about me. That’s why I’m here and why I want to hear what you have to say about it.”
The next day, listening to Ezra Klein interview author George Sanders, a comment grabbed me. “Kindness is the only non-delusional response to the human condition.”
Those words have challenged me. My thoughts in that encounter were not kind. I hope my words and actions were. My anger and frustration, I realize, serves no one. Giving it voice will not increase our vaccination numbers by even one arm. Kindness, if I can summon it, just might.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of this division. You are an exceptional group of professionals who have met every challenge, twist, and turn of the past 18 months with compassion, commitment, creativity, and yes, with kindness. Among the feelings of disappointment and well-earned fatigue, I hope you can continue to find space for kindness. Most importantly, kindness for yourselves and each other. If we can manage that, there should be enough left over for everyone else who needs it.
I hope you will all continue to do what you’ve always done so well: taking care of yourselves and each other as you care for your families and our patients. If you are finding that difficult to do, please find someone with whom you can share your burden. My door is always open.