The Year That Wasn’t

I knew from the start that 2020 was going to be a good year.

I had finished my first few months of attendinghood, and I was finally starting to get into a rhythm. My schedule was full, I was confident in procedures, and I was getting excellent feedback from my patients as they improved. Furthermore, our finances were starting to stabilize and I had the ability to throw money at retirement accounts and college savings without having to scramble to do it at the end of the year.

I kept my nose to the grindstone for most of the spring; I wanted to keep the momentum that I had spent all winter building. In early April I finally took some time off. We rented an Airbnb on the North Carolina coast and moved our little family there for a full week. I had vivid memories of staying in a beach house with hot tub as a young child and it was the COOLEST, so we made sure that that box was checked. We rented two stroller bikes that were our sole form of transportation for all six days. I actually managed to lose a few pounds which is actually pretty unheard of on vacation.

In May my wife took a much needed break from full-time motherhood and drove out for a long weekend to spend with some friends. There was a bit of a learning curve becoming the stay-at-home parent even for just a few days but it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with our older boy in a way that’s difficult when mom is around.

June and July were full of day camps and trips to the pool. I normally don’t like to lay out in the sun but the summer was mild and I was able to enjoy myself. I’ve always had trouble reading at home, so I even got some recreational reading done over the course of several lazy afternoons and weekends. My mom and dad came down a few times to look after the boys so we could escape for regular dinner dates and movies.

In August we took our first big trip as a family of four: Niagara Falls. We took an extended detour through Pittsburgh to meet up with some college friends, and then continued on to Buffalo.

To say they are incredible is an understatement. I had a good idea of how big the drop was, but the width of Horseshoe Falls is something that cannot be appreciated until you’re standing next to them. And the sound!

In September we flew out to Colorado for the wedding of one of my wife’s cousins. I had only been to Denver once before when I was interviewing for anesthesia residency, so it was nice to see the city just for pleasure without that pressure in the back of my mind. The ceremony was small but vibrant, and the weather was clear and perfect. October was another wedding, this one at farmhouse in Virginia. I got to sing karaoke in front of a crowd for the first time in years and there was more than one standing ovation.

In November I finally went to my first ASRA conference. We were able to leave the boys with my in-laws, so Mrs. PIB was able to tag along and see Las Vegas for the first time. I usually don’t spring for shows or fine dining when I’m out there solo, but we obviously wanted to make the most of it. We saw the Circ du Soleil Beatles show and I had the best sushi I have ever eaten in my life (and real wasabi! not the green-dyed horseradish you usually get). We spared no expense, made easier by the fact that my annual bonus posted while we were out there.

Now it’s December. My practice is still in full swing but work is nicely balanced with my home life. I’m starting to get more involved with side-projects at work, but nothing that is keeping me late or taking my away from my family on the weekends. My folks are coming into town next week and will stay through Christmas, which is really important to me because they’re starting to get up there and I really want our kids to have every moment possible with them. Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better 2020.

Of course, none of this happened.

A small strand of RNA with a lipid bilayer burned across the world and laid to waste the plans of nearly 8 billion people.

I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Even as a healthcare worker my job and income has remained largely undisrupted, and my immediate family and I have stayed safe and healthy so far. But like everyone else, there have been travel plans obliterated, weddings uncelebrated, and family members un-hugged.

I lost my father in July and while he didn’t have COVID, the strained resources of the larger medical system absolutely contributed. As a consequence, grief and loss has weighed heavily on my mind for the past many months. I suspect that at this point, we have all lost someone either directly or indirectly as a result of this pandemic. But we’ve also lost a year of the lives we thought we would have. A year of our existence that we were counting on. It isn’t as simple as saying, “You just had to give up restaurants and airplanes for a while.” We’ve all had a bit of ourselves uprooted and scrambled at best, and millions of us have lost much more than that. This justifies a degree of mourning in its own right, over and above our more concrete and specific losses.

I think like any loss this will take time to fully process. But in the meantime, we should allow ourselves the feelings of disquiet that are sure to continue and not feel guilty that they are overblown. We’ve had something important taken from us, and ‘normal’ will take time.

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