The weather on the east coast is very hot and unbearably humid. My daughters like to play in the water and chase lightning bugs. We are in the midst of the summer. The calendar is about to flip to August. It sometimes feels normal.
But it’s not a normal summer. We’re all still living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear as an invisible, silent genocidal killer continues to haunt us.
And I haven’t had a complete day off since March 8th.
Three years ago, I walked away from what I thought was my dream career path and came back to healthcare so that I could bring some stability to my life and do the things I was missing, like having dinner with my family every night.
It was going well. Even after snagging a promotion and getting myself sent back to school as a result, I was working hard at balancing the two halves of my life — work and home.
Then, COVID-19 began rampaging across the globe, introducing itself to the northeast of the U.S. in early March. We were monitoring, of course, but at first everything continued as normal.
That changed on Saturday, March 14. I was enjoying a leisurely morning off when I began getting a barrage of work emails. Our CEO would be meeting with the governor in the next few days and needed some data.
Shortly thereafter, life became consumed with being both an essential worker and a parent. I was appointed as the point person for all COVID-19 reporting for our hospital, particularly the daily reporting that goes to various government agencies (you may have heard something about that recently). There were (later five) tedious, convoluted reports that needed to be submitted.
You know those charts that governors and the White House and news organizations love to flash? That’s what I provide.
Every day. No exceptions. As I would soon learn.
By Memorial Day, I had been pulling this insane schedule (as well as taking classes) for more than two months and COVID fatigue rapidly taking hold of me. I decided to take the day off. The worst of the pandemic – at least the first wave – was over. It was a holiday. I wasn’t going to open my laptop. I’d do two days worth of work on Tuesday.
It was around 10:30 that night and I was winding down. I grabbed my work cell and hit the home button, a habit that was hard to break. It showed I had a voicemail.
That’s weird, I thought. Probably just another spam call.
I listened to the voicemail. It was not spam.
“Hi, this is the state reporting office,” the voice said. “We haven’t received your numbers for today. The deadline is 11 p.m. so please enter them as soon as you can. Thank you.”
I trudged upstairs to my home office and worked as quickly as I could, but I didn’t finish until after midnight, over an hour beyond the deadline. I was disheartened, not because I had to enter the numbers or that they were late, but because I realized that there would be no breaks, even on holidays.
I’m not in the office seven days a week — I’ve been going in every other weekday the entire time — and I have taken a few days off here and there, but I’m never completely off. I have a deadline over my head every single day and there is no one else in the organization that knows how to do it (I recently wrote up the instructions and it ran for more than 2,000 words). It would just be nice to completely unplug for a day or two. We’ve taken a couple of long weekend trips, but even then I always need to pack my laptop and, at some point every day, excuse myself for a few hours to enter those numbers.
I’m not without perspective. I know I’m lucky to even have a job — that there are millions of people that would gladly trade places with me. I’m a healtchare worker, but I’m not on the frontlines. The death toll in the U.S. alone has now exceeded 150,000 and there are people working tirelessly to treat those with the disease or in creating a vaccine that will help put this nightmarish existence behind us. I’m not on the front lines, so I understand that there are people that have it much more difficult than me.
But at the same time, when I read about people day drinking on a Wednesday, finally tackling their Netflix queue, completing their long overdue home improvement projects, enjoying staycations, or, even worse, maintaining that this entire thing is an elaborate hoax, it is equal parts infuriating and frustrating.
As someone on the inside of the hospital, I’ve seen and heard things that are not just shocking, but would be literally unbelievable in virtually any other circumstance. I have colleagues that have spent three, four, even five decades working in healthcare that hadn’t seen anything like what was happening in March and April.
For us, the peak is over, but if you look at the very right, you can see a slight uptick. It’s possible that cases and deaths will rise again, much like they have in the south and the west.
COVID-19 has taken so much from so many of us. From the mundane (birthday parties) to the special (weddings; graduations) to the absolute irreplaceable (friends and loved ones), it has rampaged through our lives and our world.
And until it’s over, we can’t take even a single day off.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.