By Melanie Andrews, MD

Dr. Andrews

I sat down to write this blog post, the afternoon before it was due, after three reminder emails, and no less than four failed bribery attempts to get out of it. Dr. Wynn will read this and laugh that head shaking laugh he has, “MAndrew…” Any alumni who learned or worked under him know exactly what I’m talking about.

I had a really hard time starting this because it’s fall of 2021 and we’re … here. Still here. For many of us, COVID-19 is worse than it was last winter. Every health-related topic that came to mind seemed depressing. And everything that I could put a positive spin on seemed inauthentic. I kept thinking of who reads this, and thought largely of our alumni, my peers, so I thought perhaps, this would be for them. I suppose, it’s partly to offer support as well as extend gratitude for what I’ve gained from watching them navigate this pandemic with me — with us.

A number of my co-residents and seniors ventured to southern Illinois to practice, returning home. I think we can all relate to how difficult it can be to plead with the people you love the most. To get them to wear a mask, to get them vaccinated.

We see you Dr. Venatta. Adree was my senior in residency here, and I knew her to be nothing but kind and hardworking. Throughout the pandemic she has reliably messaged a simple guidance focusing on safety and community. Despite being in an area with low vaccination rates and climbing cases, she shows up for her patients. I’m struck by how consistently positive she communicates her position online without shaming or guilt. I’m grateful for her quiet presence reminding me to be a better human.

We’re with you Dr. Klostermann. Brian was also my senior; as our chief, he was logical and fair. He wrote a letter on behalf of his public health department, where he serves as medical director, after police presence was there for three days due to public threats over pandemic related issues. In that letter he called on his community to be kind and to show the love and empathy he knows they can show to others. I’m grateful to Brian for continuing to be rational and reasonable amidst the chaos around him and his team. He’s a good model for us all on self-restraint.

I didn’t cross paths with Dr. Ripperda, but the scheduling rule named for him is widely known here in clinic. You may have seen his name mentioned recently in IAFP or seen him on TV. His social media posts have been circulating amongst faculty and alumni, trying to spread easily digestible information on COVID. He’s been speaking on masking, vaccines, and providing updates on the severity of COVID’s impact on southern Illinois. He’s broken-down videos to help community members spot red flags for conspiracy theories and sort out unreliable sources, teaching media literacy in his own voice. He continues to be direct and present a reality while remaining an example of civil discourse.

Many days, it is easy for our efforts to feel pointless or to find ourselves lacking the empathy we’ve carried throughout our careers. I know my feelings have tended to ebb and flow throughout COVID, which I suppose is natural.

What I also know is that I do find solidarity in seeing the efforts of my peers. It’s somewhat comforting be in this terrible place together. Once I’ve taken that look around and remembered we’re all having a rough time, we’re all fighting, there seems to be just the slightest bit of reprieve from the struggle. I’m grateful for the strength of our alumni and our department, as I’m able to take so much from them when I need it most. I’d encourage you to reflect on what you have gained or learned from our peers during COVID.

I’ll leave you with a prayer by Laura Jean Truman. It hangs in my office on the wall near my phone where I see it when I return angry patient phone calls. I’ve found it a frequent helpful reminder:

Keep my anger from becoming meanness.

Keep my sorrow from collapsing into self-pity.

Keep my heart soft enough to keep breaking.

Keep my anger turned towards justice, not cruelty.

Remind me that all of this, every bit of it is for love.

Keep me fiercely kind.

About the Author

Dr. Melanie Andrews is the Family Medical Center Director and a Clinical Assistant Professor.