Today is the holiest day of the year, when we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
He left heaven to enter into our pain and suffering, and show us how to live with love, passion, and abandon. And then He showed us that the triumph of life is not achieving power over others, but giving oneself up so that others could be free. He set the whole world on its head.
I hope you all have time today to think about the cross, and to remember.
A friend of mine, Rajdeep Paulus (call her “Raj”), who has written some wonderful young adult books, with Swimming Through Clouds being the first one, has also written posts for me before about teaching kids about sex. She lives in New York, with her husband Santhosh, who is a hospitalist, Family med residency site director at Huntington hospital and in charge of Northwell Health’s task force to battle human trafficking on the healthcare front. (She wrote about him, too, in a Dad’s Response to 50 Shades of Grey).
She shared this post with me which just broke my heart, and I wanted to share it with you today, that we could all be praying effectively for what is happening in our world right now, and that we will all be reminded of what it looks like, in today’s world, to live out Jesus’ command to love.
Love Letter to Dr. Paulus, aka My Sunshine, aka Bubs
These mark the North, South, East, and West of my lovers compass. Our love story is pulled in all four directions, especially during this time.
I need time with you.
Your time is drained at the hospital. I need time to talk. You need time to sleep. I need time to love you. You need time to love you. Because now I have a surplus and you watch the clock stop on lives every day. One after the other, lost to the virus that changed time for all of us.
When you knew it was going to get bad. The time when most of us were just starting to hear the word COVID19, you texted me from work. Pick up our college kid, you said. Now. I said, Now? You said, Time is critical. Get her home, you said. Now? I asked again. You got ticked. We’d talk about it when you got home, you said. So after a long day at work, you walked in and we exchanged words. Not the nice kind. I questioned your border-line hysteria, but you knew it was only a matter of time before States would go into lockdown. You questioned my rationale. I didn’t want to rush Hannah away from her friends at the already tumultuous conclusion of her sophomore year. Did you even hear me? you said.
We can slip from love and trust to anger and hurt in seconds when we’re stressed.
You weren’t right to be hurtful. But you were right about the timing and time. The girls and I left the next day and picked up Hannah. She was so brave when she hugged her friends goodbye. And when we got home and she saw you, her lip quivered. I didn’t have enough time, she said. But I listened, she said, her tears flowing. Things are about to get really bad, you said. I realize that now, she said. I’m glad you’re home, you said.
Today I sat at a red light and burst into tears. I need more time with my parents. I begged God for more time. I beg God more often these days. We get right down to business. There’s no time for hints or hide and seek. I just tell God. And when I can’t talk, my tears are my prayers.
The first night you came home from the hospital weeks ago after losing your first patient to the virus, your tears were gone. You cried on the drive home, and the red of your eyes gave you away. You said it was different than losing patients in the past. More sad somehow, but you couldn’t say for sure why.
Then the next day happened, and your sadness grew. Day after day, there’s less time for curtains. Tears escape while reading all the notes of gratitude on Social Media. Tears puddle each time the girls pray for you before dinner. And tears flow for both of us each time we talk about our parents and aunts and uncles. We don’t want to lose any of them to this. This thing. This thief of time. This trigger of tears.
You lost your first coworker today to COVID.
A nurse. A really nice guy, you said. You said spirits are down. Everyone feels closer to the collective sadness when you lose one of your own. But you can’t afford to cry while you take care of your patients. They need to see hope in your eyes. Plus, tears mess up your glasses and you can’t take the gloves off to wipe them. So you steal away for a minute when you can to process in your office. Alone together they keep saying, but alone-alone is what it feels like at times.
But not all tears are for the lost.
One of your patients who was on the doorsteps of death recovered. His breathing improved. He bounced back. Came off the vent. Got his discharge papers. Beat this thing. So the hospital staff lined the hallways all the way around the corner and clapped and cheered as he walked to the Exit. A win. You all needed it. Hope. It felt good to trust again.
I trust you with patients’ families, talking them through end of life decisions for their loved ones, tears trickling as you recount these tough moments every night. How the families trust you. How this trust—uncontested at times—wrecks you.
So the other day when you told an adult daughter she couldn’t see her dying father with all the stringent policies in place to limit the exposure and spread of the virus, she said, Okay. Through tears. No questions asked. She understood. But you couldn’t bear it. Her tears. Time slipping.
So you asked the nurse supervisor for a moment. Permission to say goodbye in person. It would be more work for everyone. Gowning up. Protective gear. Exhausted staff accompanying her. The nurse supervisor said she can’t but she couldn’t bear the weight of another No either, so she asked the next person in charge. Could we? Just this one time? For this one daughter?
And he said, Yes. So you called her back and in days of so much loss, this little win carried you. She was right to trust you. Your kindness touched her.
We had the talk last night. Trust me, you said.
We have to talk about this now, while we’re healthy and are able to make sound decisions, you said. Before any of us gets sick or is too emotional, you said. And you told me your wishes if you get sick. I didn’t cry as you spoke. I swallowed the me in the equation and focused on the you in us. I don’t want you to have to wonder what I want, you said. So I’m being clear, you said. If say, 10-14 days go by, and I’m still on a vent, take me off, you said. Don’t hold on to me if I won’t make it, you said. Trust my coworkers to guide you, you said. It shouldn’t come to this, but it could, you said, and then you walked away to get sleep. The night comes too soon and the morning sooner.
I toss and turn all night, wrestling with Jesus.
Don’t make me make that decision for him, I beg. Keep him safe, I plead. Watch him. Protect him. Surround him, I cry. God. Please.
We haven’t touched much since the virus hijacked our world. We were on a date, Ramen at Slurp out in Stony Brook a month ago. We were supposed to be at a Bulls-Magic game in Orlando, a Christmas present I bought you after I told Hannah I was going to buy you a new Bulls’ sweatshirt. Mom, you can do better, she said.
Flights cancelled and tickets sold, you still had the day off so we took the long drive out to Port Washington, and the noonday sun took the edge off the chill in the air as we walked off our meals on the boardwalk. When your phone buzzed, your face changed before you answered. You were pretty sure this call would change everything. It did.
The patient you and your team had seen less than forty-eight hours ago tested positive for COVID19. No one suspected her of the virus, so no one wore protective masks, so everyone in that room got exposed. You were told to return home immediately and self-quarantine for fourteen days. Someone would call you daily to check if you were developing any symptoms. You needed to tell your residents, umm, like yesterday.
So I drove home and you fielded calls the whole way, making a list, crossing names out, remembering one other phone call to make. Our date was over, and your actions were time sensitive. You trust the CDC.
I teared up at the loss of our time together, but I wanted you to be safe.
I wanted our family to stay safe, so I waited for your lead. I trust you, and I’m always touched by how much you care about your peers. Your patients. Our families. The girls. Me.
Those first seven days, you slept in the living room. We blew each other kisses good night. Sat on the couch with space between us as we knocked out Season Ten of The Walking Dead. And we watched. And waited. Seven days went by and you had a headache. So did I. But no one got sick. No other symptoms. The headaches were probably from stress. But thank God, no one in our house felt ill.
Then the CDC changed their recommendations again. Seven days free of symptoms, healthcare workers could return from quarantine to work.
So our time was up. Just like that. And I’ll be honest, I was kinda glad to see you go.
That probably sounds terrible of me, but the thing is, I know you. You’ve never liked the bench, especially with daily phone calls from the hospital updating you on how the numbers were rising and they were short-staffed.
TV off. Scrubs laundered. Patient lists reviewed. You were ready. But no one was ready for this health crisis that tsunami’d the world. By now we have all, in some way, been touched by COVID19.
It’s been four weeks now and you’ve been feeling fine. I’ve been fine.
So now we touch, carefully.
A little kiss here. A hug there. Sometimes a long hug when it all just gets to you. Or me. Sometimes more. Never before you’ve showered after work. Always and only after you’ve changed out of your hospital clothes. More and more each evening and morning before you return to the battlefield that is your job.
Because you need touch so you can touch others.
I need your touch so we feel connected when time is short and tears spill but trust remains.
Through it all, we press on, not because we have the perfect love story, although it’s a pretty darn good one. But because love. It’s the only thing that makes sense when nothing else does. And this tiny part might not make sense to everyone but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me: this brief time on earth isn’t long enough to finish loving someone. Making heaven, God’s best idea. An eternity is exactly how long I need to finish loving you. And my family. My friends. God.
That’s why Easter means more to me than ever.
Good Friday. Jesus dying on the cross for you and for me. Forgiveness for all the things we broke, especially each other in our broken love story. And then, three days later, God breathed life back into Jesus, because He loves us too much to leave us in our pile of broken pieces. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Most of us know the story. This. Is God’s love story to me. And holds my world together when the world around me is falling apart.
I feel held by God and I pray you feel held by him every day when you’re walking into hospital rooms. Taking care of patients. Loving people when their own loved ones can’t get to them.
To my Sunshine, my best friend, and love of my life, I love you so much, Bubs.
And when you go back to work tomorrow, let this song lift you when the weariness weighs you down: “It may seem like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You.”
God has you. And the girls and I are praying for you. There’s a whole army of friends and family lifting you and all healthcare battalions up. So keep your head up. And keep those daily #BubsInScrubs selfies coming. You got this. Cuz God’s got you.
Will you all keep Santhosh, and the rest of the frontline medical workers, in your prayers this Easter? And leave a note of encouragement in the comments for Raj, too!
Rajdeep studied English Literature at Northwestern University, and spent over a decade as an English Teacher and SAT Tutor, during which she married her best friend from Chicago whom she then followed to the island of Dominica where he began medical school. Eighteen years, four daughters, and a little house on a hill in the quaint town of Locust Valley, New York later, she now blogs weekly and writes masala-marinated, Y.A. fiction.
RAJ is a current MFA student at Stony Brook University. Check out her other writings and musings!