COVID-19: A change of pace...

Apr 9, 2020

Last week I received an email from a patient with one word as the subject line: Walleye. Boy was that word a spark for me. The first memory was driving eight hours with a group of friends after exam week during medical school to Lac Vieux Desert in upper Wisconsin to go fishing for Walleye and Northerns. Ben’s rod was so big it looked like he’d just come back from marlin fishing on the Atlantic—he was down in Miami for college. And as many times as we fished, Eric never got a nibble on that huge Muskie lure. A true angler. My mind then drifted to a memory of my boys and me fishing in Florida for whatever we could find on a Spring Break respite from the Chicago winter. And then my mind landed on Dr. Dan, who’s favorite hobby is bass fishing with anyone who will join him.

Words have a way of doing this for us. A single word can hold such power. Words that meant nothing to us four weeks ago are now heavy with so much more. Ventilator. PPE. Social distancing. Even the word mask. A month ago when you heard that word what would you have thought of? I wouldn’t have said, “N95,” I’d have gone with Batman

Yes, it’s not easy being cooped up in a house for most of the day, separated from family, friends and enjoyable hobbies. We’re doing the best we can with home schooling, remote work, bingeing on Netflix (what is the deal with that tiger show?) and trying to stay active.

When was the last time, though, that you just immersed yourself in your memories? Good ones. Are they, for you, sparked by words? Maybe they’re words from a poem. When our son was born, he was in the pediatric ICU for a few days. I would sit by his side and read the Blake poem, “The Tyger” to him over and over. “Tyger tyger, burning bright…” That poem is burned in my memory in a good way, as I know the answer to Blake’s question I kept asking Michael, “Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?” Yes! Is there a poem or book from the past that sparks joy for you? Buy it from an independent bookstore and read it.

For a lot of us, memories are sparked by pictures: Family portraits. Prom. Baby’s first birthday. When did you last look through your wedding album? Or pop open your phone and scroll to the top to the time of a long ago favorite vacation, a trip with an old friend or a Stanley Cup Championship celebrated with loved ones. In the photo at the top, Steph is sitting at her table with her boys. When she saw this picture it sparked two memories, one a bit somber as it was on her birthday that her son’s school went on lockdown and Harper Health decided to close to non-urgent visits. While this created some anxiety in her, the boys were “blissfully unaware” of the changes and happy as clams she was home. As Steph puts it, “joy bears our burdens in challenging times.”

Can you sit there with your photos? Feel what it was like to be there in the those times. Embrace the memories. Feel joy. Smile.

Maybe your memories can be prompted by smell. My dad has used the same aftershave lotion for years if not decades. Whenever I go to my parents’ home in San Jose there’s a distinctive smell that tells me, “I’m back.” I sometimes smell it when I’m nowhere near California, but it always brings me home. For Priscilla it's her grandmother's sweet potato pie. The smell. The taste. When she makes it now -- never as good as grandma's -- she's right back in the kitchen with her and the rest of the family.

What smell does it for you? Is it a flower? A candle? A cologne? A food? Can you find it?  Can you make your sweet potato pie? 

Your joy may be sparked by a sound. The sound of waves of high tide crashing on the sand. Maybe for you, the grinding of metal wheels on the track as an “L” train makes a sharp turn brings you back to that dumpy apartment you shared with your buddies after graduation. For Dr. Dan, the sound of a loon will take him to Minocqua, Wisconsin on a boat with Aiden, birds singing, water calm, creating a shared passion for fishing with his son. "There's a serenity that the memories encapsulate that is hard to equal for me."

Music lifts spirits for a lot of people; I know it does for my kids. There’s a Coldplay album from 2005 that was a favorite of Michael, my oldest. At the time it came out I was driving from the northwest limits of the city down to Hyde Park, me for work and him for preschool. We listened to that album over and over again. Anytime I hear a song from that album it brings me back to that car, with me in the front seat and him in a car seat in the back, singing those songs together.

Is there a song that does it for you? A GnR anthem from your teenage high school party days? Put it on. Mozart’s 21st at the CSO with Barenboim on the piano? Put it on. Is it the song for the first dance at your wedding? (James Taylor’s “My Romance” for us and for Dr. Meg and Sean it’s “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green.) Put your song on, grab your spouse and take a spin. Feel the memory.

So when I opened the email last week I was hoping for a picture of Jim holding up a 3 pounder, but alas, he was only telling me what he was having for dinner, while wishing us the best as we navigate this uncertain time. It’s okay though. Thank you, Jim, for the spark. I loved the memories it evoked.

In the comments below, post something that sparks for you a joyful memory. Something that brings you back. 
- Post a photo. You can tell us the story behind it if you want, but just knowing the photo has meaning for you is enough. Or
- Post the name of your book or poem. Or
- Post the story of the sound or the smell that sparks a smile for you.

It’s a strange time, but there is joy in all of us. A pandemic of joy in our memories. It's okay to share this pandemic with us. 

More to come,

Dr. Will and the HH team.

Sign up below to join our newsletter