A letter to my car dealership – Your business scared me today (so I have some COVID19 advice for you)

As a longtime customer of your dealership, a physician, and a concerned citizen I wanted to reach out to you to talk about the experience I had today when I picked up my car. Please know that this is not an attempt to complain – it’s an attempt to explain – and hopefully make you, your family, your employees and your customers a little safer.

I woke up this morning excited I’d be getting my car back today! Since I realized I didn’t want to expose or be exposed to anyone that wasn’t necessary, I called ahead to pay online (thank you for making that possible!). But, once I got to the dealership… well, it just wasn’t safe.

I stood outside while someone went inside to start the process of checking me out … and here’s what happened – which is what prompted me to write you this letter:

  • I watched as one of your customers, who was clearly in at least two, if not more, high-risk groups walked up the ramp. She was passed by an employee coming down the ramp, who passed her shoulder-to-shoulder. The employee’s mask was on their face, but below their nose.
  • I watched as the service folks checked in two people who both had masks on properly (as did your employees). But they walked up to them and held out their hand to take keys, which meant they were within 2-3 feet of each other.
  • The service employee who checked me out came out with papers and then handed me a pen – which I suspect they had been using all day – and stood right next to me. When I shook my head and asked if there was another way to do this, they said “I can get you hand sanitizer”… and then “We know it’s coming again.”
  • When my car was returned to me, the employee who drove it up to me had a mask on – around their neck. The windows were up and there was no smell or sign of any disinfectant. They walked up to me (2 feet away) and reached out to hand me my key (which I put into a ziplock bag I had brought for this purpose).
  • As I was leaving, an employee walked by with their valved mask on… around their neck. Two strikes! These valved masks are being sold because it’s “easier to breathe” but that’s because all the air you breath out escapes… with the virus. So, they have no benefit at all.

Let’s break this down… and I hope this will help you and other businesses to think about this in a way that makes sense. We all want businesses to open – and stay open! So working together to prevent more spread of this deadly virus just makes sense. What’s making this hard for some people is how politicized this has become. But, it’s important to know that this virus doesn’t care how you vote or what you think. This is just medicine, science and common sense.  

The official CDC recommendations can be found here, but here’s how I would translate them for your employees i.e. what I would post somewhere if I were in your shoes:

Assume everyone you meet has COVID19

Unlike other viruses, you can be infected for up to 6 days before you feel sick. During that time, you can infect other people. Which means that everyone you meet could be infected… whether or not they are ill. If there is nothing else your employees remember, they should remember this.

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If anyone with COVID 19 coughs on their hands, touches something and then you touch it (followed by touching your face), you can become infected.

This is not the primary way this virus spreads but it can spread this way. (This is why it was so upsetting to be handed a pen.) I also wish the person who returned my car had a spray bottle of disinfectant with them. I sure would have felt better if they got out of the car, sprayed down the seat and steering wheel and then wiped it off. Oh, by the way, once COVID19 is on a surface (depending on what the surface is made of) it can last for up to three days. That’s why it’s so important to disinfect surfaces frequently and wash our hands after we touch anything that hasn’t just been disinfected.

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If anyone with COVI9 talks, yells, speaks, coughs or sneezes in a closed space, the virus can hang in the air for up to 3 hours. If you walk into that space during that time, you can become infected.

I can’t think of a worse closed space for COVID19 than inside a car! It’s true for any room, including your office space, but this is why I was perplexed when the person who returned my car didn’t have their facemask on. This is also why there is a “6 foot” rule and why we wear masks. (By the way, it’s not either-or, it’s both). We wear masks to protect others, not us… which means if we all do it, we’re are all protecting each other. (That’s also why you shouldn’t let any employee wear a valved mask) We stand at least 6 feet away from each other because the viral load will be much lower if we are talking to someone who is infected. By the way, the aerosol an infected person produces when they sneeze can travel up to 20 feet … and, remember, those viral particles can remain in the air up to three hours.

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Most of us will probably be infected eventually, but that’s not relevant.

I understand that in the face of such a terrible disease there is a tendency to just throw up your hands. I’m sure that’s why your employee told me “We know there’s another wave coming”.

But here’s the deal – every day we postpone any one of us getting COVID19 (or preventing it, if all goes well!) is one day closer to a vaccine.

With every day that goes by, we also understand more about COVID19 and how to treat it… so the odds of not needing the hospital, ICU, or morgue goes up.

For every case we prevent, we are actually preventing many, many more cases because of how this spreads.

There’s also the part about just being a good person; You don’t want to be the person who bends the rules, gets sick and then infects family, friends or customers.

You have a wonderful dealership and I will continue to be an enthusiastic customer. Your service is incredible, your employees are kind. Stay safe, stay well, and thanks for giving me an opportunity to share this information with you and for others.

Sincerely,

Mary L. Brandt, MD

Loving Us Back to Together

I have such sorrow, such a heavy heart. How, on the same day we mourn those who died fighting for our freedom should we have to mourn 100,000 mostly preventable deaths from #COVID19?

Link to video of the NYT front page

How can people justify gathering together like this party in Missouri?

Parties like this will almost surely lead to COVID19 infections…. and deaths. Probably not death for the people who attended parties like this one, but the death of their grandparents, their friends recovering from cancer, the doctors and nurses who see them and take care of them when they fall ill from COVID19.

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This is not hard. COVID19 is a very infectious virus that spreads between us when we breath, cough, sneeze or sing near each other. We just have to decrease the time we are together, the distance between us, and cover our nose and mouth when we are with other people if we want to protect each other.

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Disregarding the science behind how to deal with this pandemic is like standing in front of a burning building and telling the firefighters as they arrive that there isn’t really a fire.

There is a fire, friends. It will stop eventually, as we get better and better at treating and preventing the spread of COVID19, but for right now… our house is on fire.

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I recently listened to the first episode of Nadia-Bolz Weber’s new podcast ““The Confessional”. In that episode, she interviewed Megan-Phelps Roper who grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Megan’s “job” for the church, along with picketing synagogues, the LGBTQ community and the funerals of American soldiers killed in the Middle East, was to use Twitter to spread the hateful beliefs of the church. And boy was she successful.

But then something changed. Instead of being yelled at on Twitter by people who (justifiably) found the behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church abhorrent, she was befriended by someone who was kind to her. I’ll let you read this article, her book, or listen to the podcast, but through the kindness of her new Twitter friend she was able to have space to think without being judged… which led her to a place of love rather than hate.

As I thought about the angry responses to some of my recent Twitter posts, some of which I can’t even share here because of the language, I realized that “yelling”, in person or online never leads anywhere. If we are to get through this time together, and alive, we have to be kind to each other – in person and online. We have to see through the rhetoric and understand that anger often comes from a place of fear. We have to acknowledge that we are all afraid… and that we are all in this together.

Wear your mask. Stay home when you can. Stay at least 6 feet apart. And, please… be kind.  

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Self care in the time of #COVID19

It’s so important, and so very hard, to care for yourself when times are tough. When routines are disrupted and fear and anxiety are present, our usual ways of caring for ourselves seem to (appropriately) fly out the window.  So, here are some ways to think about caring for yourself in the time of COVID19, whether you are working (at home or in the hospital) or isolated at home.

Connect with nature. Long after this pandemic is over, the earth will still be here and spring will continue to happen every year. Make sure you get a good dose of the smell of grass, the sight of a blue sky, the feeling of a cool breeze on your face at least once a day (but hopefully more).

Move. It’s normal that workout schedules are disrupted right now, but it’s not a good time to completely give up on your physical wellbeing. There is nothing good about being sedentary – not only does it make you feel physically bad, it also contributes to sadness and anxiety. A good, brisk walk outside may be the best “workout” right now since it combines movement and getting a dose of nature… but please make sure you practice social distancing and stay six feet away from everyone.

Eat well and enjoy good chocolate. You may be limited in your choices and your ability to get real food, but do your best. This is not a good time to succumb to the junk food as comfort food diet. Nor is it a good time to be overly restrictive. Splurge on small doses of the foods that make you feel comforted, but make sure it’s the best version of that food possible! Now is not the time for cheap chocolate… just sayin’.

Keep your spaces clean. Our homes need to be a safe sanctuary now more than ever, and that means we need to know they are clean. In addition to creating a ritual to enter your home, come up with a plan to keep your home neat and cleaner than usual. If it helps, what we’ve done is set a mindfulness timer to ring 3 random bells an hour when we are home. Every time it rings, we do one small bit of cleaning (or one set of an exercise) e.g. vacuum one room, clean the countertops, wipe off all door handles or do some pushups. What you lose in efficiency is made up for by breaking up an otherwise boring task and by the “surprise” of the random “request”.

Dose your news. We need to know what’s happening, but we don’t need to know it all the time. The human brain doesn’t like being continually bombarded with potentially dangerous information. It promotes the physiologic stress response and pushes us towards fight, flight or freeze… none of which are helpful in this time. I love Twitter, but I have to be careful right now… it can be an echo chamber of sadness and stress. The news I’ve found that is the most informative, most accurate and least stressful is the PBS News Hour.

Guard your spirit. Find a place and a way to keep your heart full, your #EyesOpen and your compassion alive. This is not a sprint… it’s clear we are in this new world of COVID for a while. #WeNeedYou so please protect yourself in body, mind and soul.

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#CareForTheHealers – “Guard Your Spirit”

Taking care of patients in this time is beyond stressful. I’m keeping my eye out for anything that might help support healers of all kinds. This was sent to me today and I found it profoundly helpful. Take 5 minutes to listen to this amazing professor, pastor and friend.

This video was made for the students of Illiff School of Theology by Dr. Cathie Kelsey. Although the specific examples she uses are from the Christian faith, the practice she teaches in this video can use text from any religious tradition, or no religion at all – perhaps a poem, a quote, or an inspiring song?

The Importance of Ritual in the time of #COVID19

If you are a healer (which I think is much better than ‘provider’, right?) you are going to work afraid, and you come home afraid… which is completely normal. Being brave doesn’t mean being fearless, it means doing what is needed despite the fear.

But in this fearful time and with the incredibly important work you are doing, it’s important that your home becomes a sanctuary, a safe place where you can let go of a little of the fear.

Let’s start with banishing #COVID19 from your home.

I know that the chances you have any virus in your house is slim to none, but let’s start with a (literally) clean slate. If you don’t have one of the commercial products known to be effective against COVID19, mix up a dilute Clorox solution (4 tsp bleach in a quart of water). Put it in a spray bottle, use a rag, but clean all the surfaces in your home. Be deliberate, be excessive, be sure that you’ve gotten all the surfaces that you might have touched.

Then the ritual

When you come home from work, the first thing you should see is a sign on the door you enter. It should be a reminder that you are loved, that you are appreciated for your bravery and your work … and that the first thing you should do is wash your hands!

Take off your shoes

If you have on the shoes you wore in the hospital, take them off in the garage before you go into the house. You may want to consider having a pair of shoes you leave at the hospital, but what ever pair is on your feet when you get home, leave them in the garage or at the door.

Wash your hands

Without touching anything in the house, go to the closest sink and wash away the day. 20 seconds. Soap. All the surfaces of your hand.

Turn on some music

Whatever inspires or soothes.

Take a shower

This really isn’t about decontamination, it’s more about ritual. Wash off the day – literally.

I’s important that your home feels safe to you when you come in from doing the hard work of caring for others.  Following this ritual (or your own variation) will help sustain you.

Stay safe friends, and keep looking for joy. #EyesOpen

#EyesOpen

Like you, I’m surrounded and sometimes overwhelmed with the fears and anxieties of the COVID19 pandemic. The world seems so very fragile and vulnerable right now. This morning was tougher than usual for some reason. So…. I got out of my chair, put on my shoes and went for a walk trying to look, with eyes open, for things to sustain me, connect me and provide solace.

Here’s what I heard on my walk …

A virtuoso mockingbird singing to the world (and, I assume, a few cute nearby mockingbirds), six different languages from people walking near me (I love Houston!)… friendly “hellos” from almost everyone I passed (all more than 6 feet away)…

Here’s what I saw on my walk…

A magnificent tree that I had never really noticed before… a family rescuing a caterpillar from the street with a stick… small purple flowers in the grass… kids on bikes… a butterfly garden in a “pocket” prairie…

Here’s what I learned …

Fear is gone when gratitude is present. They can’t be present at the same time.

It’s therapeutic to spend a little time with your #EyesOpen, preferably outside.

If you are a healer, thank you for what you are doing and stay safe. I’ll hold you in the light.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

Did you ever wonder why Christmas is on December 25th? … or why we decorate pine trees if Jesus was born in the Middle East? To make the long story short (while begging forgiveness from my theology professors for the oversimplification), it has to do with the Roman Empire adopting Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. When the Romans moved to conquer what is now England and Germany, the people they were conquering were more than a little reluctant to give up their celebration of the solstice and their understanding of the wonder of trees…. so the two religions “merged”, allowing these symbols to become part of the Christian tradition.

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And what about the 12 days of Christmas? Christmas (the religious holiday, not the shopping season) starts on December 25th and ends twelve days later on January 6th (Epiphany)… hence 12 days.

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As I thought about the holiday season, and the 12 days of Christmas, I came up with a different idea to celebrate this season… What if we all started a new tradition of donating a small amount to worthy groups for twelve days?  

I’ve listed twelve of my favorite charities below, but feel free to come up with your own. Even if you donate a few dollars to each one, you are celebrating the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Solstice in a powerful way.

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers). This amazing group takes medical care into parts of the world where no one else will go. Their entire charter is worth reading, but they live by “observing neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
  2. Your local food bank. Whatever preconceived notion you might have about hunger in America is almost surely wrong. So many families, Seniors and disabled folx rely on food banks. Make this year a time to learn more about hunger in America and donate to feed your neighbors.
  3. A local animal shelter. Kindness to animals is the mark of a compassionate heart.
  4. Neighborhood initiatives. Regardless of your own religious background, or lack thereof, mosques, churches, temples, and synagogues seek to help those in need. Find the places of worship in your neighborhood,  look online to see what good works they are doing, and donate to help them. Better yet, take your donation in person to meet your neighbor and thank them for their work.
  5. Donate to help fight discrimination and oppression. There are so many important groups working for justice, a particularly important mission during this time of conflict and division. Consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, RAICES, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU or other groups focusing on justice for all.
  6. Action Against Hunger.  This group spends 94% of the money they raise in 47 countries to “take decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger.”
  7. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. You can also donate to local shelters for the homeless, or programs like Healthcare for the Homeless in your town or city.
  8. Prevent Child Abuse America. As someone who works with abused children, I would also encourage you to donate to the chaplain program at your local children’s hospital. The chaplains see the specific needs of these children – but more often than not don’t have resources to provide meal vouchers, toys or clothes to help a family during these moments of tragedy and pain.
  9. Consider donating to a group that is working to stop climate change, or other groups that advocate for and protect our natural resources such as the American Bird Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Make sure an isolated senior has a visitor and food by donating to Meals on Wheels.
  11. Time. If you don’t have money to donate, make a commitment to volunteer with a local group to help others. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
  12. I am personally involved with FAM Houston (consider this my COI declaration!), a group that inspires me through their mission of “working for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants, and local Houstonians.” Through building friendships and creating community they show that any light, no matter how small, is a miracle of love. If you are in need of a worthy group for your twelfth day of Christmas donation, please consider them!

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Last minute holiday gifts for busy people in your life

There’s still time!

If you have a medical student, resident, physician or anyone who is super busy in your family, here are few last minute gift ideas for you….

A Letter

I’m starting with this one because even though it’s obvious, we forget the power of stories in our lives to heal and support each other. Consider writing a long letter with stories about how they inspire you, when they decided on their career, funny events, etc.  Stress joy, humor… and gratitude.

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Spotify and/or Pandora without commercials

Many of us study with music, and most of us work (at least sometimes) with music in the background. These two platforms are currently the most used in the hospital. Being able to listen to the music of your choice without commercials is a great gift!

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InstantPot

Of all the cooking appliances and gifts, this one is the best for people who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time. Even if you have to wrap the “IOU” (i.e. a picture of the InstantPot), it will be a very appreciated gift!

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A clean home

No one likes to clean their home, but all of us need this!  Even if it’s a deep clean every 3 months for a year, this is a great gift for anyone. Although there are professional services you can find, consider contacting local places of worship or non-profit organizations who may know responsible individuals who need the work.

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A subscription to Headspace

This one might seem a little strange, but you’ll have to trust me. For anyone who is “too busy” this is an easy way to really stop – even for 10 minutes a day – and “refuel”. BTW, get yourself a subscription (or at least try the first 10 lessons which are free). You’re welcome 🙂

Link to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk (the founder of Headspace)

Other ideas for gift certificates

  • A healthy grocery store
  • A smoothie or juice shop
  • Their favorite restaurant(s)
  • Car wash
  • Starbucks (or even better, a local coffee shop near them)
  • Prepared healthy meals from one of the many companies that do this now
  • Membership to the YMCA or a gym near them
  • A new bicycle? (we never get too old to love this!)
  • “Date night” certificates for movies, plays or music and a meal
  • A favorite museum

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