Given the state of the world this year, I thought that I might add my own (unsolicited!) insights as to how COVID-19 has impacted my outlook and my practice. Before COVID, the year started off very well professionally for me, but my family suffered a terrible challenge and were faced with the crushing news of a critically ill child. The experience was very sobering and terrifying for us, and gave me a deeper insight to being on the other side of the healthcare equation.
As if this wasn’t enough, all hell broke loose in March with the unprecedented effects of a global pandemic. At first there was a sense of disbelief, and the mistaken assurance that all would be well within a few weeks. Of course, this proved not to be the case, and had far-reaching impacts on all of us. My practice was no exception, and I saw my beloved practice that I had built over the past two decades shrink down to an almost non-existent trickle. As did many of us, I found myself with an undesired excess of free time, a business and staff to sustain for an indefinite period of time, anxious and disappointed patients who had to postpone or cancel their treatments and surgeries, and most of my kids returned back home. Laid on top of this was the need to care for an ailing parent confined in a retirement facility, who required attention, love and stimulation in the face of rigorous restrictions, so it’s been a year!
Having got all of that negative stuff off my chest, I prefer to look at the positives of this experience, as all plastic surgeons must be optimists at heart! As mentioned, I did gain an up-close dose of empathy through my son’s illness. Though I don’t believe that it is necessary for a doctor to experience such things firsthand to have empathy for their patients, it has made me stronger and will also make my son (who is doing much better now) a better physician in the future. My free time allowed me to tend to all those neglected chores and tasks at home. This got old quickly, though, and when I caught myself pressure-washing the pressure-washer, I knew that I had to come up with a better plan! We are lucky enough to have a home gym, so I spent a good amount of time suffering in the basement, but in the end, I know this will pay off!
Having almost all my kids at home was an unexpected bonus as well. My wife and I have been empty nesters for a few years, and I must say that watching our kids grow up and succeed as young adults is bittersweet. While we are delighted with their successes, it is traumatic to watch your greatest projects break away on their own, and we did not expect to ever have (almost) all of our kids home for an extended period of time, at the same time. We really reconnected as a family and enjoyed being together. Unfortunately, my one wayward son is studying overseas and it was not possible for him to come home due to COVID-19 and his program’s restrictions—we likely will not be able to see him for some time yet, so Facetime has to suffice. At present, I am returning from beautiful Vancouver, having helped my eldest relocate to a new job, and the nest is empty again. I also caught up on online drum lessons, which has been a pastime of mine since I was a kid, and I think that I am at the top of my game right now.
Professionally, there were a huge number of available online courses and seminars for plastic surgery during the lockdown, and I really took advantage of these to update my skills and knowledge; focusing on facial and eyelid surgeries, the latest on breast enhancement and body contouring, and Brazilian butt lifts. I also caught up on some of my research projects and journal reading. However, what was most informative to me was how important performing surgery is to me. To comprehend, since med school at age 21 and residency beginning at age 25, the longest I have gone without operating at least two days each week, and some weeks more, has been two weeks. The hiatus of almost four months out of the operating room was a shock to my system and reaffirmed my love of surgery and my need to perform it. After more than 21 years of practice, people start to ask if you have thoughts of retirement. I was always surprised by this question as even though I have become one of the more senior plastic surgeons in the city, I still feel like the new guy. Being out of the OR for this long confirmed that operating is something that I must do, as long as I am capable of upholding my standard of excellence. Fortunately, I have been able to resume the work that I love and am almost caught up with the tremendous backlog of patients who were postponed or rescheduled.
I also must give tremendous credit to my dedicated staff, who managed to keep the practice alive during the long months of lockdown and have all stayed loyal even though times were tough. We are all now back and busier than ever and have gained a renewed appreciation of our patients, and the work that we provide.
Suffice it to say that none of us are immune to the impact of a global pandemic, but there is always a bright spot even when things seem bleak. We will persevere and get through this challenge, and hopefully will emerge from it a bit stronger and wiser!