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By the Bay Health

Grief On Fire, by Kai Romero, MD

Kai Romero, MD, Chief Medical Officer, By the Bay Health, provides three steps for the grieving process during the pandemic.

As frontline physicians have navigated this pandemic over the past year and a half, I’ve been surprised and delighted to see the myriad ways in which my colleagues have manifested their resilience. Even in the darkest days of the lockdown or the midst of our worst surge, I’ve always known that reliably, walking into the ED on a weekend night, that I’d find someone in a good mood. It was a relief, frankly, that even the ravages of the worst medical emergency of our lifetime (I hope), that human beings have a tendency to, well, survive. And what that looked like in the Emergency Department where I work was a little gallows humor, a little burnout, and a little lighthearted cheer. A vacation here or there, and some good TV. Heads down, don’t dwell, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In my other work, as a hospice physician, it looked a little different. I heard a lot, to say the least, about suffering. The suffering of our patients, of course, but the suffering inherent in isolation from colleagues. The sadness of distance from grandchildren; the birthdays missed and the memories unformed. When people gathered in remote meetings, we talked about the heaviness of the time; the toll these waves of grief were taking on us, collectively and as individuals. We talked about what we were doing to cope (walking, meditating, escaping in crappy reality TV) and what worked, or didn’t. We talked about the weight (emotional, spiritual, psychological) that so much death and dying might have on us and on our community.

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This article is originally published in San Francisco Marin Medicine, The Journal of the San Francisco Marin Medical Society, Volume 94, Number 4, October/November/December 2021