(The following speech was given to teachers ands staff at the Washington Township Schools, end of year celebration. The video can be found here.)
“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
I’ve always loved that quote from John Lennon, because no better truism sums up the totality of the human condition than that. In a lot of ways, it represents the very essence of emergency medicine, that sudden and often tragic transformation of life we in medicine know all too well. How often we hear, “Just yesterday we were just taking a walk, we were dancing, we bought tickets . . . we were planning to go to Florida . . .”
No doubt you had plans this past year. You were going to travel, you were going to teach your classes about fruit flies and Pythagorean, and Chaucer, and Monet. Maybe at the breaks you were going to visit relatives, write that book, renovate that basement. You were going to go to your own kid’s ball games, their recitals, you had tickets to Motley Crüe and Guns and Roses for one of their many “last chance” tours, your team was going to the playoffs, this was your year . . . this was the year you were going to win it all.
You had plans to spend those waning days with your own aging parents and grandparents at family dinners, one more yuletide, quiet conversations and gentle laughs over black-and-white photos of days gone by.
I get it . . . you had plans. We all did.
And how easy it is to retreat into misery and outrage, over perceptions of missed opportunities, or the emotional posts of idiots and “google” experts who sat in the back and shouted that this could’ve been done better, that could’ve been done better, or if only they had done X or Y or Z. Because it’s easier for some to blame others they disagree with or a system they don’t understand than to admit that we are oftentimes just blowing to the winds of mother nature—and that science evolves often in front of our faces. And sometimes, we have no control over anything other than how we choose to respond in the face of tragedy—be that with a clenched fist of outrage or an open hand of understanding.
I’m blessed. I got to care for Covid-19 patients in a community where open minds and open hands far outnumbered furled fingers. Where my inbox was filled with messages of encouragement and gratitude on days that I wondered if today would be my last. Those early days where I made sure my wife knew my passwords, and who to call, where to bury me, and what to tell my sons . . . and that it’s OK to date again or marry again should I . . . not come home.
I worked in a township where piles of food were dropped off for our exhausted doctors and nurses and handmade cards from school kids dotted our walls and a sentiment of thanks echoed through every fabric of our lives, elevating us from months and months of depression, masks digging into our faces, leaving welts and rings across our cheeks and noses as we Skyped in family members so they could watch their loved ones die. And while I never thought in my lifetime that I’d work under these conditions, understanding the nature of a viral pandemic I always suspected it could be a possibility.
But I breathe easier these days. I am truly confident that those days, as it pertains to Covid-19, are fading behind us and as Abraham Lincoln would say while scanning the fields of Gettysburg where so many Americans came to rest: “We are a country that is experiencing a new birth of freedom . . . and it is for us the living to be dedicated here to the unfinished work.”
Well, that unfinished work starts with you . . . it’s your turn now. We all know virtual learning was a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. In a lot of ways Covid-19 has forced us to look at education and medicine through a different lens from this point forward—it’s the nature of change. You are now tasked with the unfinished work of educating those who were left behind in this pandemic . . . and there are many. Their education over the last year and this coming year will have an impact on their health and well-being for decades to come. It will ripple through our ER in time.
As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “You do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
You did just that and you should be applauded for what you were able to accomplish with what you had at the time and what your leadership allowed you to do, but we all know . . . it wasn’t enough. Us in medicine know this reality—the resources and knowledge we had in the early days of this pandemic were simply not enough to save many of the lives that we now can confidently salvage. Science, education, our resources, and our creativity however is fluid and it is ever-changing, and we are constantly learning.
This incredible transformation, from death to life, came about not only by way of the advancement of science and vaccines and therapeutics but by way of crowdsourcing that knowledge—reaching out to countless other disciplines and asking for help that came not only from scientists, but also engineers, computer programmers, social workers, chaplains, housekeeping, logistics, and product pipeline experts. The salvation of America from the ravages of Covid-19 was not only the work of health care heroes, but of truckers and cooks and mechanics and factory workers and all of you in the community . . . don’t you know that?
And guess what? The recovery of education is going to require the same concerted effort and willingness on your part as educators to be creative, to ask for help, to recruit this incredible community to come to your aid with supplies, sweat equity, tutoring and mentoring, study tables and volunteering. You will find there are thousands of us willing to give of our time and resources to help you out. We just need you to tell us what you need. Understand that you are going to have a real tough time going at this alone and—if you are open to it—we will be an arm of support during those times you feel overwhelmed and those days where you think you just might not make it.
This coming school year will be perhaps one of the hardest of your life, but it will also be one of the most rewarding. The greatest impact you will ever have in your careers will probably find their roots in the fall. I know you didn’t plan on it. I also know each of you have the strength of character, an inner determination, and a commitment to the future of our children to enable you to rise to this challenge.
And I also know, that as a proud graduate of North Central High School, as a parent of children who once walked your hallowed halls, and as a member of this community, that the open hands of my friends and neighbors from 96th to 38th, from township line to Graham Road, will lift you up when you are down, catch you when you fall, and support you hand in hand in this noble endeavor toward healing.
God bless you, my fellow educators . . . God bless you in this task.
Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis and a member of the Indianapolis Forensic Services Board. He is a national award-winning writer, public speaker and one of LinkedIn's Top Voices and the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org is welcomed. For other publications and for speaking dates, go to louisprofeta.com. For college speaking inquiries, contact email@example.com.
Dr Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is one of LinkedIn's Top Voices and the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God. Dr Louis holds a medical degree from the Indiana University Bloomington.