Adapt and overcome: reflections on life during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 30, 2020
Patricia M. Leff, DVM

Before our headlines and newsfeeds contained almost exclusively COVID-19 news, who could have imagined the transformation our daily lives would undergo at both work and home?

Just when you feel you have a handle on work and family life (or are getting there…), the bottom falls out.

I’ve been working in a private small animal hospital for just under 13 years and am a mom of two girls, ages 7 and 11. I have always considered myself fortunate to have a job I love and a wonderful family to come home to at the end of the day. But like billions of people throughout the world, my life has taken an unexpected and drastic twist in recent weeks. With the world at the mercy of a pandemic, we have had to make major adjustments in every aspect of our lives.

Life at home

With 10 years of higher education and three degrees under my belt, it never occurred to me that I would be put into the position of having to teach common core fractions to my 11-year-old. Yet we have been catapulted into just this scenario as schools throughout the country close their doors.

While each family is unique in how they have approached this time, I have found that providing my girls with a schedule has helped them maintain a sense of normalcy and allowed them to motivate themselves to accomplish their daily required studies.

Many type A personalities (me included) are forced to navigate a scary time when we are not in control. I have found comfort in giving myself permission to be a little less than my perceived ‘perfect.’ Things may not be ideal right now, but we have learned as a family that there is more than one way to accomplish a task. A walk or bike ride around the block is a wonderful way to relieve stress and get some exercise, but it can be considered physical education. Baking a batch of brownies incorporates math and science (and provides very positive feedback as a snack or as dessert). While these approaches are not used in classrooms, they prove effective when used in the home by parents, most of whom are not professionally trained teachers.

Life at work

Veterinarians provide care for those without a voice, we work with clients who are concerned about their pet’s wellbeing and we make accommodations for every possible situation. If only these were our sole worries. Unfortunately, this stressful time is teaching us also to be jugglers performing a balancing act, dealing with new stressors at both home and work. As new challenges pop up on a daily basis, and we must find ways to keep both staff and clients safe while still providing the best possible veterinary care.

While practice protocols are tweaked daily, we are finding that our sense of teamwork is possibly stronger than ever and the flexibility of our staff is admirable. Our client interactions are for the most part curbside and over the phone. Physical exams are no longer done in the presence of the owner and we have stepped away from the pleasantries of a handshake or pat on the back. One thing is for sure: At the end of the day our focus is still on providing the best medical services possible to keep our patients healthy and our clients happy.

Worries about payroll and keeping the lights on are ubiquitous as we are forced to limit appointments. One good thing about our veterinary community is that we stand strong. We have been educated to be problem solvers and contributing members of our communities. Add to those responsibilities the need to be the model of stability at home, and you have the life of many veterinarians.

We are not alone

I think it is important to step back and revisit the situation from a bird’s eye view. My intent is not to diminish the severity of the problem, but rather to shed light on the fact that we are not in this alone. We have a strong veterinary community that is pulling together to make things better. People will continue to love and provide for their pets during and after this pandemic. Our days may look different, but we are resilient and we will come through this stronger.

I hope that this forced change in our “used to be” everyday life will permit us time to slow down and appreciate just how lucky we really are as a society. I know that I will be sending an email to my girls’ teachers to thank them for everything they do to create a positive learning environment for children.

Life and work during the COVID-19 pandemic are unusual, uncertain and unpredictable, it is now more apparent than ever that we must work together to get through it.

Patricia M. Leff, who earned her DVM degree from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, practices at Brick Town Animal Hospital in Brick, New Jersey.