The Delights and Despairs of the COVID Holiday Season

I know my last post was almost three weeks ago! I’ve been meaning to cover the COVID vaccines, and indeed, I’ll get to that later in this post.

But first, an explanation for the delay: I promised myself that I would not write even one word until I was reasonably caught up on all my 2020 clinical work. I literally spent many hours a day of my Christmas long weekend going through lab results, messages, specialist letters, and a gazillion of those annual work modules. You know, those required online training courses on very-importantly-absolutely-necessarily-due-by-January-1-or-you-will-be-terminated topics like interpersonal safety and sexual harassment and patient confidentiality and HIPAA legislation and infection control and OH MY GOD there are always soooo many. Here is a sampling of how I spent my free holiday time:

This is only some of what we are required to complete every year.

Pretty much no one I work with had actually completed these yet, and we have all been cramming, in all of our spare time (said with sarcasm). The email reminders have been coming more frequently with increasingly urgent messaging from higher and higher up the administrative chain, like this latest friendly missive from [nameless boss]:

Clearly, more than a few of us have been delinquent in completing our required training! But, COVID. We’ve all been a little distracted, maybe even busy. Could we not get an extension? A little grace maybe? Not likely. Colleague Sarah Wakeman MD says it all in this Tweet:

See, if you pass the test for each module FIRST, you don’t have to go through all the slides. And you can’t just flip through all the slides, either, there’s all these infographics and mini-quizzes embedded within them that force you to PAY ATTENTION and THINK, or you can’t click “Next”. I’ve learned over the years that trying to do these modules at nighttime after the kids have gone to bed just isn’t feasible. My brain is fried and the modules all take way longer that way. Now, I use the same approach I’ve used to study for big exams (see my 2015 NEJM blog post, “I Studied for the Internal Medicine Boards on the Stairmaster”). But the gym is closed, so I got myself a present for our spin bike: A bike desk! Here is my setup for studying:

A small weird-shaped room is our home gym, complete with spin bike, mat, random various weights, and dog.

I don’t get any money from these people, but I’ll say that I get a ton of practical use out of the Spintray. (No promotional links here, ever.) If I have to spend a sizable chunk of my long weekend doing all this work, I may as well get a workout, too! There was one day I did 604 calories’ worth of charting and modules:

And I finally finished all the modules! Honestly, I usually do learn a few useful things from completing this annual exercise, so it’s not all a waste of time. (Get it? Exercise? Waist? OMG)

Of course the other thing happening during Christmas long weekend was, well, Christmas. Though lower-key than most of our Christmases, Hubby and I were frantic as usual with our late-night last-minute gift wrapping. There may have even been an early morning panicked Target run earlier that week, considering that half of our gifts were delayed in the mail. In the end, we enjoyed a warm and wonderful holiday.

Yes, this is a real tree! And goats may eat it!

I’m getting to the vaccines, I swear. But first, even better front-page Holiday news, from our own Boston Globe, a can’t miss sub-headline I think everyone should know about: “Goats descend on discarded, delectable Christmas trees ‘like piranhas’, farmer says“. Did you know that these fir trees are chock-full of Vitamin C, and act as a natural de-wormer for goats? And goats love them, they eat them “like candy”? One farmer describes that her goats see people driving up “and they crash the edge of the fence waiting for their Christmas trees. This is the most wonderful time of the year for a goat.” I read this article out loud to the family after dinner, and the kids were like “No way! Are there pictures? Can I see? Can I see? SHOW ME THE GOATS” while Hubby was googling “goat farms near me”. Who needs reindeer?

Okay. Now the other front-page news: The COVID vaccine. The rollout is not going well. It’s going very, very slowly, because somehow, the feds didn’t prepare for the vaccine rollout, nor allocate adequate funding. It hasn’t gone swimmingly at most hospitals, either. Just sayin’. I haven’t got mine yet, though at least the app stopped crashing and I have a scheduled appointment! (and I am SOOOOO excited! NO hesitation here! I would take this shot in my eyeball if I had to, people.)

About the COVID vaccines: I have friends and colleagues who possess far greater expertise on this than I ever will who have created excellent educational material, including Gretchen LaSalle, family practice physician. (I covered her 5-star book “Let’s Talk Vaccines” in a recent Doctor-Author Book Chat post.) Dr. LaSalle has one of the most well-researched practical blogs on vaccines ever. She is featuring a four-part series on the COVID vaccines, including:

Part 1:  How the immune system works and how vaccines work.

Part 2:  The typical vaccine development process and how it is that the COVID vaccine is moving along at a more rapid pace.

Part 3:  Specifics about our COVID vaccine candidates (the mRNA and adenovirus vector vaccines), diversity and representation in vaccine development, and the process of vaccine approval.

Part 4:  And finally, specifics of distribution and phases of vaccine administration, discussion of special populations (like children and pregnant women), the safety monitoring of vaccines, and what a vaccine will mean to our everyday lives.

I highly recommend all of these! But if those posts are too dense, I also recommend physician colleague Robin Schoenthaler’s brief and entertaining COVID-19 updates on Medium, including this one, “Eighteen Vaccine Questions Answered In Under Six Minutes,” or this one, “Vaccines… One Giant Step But Still a Long and Winding Road“.

The vaccines can’t come soon enough. We are experiencing an unbelievable COVID surge nationwide. California hospitals are putting patients in the gift shop and turning away ambulances. Here in Massachusetts, we also are seeing the results of lots and lots of Christmas dinners: A surge of over 6000 new cases and 118 deaths in one day. So if you have New Year’s Eve plans that involve being indoors eating or drinking with people outside of your immediate quarantine bubble, consider cancelling. We hope to have an outdoors bonfire with immediate family, our usual quarantine bubble. I’m very excited to burn the 2020 calendars! Consider something like that instead. Stay safe, people.

2 thoughts on “The Delights and Despairs of the COVID Holiday Season”

  • Oh good grief. Admin is a cancer. Glad you will be vaccinated soon. Rollout has been a cluster in my state too. Health department was very efficient with drive through clinics for the first dose for health care providers but nobody can get a slot for a second one. With all the technology available today it’s hard to imagine they can’t do as least as well as the Sabin Sunday drives in the 1960s where thousands were vaccinated with the oral polio vaccine on a sugar cube. We got all the doses, too. And all this with adding machines and paper cards and records.

    • Sigh. I know, right? I feel bad for all my patients writing and calling and asking when and how will they get their vaccine, and we really do not know! Awaiting guidance from the institution, the state, the Feds… it’ll happen but not fast enough.

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