Saleh Aldasouqi, MD, FACE, ECNU, takes a lighthearted look at issues at the intersection of the humanities and medicine.

BLOG: March Sadness

As I drove alongside the eastern border of Michigan State University’s campus, from Hagadorn Road onto Service Road, where our academic office buildings are located, my heart filled with sadness.

The streets were empty.

The campus to my right was empty.

It is true that East Lansing, home to MSU, does not have significant traffic jams or rush hours. It is true that the only delay that may hold one back — if avoiding the 10 minutes around 8 a.m. — would be caused by a slow moving train or, according to the season, a small group of deer or a duck family crossing the street.

Still, this morning the streets were deserted. I would expect relatively deserted streets at this time on a Sunday, driving to the bagel bakery store to get breakfast for the family.

But not on a Wednesday morning, on a day that is not a holiday!

This March is very different from any March I have witnessed in my lifetime.

Our lives have been changed forever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first March into the pandemic, and we all pray that it will be the last one. Humanity will beat this little bug!

I love March for all the wonderful occasions that occur during the month.

March is the first month of spring, when flowers and trees bloom, filling the view with colorful, natural scenes. Birds return from their winter break in the south to northern regions, like ours in the Great Lakes. Depending on whether you are an “early bird” or not, you may like or dislike the birds singing in your front yard or backyard, around sunrise.

For us in medicine, March marks the “Match Day” when students and fresh medical graduates get results from the Electronic Residency Application Service, or ERAS, the matching program for postgraduate residency training. During the third Monday in March, students and graduates are told if they matched. That Friday, they are told where. Likewise, residency programs know on that Monday if they filled all the ranked spots, and on that Friday, they know who matched in every program. I have been honored to be part of the ranking committee of MSU’s Internal Medicine residency last month, given my active participation in the interviewing process. Luckily, we have filled all positions.

Unmatching is hard for both candidates and residency programs. In our internal medicine program, I do not recall if we have ever not filled all the spots. In our endocrinology fellowship program, we have encountered this painful occurrence a couple of times since we started the fellowship about 15 years ago. It is painful!

For candidates who do not match, it is very painful, but the good news is that most of such candidates will quickly rematch during the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program, or SOAP, which immediately follows Monday’s match results.

March is also the NCAA’s best time: March Madness. And, for Arabic countries and other countries around the world, March is the month of Mother’s Day. Jordan and some other countries also mark Teacher’s Day in March.

All of the above, and more sweet occasions, will not be celebrated this month.

All regular medical meetings have been cancelled. I was scheduled to attend the wonderful annual meeting of the Egyptian Society of Endocrinology and Obesity in lovely Alexandria in early April: Canceled.

Many of our patients have cancelled their clinic visits. Our leadership will be moving to telehealth soon, to stay in touch with our patients and make sure they are up to date on medications and monitoring.

We have cancelled all in-person teaching sessions. We are now brainstorming doing all of those over Zoom conferencing.

Our medical students have been called off elective clinical rotations.

I am not on-call for the hospitals this week; however, I heard that our two affiliated hospitals have implemented drastic modifications to health care, just like all of the hospitals around the country — and around the world — are doing.

This COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. A lot of people are now working from home; those people are the lucky ones. Others have lost income because their work does not allow working from home, such as restaurant workers. A lot of people are worried, concerned, and/or overwhelmed.

Certainly, all of us have been saddened.

Despite all the sadness, this COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a renewed wave of humanity at its best: kindness, heroism, sacrifices. People are helping each other locally and globally. Driving to work this morning, I heard on the radio soothing news about how people are taking care of each other, from different places around the world, from Venice in Italy to a town in Alabama. A family celebrated the 95th birthday of their grandmother outdoors, while maintaining social distancing; a country musician donated free food and grocery items to the elderly so that they do not have to go shopping themselves; restaurant servers distributing free meals to the elderly in the neighborhood.

Let us not forget health care professionals working 24/7, sacrificing their lives to help others.

There are many more unsung heroes around the world in the wake of this merciless pandemic.

So, while this March is a month of sadness, it has also proven to be the month of hope!