Ian Keaupuni Awai is a student at the University of Washington School of Medicine MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program and a recipient of the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program. Raised in the state of Washington, he and his family will be returning soon to serve in a medically underserved community in Hawaii.
I have to admit, that when I heard about Coronavirus coming to our shores, I did not take it seriously, nor did I think much would happen. The news reported that we should prepare for our lives to be interrupted. I brushed it off.
I was wrapping up an orthopedic rotation when the first cases began. Living only an hour and a half from the nursing home that was hit first, these events began to gain my curiosity, but it did not quite have my attention yet.
My next rotation was my emergency room rotation at the Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. Things could not have gone better. I was gaining rapport with patients and the staff, and my preceptor was allowing me to participate in procedures. I was learning fast. This was where I wanted to be.
On the morning of March 16th, I received an email from the Dean of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine stating that we had to pack our things. All rotations are cancelled until further notice.
This came as a shocking blow. What did this mean? When can I go back to school? Am I graduating late now? There were a lot of questions with no answers.
No sooner did I find myself on a plane back to Washington State. At this point, there were more coronavirus cases, as well as deaths. This is when I realized this was a lot more serious than I had anticipated.
Shortly after my return, the governor placed the state on a statewide “shelter in place” and schools were cancelled. My kids were no longer going to school until further notice. We were to stay in our homes.
It is now late April, and our “shelter in place” orders continue until May. Maybe longer. This has been a trying time for our ‘ohana. Before lockdown, we were very social with friends and family. This could no longer be. We are having to socially distance ourselves from loved ones, which includes grandparents who live close by. This has been one of the most difficult aspects of this quarantine.
We find ways to keep ourselves busy, and most importantly, sane. We are moving out of our home to an apartment, until school is pau and we can begin our next chapter in Hawai‘i. Until then, we keep ourselves active. We have been homeschooling our kids to a degree, which has not been easy, but we are managing. One day at a time. We are virtually visiting friends and family through Zoom and FaceTime, which does help. The gym has closed down, so I workout with water bottle cases and other household items, which has been a great method of self-care. I have time to study for my boards, as well as some time playing a bit of Call of Duty with friends. This has all helped.
During this time, I am reminded of a quote I heard growing up: “come what may, and love it.” There are things we can change, and there are things we cannot. We can choose to sink into depression and be pissed at the world for what is going on. That is a fair reaction. However, what purpose does this serve? I spent a good amount of time angry. Angry that I will be graduating late, angry that I couldn’t spend more time at a rotation I loved, angry that I am unable to see my loved ones in person, angry that our lives have been disrupted. Will my anger and frustration cause the disease to leave? Will it allow our economy to survive or prevent me from potentially getting sick? Probably not.
If there is one take away, it’s this: do what you can with what you have. We have laughed, cried, yelled and screamed together. It has been a time for us to grow together in ways we haven’t before. I am grateful for this unexpected trial in life. There are a lot of uncertainties right now, and questions with no answers right now. All we can decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
~ Ian Keaupuni Awai, PA student