Face mask. Check. Bag of food. Check. Cell phone. Check. These are my essential items on the morning of April 20, 2020. I walk past a closed barbershop, turn the corner into an alley, and make my way up to the single-floor duplex. I place the bag on the doorstep and make a phone call. A masked face appears on the other side of the window next to the door. He is my coworker who has tested positive for COVID-19, spiking low-grade fevers and under isolation at home.
In the middle of March, my residency program and associated hospital ramped up efforts to prepare for the predicted rise in COVID-19 cases in the surrounding area. We had regular meetings to discuss the latest changes to clinic operations. We stopped seeing annual physical exams in our clinic. We started conducting telephone and video visits. We were mandated to wear face masks throughout the day even when not seeing patients. We had our temperatures checked daily. We started taking care of COVID-19 patients. The hospital sent us daily updates and statistics. We kept up with new guidelines regarding screening from public health officials. We attempted to sift through the latest articles on proper treatment.
A contagious sense of anxiety and fear enveloped us each day. The slightest cough or sniffle prompted concerned yet suspicious glances. A few of my coworkers became sick or were under quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. Before everyone was required to wear face masks on the hospital campus, I entered a patient’s room without a face mask on, which was the standard protocol previously for those not under isolation. Moments after I stepped out of the room after taking the patient’s history and performing a physical exam, a nurse placed an isolation sign on the patient’s door. There were concerns that she may have COVID-19 so she was now being tested. The fate of at least my next 14 days depended on if her test came back positive or not.
In May, as the hospital’s protocols for managing the COVID-19 situation matured and certain restrictions began to be relaxed, I again had to quarantine myself at home after closely interacting and sharing the same workspace as a coworker who fell ill and was being tested for COVID-19.
In these past 2 months, God has reminded me of two realities: 1) I am a selfish person undeserving of God’s loving kindness and grace and 2) I can fearlessly walk by faith and find peace in my heart in God who is in control.
Each time I was exposed to a person who was potentially sick with COVID-19 and had to be in quarantine, I am ashamed to confess that in those moments, I focused more on my desires and needs than of those who were sick. I was not as concerned about being infected or being unable to work as I was about losing my freedom to go outside. I dreaded the thought of being stuck in my one-bedroom apartment for days. However, I ended up never having to quarantine myself for more than a day or two. Although God would have been fair in placing me under quarantine for days in light of my selfish attitude, He instead allowed me to continue to enjoy personal liberties within the bounds set by the governing authorities.
As I have been studying the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in recent weeks, I see God’s faithfulness. As the Jewish exiles return to their homeland under Persian rule and commence the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, they continue to struggle with sin and remain disobedient to God. Officials inform Ezra that the Jewish people are intermarrying with non-Jews who worship foreign gods. However, God, in His rich kindness and grace, ensures the completion of the temple and Jerusalem’s walls for the protection of His people. In Ezra’s prayer, it is acknowledged that:
“Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. Even in their own kingdom, and your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works” (Nehemiah 9:33-35).
As I reflect on God’s kindness to me during this season, I am reminded of how the Lord revealed my self-righteous attitude and idols many years ago and displayed unconditional love to me. Jesus Christ went to the cross to die and suffer the just punishment I deserve for my rebellious attitude. As He rose up from the grave, Jesus conquered death and gave me new life and freedom.
In the midst of the endless changes to protocols, the repetitive warnings of a predicted surge, and the constant influx of research on the virus and its treatment, I felt overwhelmed and lost. Am I providing my patients with the most evidence-based treatments? Am I doing all that I can to prevent the spread of the virus? Am I doing enough to keep up with the latest medical developments? Even in the midst of the uncertainties of these times and the unknown attributes of SARS-CoV-2, I am reminded that God is in control. As evidenced throughout the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as well as throughout the whole of history, God directs even foreign rulers to act to fulfill His plans and orchestrates the grandest to the tiniest details of life. The author of Ezra writes,
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:27-28).
I can confidently make decisions because I know that God is present in every situation. I can boldly confess my limits and imperfections because I know that God is infinite in wisdom, mercy, and grace. I can earnestly love others better because I have first experienced God’s unconditional love. I am filled with hope and peace because He is a loving Father and a mighty King.
“And Ezra said: ‘You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6).