From Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” This is a mindset I was raised with, and a global pandemic was about to test it.
I always knew getting a medical degree at the age of forty-two would be an uphill battle, but getting it during a pandemic is a unique experience that no-one has a student guide for or a link to follow. Life gets in the way of your plans and you must adapt to reach the summit. This global pandemic is a cruel illustration of this. When we all left St Andrews, I felt overwhelming sadness that I had forged new friendships and now it was over. I was disappointed in myself having these selfish thoughts. People were far worse off than me; I would have time with my family that some could only dream of. I was lucky.
As the oldest in the class, I wanted to give guidance and support to anyone who asked. These were attributes I acquired through motherhood, it felt wrong not to use them. Being a mother requires a level of calm in an organised chaos—so I decided my online space would be like the family dinner table where we would share our day and support one another. We have as a group, a united cybernated pod, forged bonds. Even though all we had was bandwidth to reach out we used it well to stay on task. What I began to see is how we we all had to evolve quickly by adapting to the environment that was thrust upon us. I benefited from the escapism of graft during a time completely saturated in the unknown. As a group we all rallied by cyber means. We had to take advantage of our virtual ‘classes’ that had an ‘anytime anywhere’ availability.
Working in a virtual world is challenging. Initially it’s difficult to gauge when to speak during video conferencing. Regular face-to-face communication allows for flow of conversation. Non-verbal cues give an indication of how a person is feeling during discussion—we had lost that. Our time together was virtual, lagging and pixelated. How we would pull each other through depended on the only tools available to us. We used the megabyte expression of emotions through GIFs, memes and videos to generate laughter and show care. Virtual ‘GCM Day’ was what I looked forward to the most, the collective digital Magic Muchty. During one meeting, Dr Kenneth Bell’s daughter appeared in his webcam which resulted in a simultaneous expression of happiness as we all cooed. This reiterated that we are more than just our labels and titles. There is also fatherhood, friendship and real-life continuing simultaneously. This is the reality, still.