If before I wrote about the calls I’ve started making to my grandma since the beginning of the isolation, today I want to talk about the calls I’ve stopped making to my mum – because of the calls she has been giving to others.
Hold on, I’ll explain.
My mother is a doctor. Palliativist. She works in a public hospital in São Paulo. And during this pandemic, she was given the mission to call the families of patients in the ICU by Covid-19 to give them daily updates of how their loved ones are doing. And I think it’s incredible the way my mum manages to be a “bridge” for the affections between the “inside” and “outside” world in these isolation times.
I decided to talk about something as personal as my relationship with my mum here because much of what this project is and the idea to look at Latin America with attention and affection comes from watching my mother’s attentive and affectionate approach to her work. And in these times when the Brazilian president cowardly says “so what?” about the numbers of deaths by coronavirus in the country, it is the care and attention that she dedicates to others that are serving me as a refuge.
My mum and I are not speaking as often as we used to – or maybe that is my impression since time does not make so much sense anymore. When I call in the morning, she’s ready to go to work. “Hi sweetie, I have to chat quickly because I have to be in the hospital soon.” And at night, I see she’s exhausted. Her physiognomy has changed. Her voice has changed. It’s almost as if I can see the weight of the world she’s carrying on her back.
Still, in the gaps we find to talk to each other, she tells me the stories she hears and lives every day. I think this need I have to tell stories all the time, I inherited from her. She insists on mentioning all the names, ages, professions and particularities of the family of each patient she’s looking after. Because she knows how important it is to care. Because she knows that no one deserves a “so what?” Because she knows that no one is just a number in the statistics.
Because of that, every discharge is a tremendous victory and every death is a painful loss – for her, for her work team, for the patient’s family and for me. Because lately, our lives have been intertwined with the stories she lives in the hospital. “It’s impossible not to get involved, isn’t it?” she says.
In the last few weeks, I heard the story of a hospital employee who “had the worst CT scan I’ve ever seen in my life” who recovered and could go home to meet again with her 8- and 5-year-old kids. “Her husband told me, ‘What I have suffered for this woman, doctor, she can never leave me again,'” my mother says with emotion that only those who are dedicated to real care can show.
I also heard the story of a patient who passed away the day after, due to a flaw in the system, my mother was denied access to his medical records and could not update his family. “I was so sad because I couldn’t tell the family how he was on the last day of his life,” says my mum.
“But I called later to see how they were doing and the daughter told me ‘I’ll make sure to give you a hug when all this is over,'” she adds. And I know it’s those little gestures that motivate her every day.
I like how she always sees beauty in the little things and tries to talk about something nice that happened in her week despite Brazil’s suffocating reality at the moment. This week my mother told me about the empanadas she got as a gift from an Argentinian patient who was discharged. She also sent me a video of a patient’s daughter thanking her for the attention and affection she’s giving to the family.
From here, I breathe a little bit more relieved to know that the care she gives, also returns to her somehow. And that in the midst of this chaos, she has no lack of affection – even though hugs and kisses are not allowed.
If talking to my grandma is a reminder that the future is uncertain, talking to my mum is a reminder that the present is tough – but kindness in times of hatred is also a form of resistance.
“We are not in a war. This is a humanitarian crisis, called a pandemic. Our mission is to take care of others,” she concludes with the certainty that affection is always the best weapon.