Dr. Jeff Kane: When will this finally go away?
Arguably the most discomforting feature of the coronavirus pandemic is its oppressive flavor of uncertainty.
For example, will we or our loved ones come down with COVID-19? What’s it like to be on a ventilator? Who have I encountered today who’s a carrier? Is there viable virus on the shopping bag?
Despite pervasive uncertainty, we nevertheless need to develop some response, so it’s little wonder we each go our own way. Should I spray my shoes with alcohol? Microwave my greenbacks? Score hydroxychloroquine, wash veggies in radioactive peroxide, decamp to the wilderness?
Then there’s the matter of re-entry. When is it finally safe to elbow bump friends, or — gasp — hug? Whose advice should I heed? Authorities, experts, “experts,” the guy down the street? Are there further safety practices I should adopt, or am I already doing insanely more than I need? (I think of the Japanese soldiers who, unaware that WWII had ended, remained hidden in the Philippine jungle until the 1980s.)
If we’re determined to wait for certainty we’ll have a long wait. Uncertainty is a permanent, inevitable feature of reality itself. Almost a century ago physicist Werner Heisenberg won a Nobel prize for making that point. He showed that every attempt to measure an event affects the event to some degree. To what degree? Good question; let’s measure again. You get the point.
So our best decisions are necessarily educated guesses. The weather prediction is for rain; does that mean it will rain? My wife greets me cheerfully every morning; will she do so tomorrow?
We have only two choices in this uncertain universe: remain anxious or learn the skill of being comfortable with uncertainty. According to renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow, this skill is a requirement for mental health.
So the next time uncertainty catches your breath and speeds your pulse, stop what you’re doing, sit down, and relax. Recognizing that the awful scenario you imagine isn’t happening now, you’ll calm down. Call that mood “normal.” Memorize its feeling, take it twice a day, and call me in the morning.
Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.
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