Editor’s Corner: Post-Pandemia Mania

Joseph R. Mikhael, MD, MEd
Professor, Applied Cancer Research and Drug Discovery, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), City of Hope Cancer Center and Chief Medical Officer, International Myeloma Foundation

The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic can hardly be measured – millions have died, billions have been adversely affected, and trillions of dollars have been lost or spent. Then there are the yet-to-be-seen long-term effects. Amid this profound sadness, science has come to the rescue with treatments and vaccines, providing signs of hope. I suspect that all of you, like me, are already planning what to do when COVID-19 is in the rearview.

Here, with some help from song lyrics, are the top ten things I plan to pursue post pandemic. I hope this provides some needed comfort and levity as we anticipate the light at the end of this dark tunnel.

  1. Fly me to the moon … As noted in my June 2020 Editor’s Corner, “We Will Fly Again,” I am one of those very frequent fliers. I don’t care where the plane takes me – just let me wait to board, eat awful plane food, get delayed, experience jetlag, then land in a distant country to enjoy the unique smells, tastes, and sights of travel.
  2. The space between … I run the trails of the Arizona desert almost daily. On a run last week, someone saw me coming towards them and jumped off the trail and into a cactus to avoid me. I long to not being considered – or considering others – a walking (or running) plague.
  3. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one … Imagine a day, even a single day, when you will not hear the words COVID, unmute, and virtual. That sound of silence will be delicious.
  4. Hold me now … Unlike my mentor and predecessor at ASH Clinical News Keith Stewart, I love hugging my patients. I recognize the need for safety now, but I look forward to not wearing scuba gear to see my patients so that we can restore the human touch of medicine. Our patients need that, and so do we.
  5. Puttin’ on the Ritz … I am an old school, French cuff shirt-and-suit kind of guy. Although I have enjoyed the comfort of Zoom calls in shorts or camera-penic meetings in pajamas, the idea of dressing up and heading out to a show or gala is disturbingly appealing.
  6. So call me maybe … Does anyone else miss the spontaneity of calling up friends last minute to meet up, or even just dropping in on them? It seems that if I don’t have a calendar invitation to an event (time zone–sensitive, please – no, we don’t observe daylight saving time in Arizona), I can’t conceive of attending it.
  7. Take me out to the ball game … I want to be surrounded by thousands of people – at a game, concert, show, or just randomly walking through a busy street. I want people to cut me off, step in front of me in line, and walk into me because they are distracted by their phone. Is anyone else creeped out right now by watching an old movie (circa 2019) and seeing crowds of people without masks? Terrifying…
  8. When I see you smile, I can face the world … I miss seeing people smile – strangers in the street, grocery cashiers, and especially colleagues at work. We have hired a few people in the clinic in the past year and, frankly, I don’t know what the bottom halves of their faces look like!
  9. The more we get together, together, together … We have all learned to optimize virtual meetings, but I am convinced that they pale in comparison to the real thing – not just socially, but educationally and professionally. I miss my colleagues, learning together, eating together, and ASH-ing together! The possibility of an in-person ASH annual meeting in Atlanta this December is calling me (yes, meetings speak to me regularly). I realize that it may not be possible, but a simple hematologist can dream!
  10. We are family … My incredible and accomplished mother is my hero. She went to medical school when women rarely did − and in Egypt, nonetheless. She is brilliant, kindhearted, generous, authentic, and remains a role model for innumerable people – especially me and my daughters. I talk to her every day, but it isn’t enough. She remains alone in a condo in Toronto, and it has been over a year since I have seen her. The reunion will be epic.

I am sure you, too, have many planned activities and I invite you to share them with me. No doubt we will all rejoice when the country’s political fever defervesces and science regains its critical, objective role in society. One day soon, going to the grocery store will no longer be a political statement.

Until then, let’s support each other in every way we can. This pandemic has taught me a lot – but more than anything, I have learned the simple truth that we need each other.