I was eight when I learnt two things: how to tie a reef knot and that I should never sing in public. The right-over-left-and-left-over-right knot sequence had a symmetrical simplicity that stuck with me and was the most useful thing Brownies taught me. Not singing in public was a lesson learnt when another girl and I were persuaded to sing Galway Bay for the end of the year Brownie concert, because “everyone had to do something.” The silence after the first few bars encouraged us, until we realised the audience was too appalled even to snigger. We ploughed on, determined not to stop even as the shuffling got louder. We got polite applause, but were not too young to realise it was less from appreciation of our singing than from gratitude that we were done. But despite the muted response, I felt dogged satisfaction that we had not given up. We had stood side by side supporting each other and had stuck it out to our final flat note.
Ten years later, when I was an exchange student in Arizona, the music teacher insisted I join the school’s a capella choir on the premise that all exchange students did so. I explained why I should be exempt, but he insisted on an audition. Three bars into Edelweiss, he stopped and muttered, “I see what you mean.” I remember telling him not to worry, there were lots of other things I could do and I would concentrate on those.
And 2020, like no other year, has shown us how to rely on our strengths and adaptability, standing side by side, undaunted, while fearsome eddies swirl around. Those of us who work in general practice are used to days not turning out as planned, but none of us foresaw that we’d be spending blustery afternoons wrapped in flapping PPE among the road cones of car park Covid clinics. We looked as alien as we felt in those first few weeks of the Covid response level 4 lockdown, caught in the spotlight and wondering if we were up to it. It seems quaint now to look at the practice’s 2020 diary with its days blocked out for leave and travel. Patients were similarly thrown off track, but often much more seriously, their plans evaporating with job losses, home schooling demands and the seeping anxiety that comes with planet-wide uncertainty.
How to cope with so much uncertainty and change? Could we keep everyone safe and care for our patients? Overnight, we had to change to a completely new way of practising: phone and video consultations, triaging patients into red and green streams, keeping up with who we were supposed to be swabbing that day and who didn’t qualify. How could we meet the expectations of patients, Ministry of Health, DHB, PHO and our families, while not going batty ourselves? And were we going to be financially and emotionally robust enough to still be there for patients by the end of 2020?
We needed to work together with the sort of resilience, togetherness and grace under pressure that I had glimpsed as a hopeless eight-year-old singer.