My dad desperately tried to get a hold of me on the morning of December 1, 2020 but for some reason, I hadn’t seen that he called me and so I found out my aunt, Dr. Somaya Saad Zaghloul, succumbed to COVID-19 via my mom and aunt’s medical school classmate on Facebook Messenger. Exactly what my dad was trying to prevent. I called my parents immediately and the tragic news was confirmed. We were desperately praying since her admission to the hospital that she would be one of the lucky ones, but that morning, God had other plans. I in turn desperately called my brothers and sister so that they wouldn’t find out through social media as I had and in comforting them through my tears, I reminded them that Aunt Somaya was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 17 and that during the last several years her pain was debilitating. She needed a wheelchair to get around when her legs couldn’t carry her very far, but despite that, she was teaching her medical school courses up until she was diagnosed with the cruel virus; now, she was no longer in pain. The epitome of grace, of resilience, of living life to the absolute fullest, of smiling through your struggle, of generosity, of welcoming everyone into your home, of always looking like a million bucks (bright red lipstick and all) even if you weren’t feeling like it, of loving deeply, and of being grateful for every blessing. She was legendary.
Another cruel reminder to be grateful for everything we’re blessed with, the big things, the small things, and everything in between; the things we take for granted every day like waking up with a roof over our head, food on our table, clothes on our back, a sound mind, legs that carry us, and the ability to go to work. Every morning I wake up with a routine that includes prayer and meditation, exercise, listening to the previous day’s The Breakfast Club episode, setting my intention for the day, and importantly, writing down at least 1 thing I am grateful for and I make it something specific. My morning power hour gets me through the toughest days and makes the best ones even more fabulous, it keeps me grounded. Gratitude, when practiced regularly improves mental wellness, increases empathy, reduces anger, increases happiness and satisfaction, improves self-esteem, and best of all, helps you sleep better. I highly recommend including it in your daily routine either every morning or before you sleep at night. The practice has changed the way I view the world and how I deal with its curveballs.
Every Christmas, I request to be on call on the inpatient Heart Failure and Transplant service to honor the death of my uncle, Dr. Ali Saad Zaghloul, from a massive heart attack on December 25, 2016, a tragic death I first found out about ironically via social media. Now, I will be honoring both my aunt and uncle every December for the entire month by feeding the less fortunate, by working the holidays so others who celebrate can spend time with their families, by remembering to always be kind and forgiving, by living each day like it were my very last, and most important, being there for patients who need the most support during their most vulnerable moments.
I hope we take the lessons 2020 taught us into 2021. My biggest lesson remains that human connections are the most important thing in this world. I wish you a safe, socially distanced, and serene holiday season. The light at the end of the tunnel is not so far away anymore, we’re almost there. I’m sending an overabundance of love and light to everyone who needs it right now. The souls who’ve departed us far too soon will live on forever through all those they touched.
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Nasrien E. Ibrahim, MD is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She is interested in biomarkers, cardiac remodeling, access to healthcare, understanding mechanisms of health inequities, and women’s leadership in academia. She loves college basketball, hip hop, the beach, and LeBron James. You can follow her at @DrNasrien