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  • Writer's picturekwankew

2020 in Review, the year of the COVID Pandemic

2020 will always be remembered as the year of the COVID pandemic.

I was fortunate to spend a blissful three weeks in Antarctica, sailing on a 134-person polar expedition ship, The Spirit of Shackleton, in February and early March just before the world-wide lock-down for the pandemic. Starting in Ushuaia in Argentina, I hiked up the Martial Glacier, visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park, and hopped on the End of the World train.

The Spirit of Shackleton sailed to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia, and then Antarctica. The most wonderful thing was meeting so many wildlife. The penguins were my absolute favorites, the king, Magellanic, and rockhopper on the islands; the Gentoo, chinstrap, Adele, and macaroni penguins on Antarctica.

In Falkland, there were many king penguins and black-browed albatross, and the museum depicting the Falkland war. In South Georgia, we visited the grave of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, the South Georgia Museum in Grytviken, several former whaling stations and the huge colony of king penguins and the wandering albatross in their nesting grounds, elephant seals, giant petrels, and pipits.

Crossing the Scotia Sea, we sailed by Elephant Island where Shackleton’s crew was stranded and reached Tierra de O'Higgins, Península on Antarctica which has some of the most unique wildlife and awe-inspiring scenery in the world. I didn’t set foot on the continent right away but went exploring on a kayak.

The Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands abound with wildlife activity, Gentoo, chinstrap, and Adelie penguins; Weddell, crabeater, and leopard seals; orca, humpback, and minke whales in the cold Antarctic waters.

The sheer beauty and the breathtaking scenery of ice-choked waterways, blue and white icebergs, impressive glaciers, and rugged snow-capped mountains overwhelmed us.

The more adventurous of us camped overnight on the white continent and before leaving, over a third of us plunged into the icy polar water.

Crossing the rough Drake Passage back to Ushuaia, most of us were on deck trying to spot humpback and orca whales.

Back to the real world in early March, the COVID pandemic was declared and lock-down began. In April, I went down to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the epicenter of the pandemic in NY to volunteer.

In May a few of us volunteers went to St. Croix with FEMA and IMANA to get the island ready for COVID but red tapes and logistics hampered our work. It wound down to us spending a period of time as though we were on an uneasy vacation.

I still work part-time seeing patients in person as well as by telemedicine.

Scott turned down my invitation to Antarctica, citing the cold, inhospitable climate. He hunkers down and teaches from home, ventures out now and then in search of food and worship whenever he can.

This summer, Scott, Cara, Charles, Mel, and I spent a glorious two weeks at Wellfleet, Cape Cod, braving the sharks and COVID.

Tim left the army last year and is now working as a civilian lawyer mostly from home. Ju-Lin still works in the urgent care clinic for the native Alaskans. They are awaiting their twins, due in June 2021. They lost their beloved cat Donut, who disappeared one day into the wild frontiers. They still have their other cat, Isis, four ducks raised for eggs but the cold weather has put a stop to that, and finally a fish. Their lives will be forever changed next year.

Cara took a plunge into a silent year-long retreat by herself in the meditation center in Colorado in early October, there she has no running water, internet, no communications with us except her husband, James on rare occasions. She will have plenty of time to reflect, completely safe from COVID. James has been working as an EMT to fight the COVID pandemic in Pennsylvania, sometimes a gruesome 16-hour day with very few days off.

Charles is working from home with Facing History and Ourselves. He misses being in the office with colleagues and working in persons with the teachers. Charles’ friend, Mel, works as an acupuncturist and has close contact with her patients, which puts her at greater risks for COVID. They are working on buying a house, hoping to close sometime in January. Exciting!

My second book, Into Africa, Out of Academia: A Doctor’s Memoir came out this October, a book about my volunteering experiences in Africa from 2006 through 2013 with fifty photographs. Do read it and leave a review on Amazon. Belmont Books is hosting a book event on January 19, 2021, at 7 PM virtually. Register here.

The Belmont Gallery of Art has a virtual exhibit, FACING YOU: A Portraits Show, featuring work by over 60 Artists. Mine is a Self-Portrait with My Cat Kuchi. She is very much a great part of our lives as the children have left us a while ago.

2020 is an unprecedented time--time humanity would remember when we are all fighting a common, invisible enemy. Even in Antarctica where I was at the beginning of the pandemic, the virus has finally arrived. The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn reminds us we are just a small part of the universe.

While the virus rules, it may be sending us a subliminal message to slow down, to take a long hiatus from our busy lives, to pause and listen to nature around us, to the still small voice in our head, and to enjoy the moment with our loved ones, for such luxury of liminal time and space may not come again, at least not in our lifetime.

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