Ending a year of living in the minor key

Last night, a little more than twenty-four hours prior to this odious thing called 2020 was set to expire, I received my first of two Covid-19 vaccines. As a healthcare worker I am among the first in the country to receive the vaccine that will help protect me from an invisible enemy that could kill me, or not even make me ill enough to realize I’m even infected with it. However, I’ll soon inch one year further into my mid-fifties, I have asthma that becomes problematic with even a standard-issue common cold virus, and if the theories about which blood type fares worse with Covid-19 end up being proven, with type A blood flowing through my veins that is a triple crown of bad news should I acquire the virus. And, as a nurse I am exposed to patients who have active Covid-19, often on a daily basis. As the needle pierced my skin and entered my left deltoid muscle, the only thing I felt was the relief of crossing a finish line after running a 9-month marathon away from the virus. I read accounts of people becoming emotional upon receiving the vaccine. I got my sparkly silver adhesive bandage, thanked the nurse, was handed my official Covid-19 vaccination card and shown were to sit for 15 minutes to ensure I wasn’t going to have a reaction. “Well, that was all a little underwhelming,” I mused to myself.

I walked out to my vehicle, started it up and prepared to drive home. I work as a hospice nurse and I spend my work days visiting clients in the last months, weeks, days and sometimes hours of life. On my drive home after the end of the day I have a rule that I only play classical music to help me process and release some of the emotions and stress that are bound to surface when you’re always witnessing various stages of approaching death. Just as I was pulling out of the parking lot of the facility where I received my vaccine the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A started playing on my satellite radio. While the first and third movements are written in A Major, the second movement is written in F Minor.

For those who don’t have a musical background, you will know the melancholy sound of the minor key from songs like “Yesterday” by The Beatles; “Hurt” by Johnny Cash; “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin; or “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. The second movement of Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto for me has forever been the epitome of sadness and foreboding. There are rays of hope that come in the middle of the movement, but the overall picture it paints is one of loss, regret, longing, pain and desolation. I think it’s the most beautiful sad music ever written, and the only movement Mozart ever composed in F minor, making its singularity, I think, very fitting for a year that has been singularly the darkest we’ve ever lived through.

After the first haunting bars, I felt a lump creep into my throat. As it continued into its opening dirge-like melody I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I drove into a remote area of the parking lot, turned up the volume and let the tears flow. The tears were for the mental and emotional exhaustion everyone has felt during the pandemic. The horror of seeing so many die. The anger and frustration I feel toward those who refuse to take the most basic steps to protect others from contracting the virus. The tears were from nine months of stomach-turning disgust from watching a president and his administration do little to manage the pandemic. They were for a nurse and former colleague of mine who contracted Covid-19 and died in the same hospital where she worked as a cardiac nurse. For leaving behind a career as an ER nurse and my colleagues, some of whom were close friends, because of the threat the constant influx of acutely ill Covid-19 patients posed to me due to my asthma.

I cried for the scores of elderly residing in assisted living and long-term-care facilities I have seen as a hospice nurse, who have not seen their loved ones for nearly a year, don’t understand why, and have dramatically declined as a result. The tears were from the weariness of wearing a mask even at home and socially distancing from my partner for fear of bringing the virus home to him from work. I cried for the people who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their businesses and all of the chaos and disruption that has brought to so many lives. They flowed from the anxiety of worrying about my friends working in the ER and in critical care contracting the virus and becoming acutely ill, or worse. And finally, they were from the sheer relief of knowing that in one month, after I’ve had my second vaccine and have had time to reach maximum immunity, that even though I’ll still need to follow all of the precautions for a while longer, I’ll be operating under a whole lot less anxiety.

We still have so far to go in this fight, and the new year will without a doubt start out dark. But we have a glimmer of hope to hold onto. I am confident that once a new administration takes over and there are functionally intelligent adults driving the bus that we’ll be able to veer away from the edge of the cliff we have been in danger of careening off for so very long. In addition to the traditional wishes of  happiness, good fortune, health, and peace at the beginning of a new year, I am ever so hopeful that next year as we usher in 2022 we will be living in a much more harmonious and happy major key of life.

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