By Helene Bednarsh
It was sometime in late January that my sleep-less pattern started. Our regional dental conference, Yankee Dental, was at the end of January. Yes, New England, end of January. In preparing for our educational exhibit, I thought maybe some Novel Coronavirus-19 fact sheets might be good to have. Day 1, 300 flew off the table faster than the condoms and candy. Couldn’t walk across the exhibit floor without being asked about it, noticed some mask wearers and it began.
Mydreams were first anxiety-driven. Between the conference and our discussions in the Infectious Disease Bureau, reading between the lines in the print media, listening to and absorbing all the news that’s fit to hear was my tipping point. What is this, why aren’t the public health authorities telling us? Dire stories out of China that were reported months before and still went unheeded. Professional journals and associations sharing information. Lack of leadership and--I genuinely believe, the muzzling of federal disease experts--only fueled my anxiety.
Then panic! What is the real risk? How do I mitigate the risk? Why am I still going out in public and working? The dreams took advantage of this and my restless mind spun out all kinds of scenarios. Morbidity, mortality, messaging and more. The helpless feeling when in panic mode. No wonder—the word “panic” comes from the Greek god Pan, who was thought to induce sudden, uncontrollable fear, leading people into irrational behavior.
The dreams morphed into all of the what-ifs in my life and the roads not taken. Not like I could do anything about those decisions now either made by me or for me. But some were laced with regret. Hard to fight regret.
Then Jewish mother mode – guilt. Suddenly I was fixated in my REM or non-REM world with everything I had done wrong in my life, anyone I had wronged in my life. Atonement was just too far away. Demons, like an invasion of the body snatchers, were everywhere in my sleepless nights. Some even stayed to keep me company during the day. Curse you, pandemic!
Recently, I must use dream controls on what I watch on TV. In my dreams I suffer the dramas of the characters, it is as if I have become them. Spoiler alert: Claire, in “Outlander,” why didn’t you touch the damn stone and go back? I’m almost afraid to even read, lest I morph into one of the characters. I am staying with my public health literature--scary as it is, I have become inured to it. Who would have thought that the pandemic guidelines, articles, webinars and all would creep out of my dreams and leave me with the others?
I do not know if I will ever sleep through the night again. Perhaps when there is a vaccine or herd immunity. But that is a long time to wait for a good night’s sleep. To sleep, perchance not to dream?
Helene Bednarsh is Director of the Ryan White Dental Program, Boston Public Health Commission. She is Vice President of HIVDENT and is the Dental Director for the New England AIDS Education and Training Center. She has published numerous articles. When she’s not advocating for something, she’s knitting.