About Catherine Cheng, MD

I am a general internist in Chicago, Illinois, mother of two, almost native Coloradan, and Northwestern alum. I want to leave the world better for my having lived, by cultivating the best possible relationships between all who know me, and all whom I influence. Join me on this crazy, idealistic, fascinating journey! Look for new posts on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month. Opinions posted here are entirely my own, and in no way reflect the opinions or policies of my employer.

Paradoxes and Polarities

Moonset, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, CO January 2020.
Photo by Karen Cornell, DVM, PhD, DACVS

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

The last NaBlo of 2020, hallelujah!  I do this for myself, but the views, likes, and comments are rewarding—so thank you all!

Every cloud has a silver lining; every light casts a shadow.

What paradoxes did you experience in 2020?  Here are mine:

  • Unearned vacation
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Loss of control/autonomy of schedule
  • Loss of social activities/tightening of social bonds
  • Attention toward global humanitarian issues/Focus on intimate relationships
  • Disruption of usual routines/Return to fundamental patterns
  • Things are so bad/So much potential for good

Now some polarities I managed… What were yours?

  • Fear/Acceptance?  Curiosity?  Courage?
  • Self-care/Care for others
  • Doom scroll/Tune it all out
  • There’s nothing I can do, not my problem/I must do everything I can to help, it’s all up to me
  • I belong to this tribe/I reject this tribe
  • Think it through/Take action
  • Burn down the Patriarchy NOW/Culture change happens slowly
  • Intrinsic calling/Extrinsic conformity
  • I’m Awesome!/I will never be good enough
  • Inner peace/Outrage
  • Make sweeping delcarations/Qualify every statement

Wow.  That’s kind of a lot, and pretty complex.  And yet it’s so simple, so Zen

Life is an exercise in holding space—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally—for all that feels like contradiction.  We are here to reconcile it all, to dig it up in order to smooth it out, to make peace in the morass, to turn manure into fertilizer.  The flexibility to hold mutually divergent ideas at the same time, and to move fluidly from one pole to its opposite and back again in dynamic balance—this is my most valuable lesson from this year.

In April I wrote about the best thing that could happen from this pandemic:  Connection.  It’s already happening, and I’m so grateful.  I’m also inspired, empowered, and ambitious for more. 

Can’t wait for 2021.

Pandemic Lesson #1: Flexibility

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

What have you had to be flexible about this year?  What has this taught you?

It’s not that we cannot make plans anymore.  It’s that we must be willing and able to change them, quickly and effectively, if we want to actually get anything done.  Move all primary care and primary/secondary education online?  Done.  Stop flying?  Okay.  Come back to work and school?  Sure.  Wait no, outbreak, go home again, please?  Fine.  Postpone big vacation 3…6 months… indefinitely…  *sigh*…we can deal.

Many of my patients are actually thriving in the new work from home normal.  Without the constant travel, jetlag, business dinners (the quadruple threat to acid reflux:  late, fatty, large, and full of alcohol), and long commutes, they sleep more and better, spend more time with family, exercise more, and eat healthier.  If all goes well, my executive health job may be obsolete in the next decade, hallelujah! 

Not everybody’s doing well, of course.  60% of the workforce still shows up in person; risk, stress, and burnout are very real, and escalating.  The people who are well are those with choice.  They are the privileged ones.

Most of us still don’t know how the new work life balance will look in the coming years, but we hope to retain and expand the flexibility that has given us some sense of agency and control.  Check out this episode of Hidden Brain to hear a Stanford work from home researcher on implications of this augmented world for all of us. 

What flexibility do you wish for in 2021?

Agency and control in the midst of a global pandemic—how ironic!  Pandemic lesson #2 may be Paradox and Polarities… The last 2020 NaBlo…  Wait for it…

Unity Across Difference

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

Tonight we pray for the injured Northwestern Wildcat football player.

What place has prayer in sports?  I don’t take a position here; I’m wondering. 

NU played Michigan State today.  Two players collided head on.  The Wildcat went down and did not get up.  The medical team attended immediately and Hubs saw the C-collar come out, never a good sign.  After several more minutes, it appeared the whole team gathered on the field in a still, vigilant scrum.  Heads bowed, hands grasped shoulders.  They’re praying, I realized. 

For better or worse, my first reaction was to wonder if that was okay with everybody on the team.   Do you think it was for better, or for worse?  Why?  Why do I even wonder about the distinction?  I assign it as neither (or both)—I choose simply to observe it, hold it with curiosity and not judgment.  I may entertain various stories about it, perhaps accepting all somewhat and none fully.

A second later I felt reassured, even inspired.  I don’t know anything about NU Football team culture.  I choose the story, however, that it’s the kind in which anyone asked to gather and express solidarity with a fallen teammate does so without hesitation.  “I will pray for your healing,” and, “Please pray for me,” said earnestly by a faithful player to an atheist one, can be received as an expression of caring and a request for support, respectively, rather than impositions of one’s beliefs on the other.  We bow our heads and grasp each other’s shoulders to show reverence and cohesion.  When one of us is hurt, traumatized, or otherwise suffering, it shouldn’t matter what religion we practice or not. 

We help however we know how.  Because we are a team.