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You Are Only Coming Through in Waves

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My Grandmother died when I was 19. The weeks before she died, I found myself singing the rather obscure Counting Crows song, “Amy Hit the Atmosphere,” over and over again in my head;

Well, Amy hit the atmosphere
Caught herself a rocket ride out of this gutter
And she’s never coming back I fear
Anytime it rains she just feels a lot better
And that’s all that really matters to me

We’ve waited so long
For someone to take us back home
It just takes so long
Meanwhile all the days go drifting away
And some of us sink like a stone
Waiting for mothers to come

I didn’t know she would die. It wasn’t expected. I don’t know why I was singing this song. Maybe it felt rhythmic and soothing at a time when I generally wasn’t feeling all that great about my life. Maybe it was entirely coincidental. But as a 19-year-old I dwelled on this for years afterwards. I still cry when I hear that song.

I’m not religious. I don’t believe that things happen for a reason. But somehow, I grant a psychic exception for instances when I predict a song that is about to come on the radio, or when I dream about something that becomes reality. For times when I can’t get something obscure out of my head and then conveniently assign it permanent meaning forever and ever and ever. I once contacted a medium.

The COVID-19 virus is throwing me off balance, as I know it has many of you. I am not a front-line healthcare worker. I am not a policy maker. I am non-essential. I am helpless. I feel small. And suddenly I am singing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”

Hello? Hello? Hello?

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?

It all feels a distant ship smoke on the horizon. At least for me. Women as One is an organization we built to help women in medicine. To help doctors. I have never felt less able to do so or more frustrated with my inability to make a difference. As a startup, every day changes your trajectory. Every ‘like’ on Twitter, every grant dollar, every email of positive reinforcement or ignored request bends you like a straw. We are still very green.

It’s been so rewarding to see the world responding to our little organization in such a positive way. The need for gender equity programming has been underlined and highlighted with a big fat highlighter. But the sails have gone utterly flat in the wake of the more dire need for immediate, tangible support for our healthcare workforce around the world. There is so much to be done on all fronts and I feel our organization is not yet large enough to contribute in a meaningful way.

I want to help. I cannot help. We need to help. How can we help???

It has been incredibly powerful to see the world rise to this occasion. I am humbled by the rapid-fire response of scientific professionals to better understand the virus and deliver real time information into the hands of those who need it. By individual physicians and healthcare leaders who are making unimaginable decisions with strength and intelligence. It has made me proud to feel part of this community, even if that part is passive for the moment.

Because so many of you have been so brave and vocal about your experiences, most days I continue to feel optimistic about our collective ability to pull out of this stronger than before.

I hope we never become comfortably numb. I hope we continue to fight. It helps me sleep at night. Put my kids to bed without having a full-on, hands shaking anxiety attack.

I hope that Women as One can one day repay the healthcare community with something of true magnitude.

Thank you all. Thank you so much.

You are amazing.

Author: Rebecca Ortega, MHA

Rebecca Ortega, MHA

Rebecca Ortega is the Managing Director of Women as One. She is the former Director of Education at both the Duke Clinical Research Institute and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. She is not shy about sharing her opinions.


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