Commentary, Coronavirus, Exclusives

EMS Lawline: Make Time for Family

Daniel Pedersen

As I sit at home during this coronavirus pandemic, it is hard—if not impossible—to try to write an article that does not relate to COVID-19. As a lawyer (and not a clinician) there are times I feel helpless. I am not on the front lines. I do not know what it’s like to treat a patient in the field or deal with patients in this time of crisis. I cannot attempt to provide guidance, recommendations, best practices, or other advice about clinical issues with which I am not familiar.

Health care workers are literally risking their lives to treat the afflicted, the elderly, and the frail. Millions of people are left unemployed, while others are working nearly around the clock to keep up with the demand on the health care system. I prefer to write about something unrelated to COVID-19, but I feel compelled to do my best to provides a nonclinical and personal perspective in a time that the world wants and expects news articles related to the coronavirus pandemic.

A phrase we have heard (and likely used) is “return to normalcy.” What exactly is “normal” and what can we do to keep things normal? To me, family and family life is normal and, so far, as we collectively struggle through home isolation, I have tried to keep things as normal as possible. As of early April, my three kids—ages 12, 14, and 16—have been home from school now for more than three weeks. My wife—a teacher—has also been off work for three weeks. I have been working remotely for two weeks. We have not left the house other than to play outdoors or go for a brief walk or bike ride. We are doing our part to maintain social distancing and “flatten the curve.” In many respects, the outside world is anything but normal. But our inside world has not changed.

My youngest claimed to be bored on day one. My kids are active in school and sports. Rarely does a weekend go by from August through April where we are not rushing around Central Pennsylvania transporting kids between hockey, volleyball, or lacrosse games and practices. My son was not really bored; he was just out of his typical routine. As a family, we had to come together to create a new routine with this newfound time on our hands.

The beginning was a bit harrowing, but after a few days, we all became more accustomed to this new reality. There was no chaos of a quick dinner before practice. There were no more early morning weekends to travel to a hockey game 100 miles away. There was no more eating dinner in a high school cafeteria in between after school activities.

Being a close-knit family to begin with, I did not think our self-imposed quarantine would be overly difficult. Despite being cooped up together as my wife participated in conference calls and ZOOM meetings and worked on lesson plans in hopes of returning to teaching, while I worked remotely in the living room, we have all managed to get along.

Although the daytime routine has turned upside-down, our evening routine has not changed, and intentionally so. We do our best to eat meals as a family. We try to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour. We watch movies and play games together. We have done our best to keep as close to a normal home life as possible despite the abnormal world around us.

Dealing with this pandemic has reminded me of the importance of family and the fragility of life. I am grateful to be able to be home with my family, and I am eternally grateful for those who are away from their families during this troubling time, especially our emergency medical services practitioners on the front line of this war against the “invisible enemy.” Whether we are with our families or away from them, it is important to spend time with them, love them, cherish them, and support them.

Although  we are all stressed and uncertain of what the future holds regarding health care, the economy, and the general way of life over the course of the next few months and years, what we can be sure of is the importance of and the need for family. I am lucky; I get to spend time with my family during this unusual time. I am thankful for the public safety and health care workers that sacrifice their family time to help others in need, risking their own lives and normal family life in the process.

No matter how difficult your shift may have been or how crazy the outside world might be, remember, you have a spouse or significant other at home who needs a hug, a child who needs a bedtime story, and a parent who just needs to hear your voice in a quick phone call. In this extraordinary time, the love, foundation, and structure of family might be the best—perhaps the only—thing that helps us fight through this together and keep a sense of “normal” in our inside world despite the craziness in the outside world.

Do your best to maintain separation between these two worlds and allow your home and family life to remain intact. Take time with your loved ones to separate yourself from the tense and anxious world of COVID-19. Encourage your family and friends to help you enjoy their company and take a break from the stressors you deal with on the job day in and day out. Please, don’t take for granted the thing that might very well save us all.

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Daniel Pedersen has been an attorney with Page, Wolfberg & Wirth, LLC for more than 15 years. He has authored or co-authored numerous articles and blogs, usually focusing on Medicare billing, compliance and reimbursement, and revenue cycle issues. Pedersen can be reached at [email protected].