Finding balance during COVID-19 is a struggle for many. Between ever-changing protocols and a desperate desire to return to normalcy, it can be challenging to figure out how to navigate the pandemic. This fight for balance during COVID-19 is a challenge Omotola Ajibade experiences daily. As a physician and a photographer, Ajibade has had to learn how to focus and prioritize.
Balance During COVID-19
“I recently moved to New Jersey for residency and was working on re-establishing myself as a photographer in my new location,” Ajibade said. “Finding balance in two simultaneously demanding paths has been difficult. I’ve largely stopped the majority of my photography work to focus squarely on taking care of patients.”
Although his work as a physician currently takes priority, Ajibade wants to help fellow photographers facing challenges. During the early days of lockdown, he wrote a piece for NJ Spots to provide guidance and insight. Helping others navigate these uncertain times has helped Ajibade cope, as well as embracing the facts surrounding the pandemic.
“I’m a huge history nerd and one thing that history shows us is that virtually all pandemics are finite,” Ajibade said. “They end either because of herd immunity, public health measures that limit the spread, or because there’s an effective treatment or vaccine. I try to remind myself and others of that fact on a daily basis.”
Creativity During COVID-19
As a photographer, Ajibade has had to find new ways to create. He has shifted from the portrait and event photography pre-pandemic to capturing “mostly empty streets in parts of the Jersey Shore.” It has been an exploration of the concept of Kenopsia.
“Kenopsia is the feeling of being in a place that used to be vibrant with life but is suddenly empty,” Ajibade said. “I wrote about it once when I started my blog on my website earlier this year, but the lockdown made me want to explore that feeling a little more.”
In addition to this unique examination, the pandemic has presented opportunities Ajibade for personal growth.
“I needed a new headshot for a speaking engagement, so I had to play photographer and subject simultaneously,” Ajibade said. “The process of doing that helped me internalize some of the stress that clients go through when preparing for a shoot especially because they don’t always know what’s happening behind the lens.”
Clinical Work During COVID-19
As a physician, Ajibade’s work has been affected by COVID-19. One of his biggest struggles has been grappling with the country’s response to the virus.
“I spent the early days of the lockdown dumbfounded by our national response and enraged at the impending death tolls,” Ajibade said. “But I realized that I couldn’t stay angry forever. I would actually have to do something.”
At his facility, how they serve the community has changed significantly. They have transitioned to telemedicine, minimizing the need for outpatient care.
“I was supposed to be in the clinics for two months at a time,” Ajibade said. “Once we started transitioning everything to telemedicine, there was less need for me to be in the clinic, so I opted to redeploy into the hospital earlier than I was supposed to. It wasn’t a huge change for me, but some of my co-residents were working at sites that shut down completely.”
Community Response To COVID-19
A key measure for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing. Ajibade has witnessed up close the effects of isolation among his colleagues and his patients.
“It’s truly jarring how multifaceted the burden of isolation can be,” Ajibade said. “I’m fortunate to live alone right now, and I’ve never been more grateful for the solitude. However, most of my peers have families. We talk often about their fear of inadvertently bringing home the virus. Sometimes, they live in this weird mix of self-imposed exile and ostracism because they won’t go near their families and vice-versa.”
For the patients, COVID-19 isolates them as well as their families.
“We spend some portion of each day calling families to give them updates on how their loved ones are doing,” Ajibade said. Since they can’t come to the hospital, those phone calls are really the only way they have to keep up. Their voices are often forlorn and weary. It’s almost like we’re all in this together in our aloneness.”
Despite these difficulties, a silver lining has been the support his facility has received from the community.
“The community has really shown up for us in amazing ways,” Ajibade said. “Almost daily in the ER and the ICU, members of the community brought in more food than we can eat. People brought in all sorts of 3-D printed face shields, head, and neck straps for masks. I’ve even got a growing collection of scrub caps all given to me by people in the community. It’s been amazing to see.”
Beyond COVID-19: The Future of Healthcare
While this pandemic has placed unprecedented strain on the healthcare system, Ajibade has also seen significant leaps in innovation.
“We’re seeing game-changing processes come out of previously underrepresented sources in the global health technology game,” Ajibade said. “Reportedly, countries like Senegal have been able to 3D print new ventilators for roughly $60/ unit. That model will likely be exported to the rest of the world. Hospitals in the future may not be buying certain kinds of equipment. Instead, they might buy licenses to schematics from biotech firms and then 3-D print the devices on-site as the need arises. It would significantly save on shipping and potential damage in transit and cut down on repair and replacement costs as well.”
Ajibade takes comfort in these new possibilities as well as his ability to explore the human condition as a physician and a photographer. Managing this balance during COVID-19 has helped Ajibade stay grounded. He also recognizes the era-defining moment we are currently in.
“It is an incredibly rare thing to live through a historic event and know it,” Ajibade said. “Back in college, my history professor used to point out that the people who lived through the Dark Ages likely didn’t call it that. It is only in the gift of hindsight that we recognized the period as such. Our actions and inactions in this time will shape how the generations that come after us will think about these times.”
If you enjoyed this piece about balance during COVID-19, read previous posts in the series: #PandemicPerspectives: Beck and Grant on Adaptability During COVID-19 and #PandemicPerspectives: Harwell-Dye & Macker On Passion During COVID-19