Trent Edwards, M1, Class of 2025
You’ve heard it said that no man is an island, but during COVID’s prolonged quarantine, it was difficult not to identify with that floating, isolated unit of life. As minutes turned into weeks, I found myself starving for the very sense of connection which Maslow postulated was a human need. When quarantine ended, I stumbled out into the world with a cautious desperation to rekindle relationships. I participated in conversations with vigor and listened intently. Yet, despite my enthusiasm, I still felt… distant. Sure, there was physically 6 feet of distance, but I found myself confronting another barrier. How could I connect with someone while half their face was covered?
If 60% of communication is nonverbal, then something must be irrevocably lost behind the mask in each interaction. To compensate, I tried focusing on my companion’s eyes, but if the eyes are a window into the soul, I found them tinted. To tell if someone was happy, I had always looked for a smile. Sadness had usually been accompanied by a frown. Instead, I now had to interpret the slightest of changes in two orbs for the complete range of human emotion. Today, I’ve had over a year of practice and while I still find myself having difficulty reading peoples’ eyes, it has also opened up a new world for me. I’m discovering that intentional eye contact is leaving me feeling more connected to those I interact with and helping me notice increasingly subtle reactions. My listening has improved and I am coming to a greater sense of understanding with those around me. As a future physician, masks are going to be worn by my patients for years to come. Thus, learning how to read emotions from their eyes will help me better understand my patients, better intuit that which is not said, and better recognize their problems. In doing so, I will not only create stronger bonds, but also provide better care.