“Almost done,” the doctor assured me, as she aimed her laser at my right eye. Then over the next 20 minutes, she said it several more times. By then I knew it was all a cruel deception, meant to distract me from the fact that a white-hot beam of light was pummeling one of my only two instruments of vision. 

In between her lies, I mentioned I was thinking about that Bond film, when our hero writhes on a gold table as a laser beam starts cutting between his feet on its way up to a grisly demise. “Do you expect me to talk?” he asks the villainous Goldfinger.

“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” 

The doctor laughed at the analogy, kind of, then lowered her goggles and lifted the weapon one more time, blasting away at my torn retina like a demonic welder. Sparks flew, smoke billowed. “Almost done,” she said again, but wasn’t. 

Reliving the horror just now, I realize that’s what experiencing this pandemic has been like, especially for long-term care staff, residents and their loved ones. From the very beginning of the crisis, we’ve heard those words over and over, spoken by usually well-meaning leaders doing their best to offer us a little hope. First, it was two more months, then four, then summer heat, then bleach. Now the vaccines have arrived, along with another promising chorus of “almost done.” 

But still, here we are, and all we can do is squirm in the chair as the laser approaches, and choose to believe that one of these times, maybe they’ll be right. 

Within our facilities, there’s nothing our staff want to believe more than “almost done.” The losses they’ve witnessed and experienced have been devastating. They’re struggling under the stresses of incessant testing and quarantines, and long to just care for people without distraction. They dream of the day they can peel off those face shields and N95s, see the faces of colleagues and residents, and be able to communicate like actual humans. 

But as each new “almost done” fades away, they’re also staying focused on the task at hand, and many I’ve talked to seem to be at an almost Zen-like peace with the on-going challenge, choosing to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. With a focus on tackling what’s ahead instead of what happened, their example is a source of inspiration and strength. 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” wrote Elizabeth Bishop in what has been called the ultimate pandemic poem, and learning this will continue to be the focus of our education for the duration of the pandemic. Many of our losses have been tragic and heart-rending, but others seem somehow helpful, or even vital. The horror show of the past year is administering an essential and badly-needed pruning of triviality and artifice from our lives. 

As we continue our unwilling apprenticeship to the art of losing — and unlike Bishop I find it extremely hard to master — every well-meaning “almost done” can give us breathing room to gather our strength and tackle what’s next. If I had known back in February of 2020 everything we’d face and how much we’d lose, I might never have left my bed. But these periodic flickers of elusive hope help us rise to the challenge, day after day. They give us space to practice resilience and gain badly needed perspective on life and what’s important within it — and what isn’t. 

The story isn’t over, and we’ll probably still have plenty of painful lessons to learn about the art of loss. So whatever happens, and however long that takes, I’ll be clinging to those two most hopeful and therapeutically deceptive of words: “Almost done.”

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.