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I was raised by three parents. First, my mother the Clinical Laboratory Scientist in New Jersey; second my father the Family Medicine Physician in Lagos; and third, health care the practice of which has cradled me from childhood to adulthood. One of the few places humans dread with every fiber of their being is hospitals. For me, it’s always been a sacred place, a thread connecting every tapestry of my life. Some of my earliest memories are doing homework at our hospital in Lagos – bouncing from the waiting room, to the Lab to the ED annoying my parents to finish work so we could head home.

In June 1993, Nigeria was engaged in the first democratic election in an era. The leading candidate MKO Abiola was a civilian whose smile lit up rooms and swagger shook concrete. He was a man of the people. The polls and votes foreshadowed an inevitable change of power and he was the presumed winner. The Western world considered the elections the freest and fairest of its time. However, the election was voided and the military held on to power. MKO Abiola was arrested, never seen again and died in prison. I still have vivid memories of rushing from school to my parent’s hospital as riots engulfed streets, red machetes glistened in sunlight, and screams crackled the air as cars met fiery blockades. By the time we reached the hospital, I felt safe because we all knew that violence would never come here. No matter whose side the rioters were on, they respected the place of healing. They or their loved ones would need the hospital today or tomorrow. It was a sacred space.

In January 2021, as I watched the U.S. Capitol insurrection take place, trauma made me a time traveler. How could this be happening in the U.S., my adopted home? I’d known democracy was fragile but didn’t believe it was here. Visions of both my homelands, 28 years apart, imploded within me. Trauma lives in the crevices of fears and memories. It knows your fragility. It knows your truest self. It embraces and transports you across eons before you know you left. Trauma is a tyrant unbound by time and space. 

As I traveled back and forth through time, I led the COVID-19 Command Center at John Muir Health. Our teams were performing heroic feats: We were steeped in Surge 3.0, carrying the largest census of COVID-19 patients in the county. Three weeks into vaccines going live, we’d administered over 50 percent of our workforce with first doses. The entire system rallied to fight a battle on two fronts: one of ambulatory prevention and one of acute treatment. As the Capitol was being stormed, health workers never stopped placing their lives on the line for others. This new Surge was ruthless and relentless. Yet I couldn’t help watching the insurrection unfold. Trauma wrenched me back in time to the protests following George Floyd’s murder and contrasted the agonizingly disparate responses. It was the epitome of inequity. I wondered what would have happened if the insurrectionists looked like me. There would be blood. So much blood.

Trauma tore into health workers this past year. We’ve had our feet on the gas and never let up. We’ve become accustomed to death being inches away. We’ve been driving with fumes for so long. We’re only just coming up for air. Spring 2021 has been a period of grace and release. I just got to see my mother for the first time in over a year. As a Clinical Lab Scientist, she belongs among the many unsung heroes in health care. Without CLSs there’s no diagnosis. Without CLSs blood won’t flow. I took my mother out to dinner. The last time we did this was March 2020 exploring the foods and sights of San Francisco. Little did we know the city would shut down a week later and I would be among those weighing that fateful decision. By the time my mother returned to her hospital in New Jersey, she was immediately deployed to support the devastating Surge 1.0 that hit the East Coast.