By Kathleen R. Strunk, DO

I stepped outside into my backyard to take a deep breath and enjoy some silence after getting my three small children to bed. I was feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and grateful at the same time. My husband and I had been in quarantine with our sick five-year-old child while trying to manage telemedicine, my patients and his job from home. We juggled all of that while also taking care of our other two younger children without any outside help. It is a story that is all too familiar to so many these days. 

While I stood outside just breathing, I was startled by the sudden sound of cow bells, howling, screaming and fireworks going off. It was just a regular week night. I couldn’t figure out what was going on but was just hoping it wouldn’t wake any of my children. I pulled out my phone and promptly googled to see what I had missed. What I read nearly brought me to tears.

People were howling, setting fireworks off and celebrating at 8:00 pm to honor and support health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This filled me with a sense of pride and hope that I and fellow health care workers are not in this alone but are supported by our neighbors and community that we serve. 

While doing a little further investigation about this 8:00 howl, I discovered that it was started here in Colorado by two people who came up with the idea to help them not feel so isolated and connect with their neighbors. Like the singing in Italy, it really is a connection on a very primal level. As this started to take off, many people decided to dedicate their howls to health care workers.

It has now spread to small towns and big cities across the country. People are singing from their apartment building balconies, tying white ribbons around trees, posting pictures and messages in their windows and writing on sidewalks—all to support of the thousands of health care super heroes risking their lives to take care of patients.

This expression of appreciation from our community made it a little easier the next day to push through our difficult schedule, focusing again on the patients we needed to take care of. The next night at 8 pm, we let our older two kids stay up late, step outside and howl with the rest of our community. I howled with them too, for my coworkers risking their lives on the frontline every day. 

This howling and screaming can be very therapeutic as well. As you howl and hear howls in return, it is too dark to see anyone, but you don’t feel so alone. The sounds get louder, stronger and eventually join in unison.

We can see the upper floors of one of our local hospitals from our backyard and I hope some of those inside can hear their community cheering them on for all their work. 

It helped create a shift in how I was managing this pandemic emotionally and mentally. My fellow physicians and I are not in this alone. There is a lot of negativity, isolation, death and loneliness as a result of COVID-19: it can be all too easy to focus on those things. Instead, this community support has helped me to take a glass-half-full approach as often as a I can.

I feel grateful when I see my neighbors staying home, wearing and making masks, notes written from children, and emails from patients just to say THANK YOU for being a health care worker. Take that positivity and let it fill you up. See how much our country has come together to fight this pandemic. We are not alone. 

So tonight at 8 pm, go outside and howl! Howl for yourselves, your families, your coworkers and our frontline workers. 

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