By Katherine A. Lincoln, DO, MHA, FACOFP

As I crawl out of bed in the morning, I slip on my house shoes. The ones I plod up and down the stairs in with my laundry basket under one arm. The ones that get me to the first cup of coffee. The silence of the morning is broken by kid feet and cat meows, and “Did you study your spelling words?” and “Don’t forget your lunch.”

Work shoes look different these days, trading in heels for sneakers or washable flats. Work shoes are stationed in the garage, away from the safety of the indoor world. In the era of COVID, the indoor world is a sanctuary of frequent wipe downs and more frequent hand washing.

Designated work shoes carry me to patient encounters, hidden on telehealth screens. Work shoes come to in-person meetings, planning for a future on the other side of the pandemic. So many questions—a few questions answered.

I swap out my work shoes for trusty sneakers at lunchtime. I am trying to make it to 10,000 steps every day. Exploring near the hospital on foot, I have hiked so many miles during this time in my sneakers. Walking gives way to breathing and calmness, providing another type of much-needed escape during the hectic day.

Next, I switch back to work shoes for running up and down the stairs at the hospital. At work I walk more than a mile in my shoes as a physician, a team leader, family friend and counselor, social worker, resident mentor, a walking medication encyclopedia, hospital administrator, billing expert, data entry clerk, and countless other functions that I can’t even remember.

Walking in these shoes to fill so many roles teaches me compassion and reminds me of how important empathy is in my position as an osteopathic physician—especially during a pandemic, when tensions can be even higher than normal.

Work shoes are so important, but it is always a relief to kick them off at the end of the day. I go back home to my happy place filled with love and noise and snuggling. Work shoes get quarantined back in the garage.

I slide into my soft slippers for the evening. In them I oversee my children’s homework in my role as teaching assistant, perform the duties of chef while making family dinner, and attend yet another Zoom call in the roles of committee volunteer, author and community-based physician.

The best part is taking off the slippers and slipping into bed—resting up for another day of this beautiful, imperfect life.

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