Bacon on the Bookshelf

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Life in the Time of Corona: Miracles, and Cherae Farmer-Dixon

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The other day I loaded Pepper and Daisy into the car along with their boundless energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes it feels like I have four dogs instead of two.

We drove to Miss Kitty’s, where Daisy goes to doggy daycare, and I realized that I didn’t have my phone. Hmmm, I thought. Where could that phone be. And how am I going to get Daisy into daycare? You have to call the office when you arrive, in the Time of Corona.

I hailed a staff person – one had come outside, blessedly – and got Daisy situated.

And then it occurred to me: I believe I left my phone on top of the car when I was getting the dogs in. Could it possibly still be there after a 15 minute trip? Holding my breath, metaphorically, I checked.

No phone.

On the way home, I thought – well, I shall call my insurance provider and am I now one of the crazy people who can’t live without their phone for a few hours? I will be okay, I thought. I will be fine without my phone until I can get a replacement. But this is certainly an inconvenience and expense and one I created for myself. I kept scanning the road on the way home – in case of a miracle, you know.

About a mile from my house, I saw my phone lying on the side of the road. I pulled over, got out, retrieved it. Checked to see if it was still functional – yes. Cradled it gently in my hand. Okay maybe that is an exaggeration. But not much of one.

Thank God for the small miracles!

Today’s joy is an interview with Cherae Farmer-Dixon, Dean of the School of Dentistry at Meharry’s School of Medicine.

Hi Cherae! Thank you so much for spending some time in the Bacon Neighborhood! I am honored to include your voice in the conversation.
How has this summer been for you? What did you expect it to be like instead?

The summer has been very busy, working 6 days a week providing COVID-19 testing during the day and catching up and providing administrative leadership as dean of the dental school in the early mornings and late evenings.

Normally, it would have consisted of dean related work of meetings, welcoming our incoming freshman students, strategic planning for the next academic year, attending annual meetings and conferences that occur in the summer.

I would have taken a vacation with my family and spent time visiting my mom.

Will you travel? Eat out at restaurants?

I don’t plan to travel or eat at restaurants. I have been ordering and having food delivered or picking up through the drive thru. I unfortunately had to fly this summer to Ft. McKoy, Wisconsin to complete my annual military (army reserve) training.

I was a little uneasy, but made sure that I had sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, and a mask for use while on the plane and in the airport. The flight wasn’t that bad as mask wearing was enforced as well as seat spacing. Everyone was complying and seemed to focus on adhering to recommended guidelines.

Have you gotten used to some kind of “new normal” – or does everything still feel very strange and unsettling?

My new normal has included always wearing a mask in public, maintaining hand sanitizer at all times and keeping wipes in the car. I am more conscious of my environment and focus on maintaining social distancing. However, I have come to rely more on Amazon and Kroger’s ordering and delivery, which has been quite nice. It has freed up time for other things. I’ve gotten used to virtual church service and find myself efficiently multi-tasking; however, I do pay attention enough to know what the sermon is about. I miss the socializing that I would normally have after church.

I think I will continue to order more things online that I typically would have gone to the store and picked up. It saves so much time and is quite convenient.

I do miss my routine Sunday afternoons of eating out at different restaurants after church and would like to return to that. I also miss having some of my social gatherings in person and mingling with friends and colleagues. I will enjoy returning to in-person crowds for tailgating at TSU and Titans football games.

How have things changed in the Time of Corona for you, both at work and at home? How is your family doing?

When the virus first started, I used that as an opportunity to declutter and clean every area in the house. I threw away and donated a lot of items. I was driving my kids crazy with all of the cleaning projects that included them being “voluntold” to participate. I thought this was going to be a temporary thing. Next, in my brief spare time, I began scrap booking old pictures that I had been procrastinating about over the years. I’ve settled into a normal routine now. I am in scrubs and tennis shoes every day, which is quite different from the normal suits that I typically am wearing.

At home, we are more conscientious about wiping door handles and washing our clothes on longer cycles. Since I am on the front lines and my young adult children volunteer occasionally on the weekends, we have created a “decontamination area in one of the bathrooms downstairs as we come in from the garage so that we are not potentially taking germs throughout the house. The biggest adjustment, I think, was for my children and understanding that gathering and socializing with friends needed to be modified and very minimal if at all. I think it really hit home for them when their godfather contracted the virus and was hospitalized. They had not imagined that someone close to them could contract the virus. It made them nervous but also made them more conscientious about their actions.

I have four childhood friends that always keep me grounded. We have been together since birth. Someone named us as “the fab 5” in high school, and it has stuck. All our birthdays are between May and August. Our parents were friends; we have maintained friendship; and, although we are in different towns, our children (for those who have them) are all friends. We generally will plan to meet at home and reconnect or plan a trip. Unfortunately, the pandemic has eliminated that happening for safety reasons. We have kept in touch, however via phone and zoom.

What is the mood among your colleagues at Meharry? The students?

Some of the older members are apprehensive since they have preexisting conditions and are older. Several of them have been giving lectures online. Students have been anxious about returning face-to-face and interacting with faculty and patients. Dentistry is a “hands on” profession. As a result, students and faculty have been concerned about being able to provide dental services, having the appropriate PPEs, social distancing and adequate protection when they return to school.

Colleagues have been busy moving lectures to online and creating interactive components. Due to the decline in patients, we have also been busy creating alternative hands-on exercises that model live patient treatment. We have had to make modifications to how we schedule patients by limiting the number being treated in the various clinics as well as limiting the number of faculty, staff, and students that are in the building at any one time. It has taken a lot of hours of planning and adjusting classroom space, etc.

Many of our students and residents have stepped up on weekends and during times when they are not in class and are volunteering at one of the testing sites in all capacities, from setting up stations, to administering prescreening questionnaires to patients, providing support and assistance in testing, and even administering COVID-19 tests.

What’s been the hardest thing about life in the Time of Corona? What has been the best thing?

The hardest thing has been trying to take all of the necessary precautions to stay safe and maintain a strong mental state. The mental health has been challenging. While I am aware of symptoms and signs relative to the virus, I can’t help but wonder when I have had an upset stomach or my allergies have bothered me, “Do I have the virus?” The answer, of course, has been no but it still creates mental anxiety occasionally.

Personally, my mother and I have not visited (she lives in Mississippi) since the Christmas holidays. Normally, either she would have traveled to Nashville, we would have taken a trip, or I would have visited home in Indianola, MS by now. We talk almost everyday, but the in-person visits are truly missed. I have not wanted her to do any unnecessary traveling and because I am on the front lines, I do not want to put her at risk.

From an administrative standpoint, this pandemic has allowed the school of dentistry to modify its curriculum by embracing and incorporating various technology applications that probably would not have happened at the magnitude that has occurred were it not for the current situation.

In any situation, I always try and look for the silver lining. The silver lining in this situation has been the appreciation of dentistry and dentist as not only members of the team by other healthcare leaders of the college during this pandemic. My medical counterparts have a greater appreciation of the knowledge and expertise that we have brought to the table in providing testing and evaluation of patients who are presenting for COVID-19 testing.

What has surprised you about yourself or others in the Time of Corona?

I have been amazed at some of the people who have stepped up to help on the frontlines, both faculty, staff, and students. I always been high strung and what would be considered by some as a “busy body.” This pandemic and my boss, President Hildreth have really pushed me to the limit and challenged me to extend myself further than I ever would have imagined. It has truly tested my resilience, but I think I have risen to the occasion. Having this to focus on and helping others has also been mental therapy for me. If I was confined and working from home more, I would truly be stressed.

What do you worry about most right now?

The future of my young adult children is always a concern. They both are trying to figure out what career paths they want to pursue. They both have graduated from college; my daughter has just completed a master’s degree program in leadership and public policy and is trying to decide on her next steps. Finding a job has been a challenge. It breaks my heart when she interviews, gets a second interview, and then receives an email that they decided to go in a different direction. She is very frustrated and becomes discourage. I try to encourage and reassure her that the right opportunity will come along. My son is just starting a master’s program in sports management. He always wanted to pursue physical therapy but is somewhat apprehensive and doubts his ability to be successful. He is clear on wanting a career related to sports and athletes and is still exploring all options while earning his master’s degree.

I want to be there to guide them and help them make the best decisions without smothering them. I want them to be happy. When they are frustrated, it frustrates me.

I also worry about my mom who is in Mississippi and has primarily been staying in the house. She is usually very active and involved. She is adhering to the guidelines, but sometimes feels like she is too confined. I and other family members help her come up with things to do that are safe and can take her mind off the pandemic. I talk to her almost daily to make sure she is okay and is staying positive. She is walking in the driveway to stay physical and has been reading. She teaches on the college level; since classes have started virtually, that is redirecting her focus as well.

How do you relax?

Snuggling up on the sofa in my sun room and watching the sunset while also watching a Law & Order SVU marathon or a good old movie like My Fair Lady, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or Westside Story, to name a few..

What are you reading/watching/listening to? We all need recommendations!

I am a CNN buff. I like to know what is going on globally, so I watch it daily. I enjoy reading professional development books such as “Good to Great”, “7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders”, “The 360 Degree Leader”. I also enjoy books by James Patterson.

 

What discourages you right now?

The social injustice and racial unrest in our society. As a mother, my African American son has been somewhat sheltered and is relatively naive. He is an exercise fanatic. I worry that he may get pulled over and negatively profiled or that he will be running or riding his bike exercising and be mistaken. They will not see this young man who attended private high school and graduated from college with honors and is now earning his master’s degree. They will see him as just another black male who is guilty of whatever crime they choose to accuse him of. My prayer when he is out is that he comes home safely and that no harm comes to him.

Who or what inspires you?

My parents (my father is now deceased) are my greatest inspiration. They gave me the foundation of working hard, appreciating the importance of education, community engagement, and giving back. As a teenager, I remember my parents having me engaged with assisting in campaign elections passing out pamphlets and helping with voter registration efforts before I was old enough to vote.

I gain inspiration from positive energy of others. It can be young people, old people, males, females, LGBTQ, and all races and ethnicities. I try to look at the positive in all aspects and build from it.

At work, I love engaging with the students, hearing their stories, and their perspectives, which can sometimes be different based upon the generational gap and backgrounds.

Do you think it is possible to come out of this period of time with greater cohesion as a society? Or do you think that’s unlikely?

We are human beings and not perfect beings so I doubt that we will ever have total cohesion. However, I am prayerfully optimistic that we will have less hostility because we are a country and a culture that has and continues to overcome obstacles. Change starts within all of us, but we must have leadership that supports and promotes cohesiveness, not just in words but in actions. We must do the right thing, not because it brings personal gain but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Okay let’s wrap up with the speed dating round!

Favorite beverage in the time of corona?
Cupcake Asti Moscato Wine

Greatest aggravation?
Being lied to: if you lie, you will steal; if you steal, you will kill….

Favorite weather?
Fall and the turning of the leaves

Favorite time of day?
In the evening watching the sun set.

Least proud of?
Low level of physical activity

Best advice for staying sane and healthy?
Having some type of outlet that you enjoy or can learn to enjoy such as walking, dancing, playing cards, reading, etc.

Thank you, Cherae! I’m so impressed by you, always. 

 

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