Constable: To cope with virus, Dr. Bryant pens haikus. All better than this.
In March, the state was shutting down, the nation was in a panic, medical supplies were hard to find, and Dr. Gail Bryant of Arlington Heights needed a way to express all of that. She turned to the traditional three-line, 17-syllable poems of Japan.
"I'm not a haiku poet at all. I had to look up what the syllables are," Bryant says of the 5-syllable, 7-syllable, 5-syllable haiku format. "But March was bad."
Shortages of personal protection equipment, hospital beds, and ventilators were dominating the news. So Bryant wrote:
How much vent can a
ventilator vent if it
can't vent its FEELINGS?!
Another of her early efforts centered on the effort to find the source of the virus.
China wants no help
And says it will not be spread
Blame the pangolin
"Do you even remember the pangolin?" Bryant says of the scaly mammals used as a food and medicinal source in China. "That was three months ago."
An innovative and independent doctor, Bryant's Wellness 365 practice offers traditional examination rooms and a kickboxing room. "We have as much exercise equipment as we do medical equipment," she says. And a food program, started by her 21-year-old son, Will. Also her rescued greyhound, Starsky, provides very nice dog therapy for patients who want that.
"American health care is an amazing place. We can do so much," Bryant says. "And yet, with all that wealth and resources, we don't do as well, and it's more expensive than it should be."
Understanding the frustrations for patients that can arise from a simple medical test and the effort to get insurance to pay for something, she uses "pretty snide" humor to take on the issues. Her waiting room has a comical clock that doesn't work and a fish tank with real piranhas. The front desk features a "Healthcare (in) Jeopardy" white board, drawn by care coordinator Jamie Shirmer, with categories ranging from "Pre-op Clearance" to "WTF Day is it?" She has a Political Rant Board for free expression and a Wheel of Scans, made by care coordinator Nicolette Ferengul, where one spinner could land on an MRI, a CT, a PET, an ECHO or X-rays, and another spinner determines if insurance will cover it.
"We do one thing around here very well, and that is taking care of patients," Bryant says. "The haiku is just the medium that I'm using to document my experience."
Using #PandemicWoes, Bryant says she is chronicling the 2020 pandemic "as seen by a primary care physician who writes haiku when provoked."
Some are just funny observations.
My kid is still home
His school locker is alone
What lunch grows there now?
Others echo the tragic news of the day.
was sent extra body bags.
More smallpox blankets?
"If you don't get this stuff in the moment, it's gone. I have been rabidly angry throughout all of this. Nobody's coming to help. We are on our own," Bryant says.
"Some of this is my political outburst," admits the doctor, who has taken jabs at President Donald Trump and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. "Everybody wants to have a voice."
Bryant, who recently turned 50, is married to attorney W. Matthew Bryant, and the couple have sons Will, Sam, 19, and Michael, 13. Growing up in Skokie, she got her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, her medical degree at Chicago Medical School in North Chicago, and did her residency at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
"My mom was an attorney in the 1950s and my dad was a rocket scientist," Bryant says of her late parents, Milton and Joan Gutterman. "They both believed very strongly in the written word, and good grammar."
As a girl, Bryant thought about becoming a marine biologist. "It doesn't work like that," says Bryant, who felt by age 11 that it was her calling to become a doctor. "This was how it's going to be."
She's had her own independent family practice since 2005 and started Wellness 365 in 2010 for her loyal patients.
"I'm kind of all about the hustle," says Bryant, who turned to nontraditional and foreign e-commerce sources to find protective equipment she needed when the pandemic struck. When she couldn't find masks ("Alibaba was not shipping here," she says), she used surgical sheets and rubber bands to fashion them. Whatever it takes.
Some days, she doesn't write any poems. Other days, she cranks out several in a few minutes.
"I wrote another one. I think you'd like to see it," she says, impersonating herself talking to staff, and then coyly adding, "Everybody here is sick of me."
But when, or if, this pandemic ends and life returns to whatever normal will be, Bryant will have a #PandemicWoes chronicle to keep those memories alive.
Am I scared? Not sure
But it just doesn't matter
My job transcends fear.