During the recent storm-related power outage in Memphis (the area’s third worst in history) more than 188,000 of us lost power. We were pushed out of our comfort zones but- strangely enough- were often comforted by complete strangers. With homes dark and thousands on the verge of losing countless tons of food, social media became a powerful source of and for good: a platform on which help was extended to those we did not know but knew needed a helping hand. Many Memphis, Light, Gas & Water (MLGW) customers who were fortunate to have power rather quickly restored opened the doors of their homes via online postings to family, friends and neighbors. During a time when things appeared hopeless for some as they threw away bags and bags of groceries or frantically searched for places at which to donate frozen breast milk before it tragically went to waste, hope was found in newsfeeds and timelines. “Forced” to interact with neighbors and friends a little more than usual as we came together outside under the only light we had, I learned of one local resident who has been depositing rather large doses of hope on a daily basis, through both her work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and her social media platforms, long before this storm and outage gave many of us reason to.
Pediatric hematologist-oncologist Dr. Erica Kaye began penning her #1450daysofhope posts shortly after the presidential election. She does not consider herself now, or ever having been, a “political person” and was rather motivated to begin writing “from a legacy standpoint for my daughter.” She explains that post-election conversations with friends and colleagues, on both sides of the coin, were at times strained. She’d sometimes sit and cry, as hard as she’s cried when one of her patients died, because of the divide she saw and felt with some of those whom she deeply cared about and loved. “I had a catharsis writing open letters to my daughter,” Kaye tells me of how she eventually began to cope with the surprising aftermath of the election. It was the overwhelmingly positive response she received to her letters that led to the consciousness of thought that, “if I posted messages of hope through the lens of hope or history or personal experiences maybe it would give somebody pause. Maybe it would make their day a little better, which sure makes me feel better.”
Following that same formula, Kaye began to read and watch the news with a deliberate intent to always find something hopeful to share. Each day (we are now on #day211) she posts a snippet from historical or current news archives, or an anecdote reflecting her own personal journey as a wife and mother. They are sometimes simply informative, sometimes raw, gut-wrenching recollections of pain or loss, sometimes tinged with a bit of humor, and always thought-provoking. She says that her current knack for communicating online can in ways be traced back to what initially drew her to medicine. “Hearing patients’ stories drew me to medicine. Throughout my journey, my favorite part [has been] communication; communication absolutely is an art and a science that should be done honestly, directly and empathically.” She also believes that though medicine is a science, it is influenced by individual mindsets, explaining that even when she employs qualitative methods in research she is “conducting an analysis through the lens of my personhood.”
She doesn’t yet know what career her infant daughter will embrace when she’s all grown up but Kaye does know she wants to lay the groundwork for how her daughter’s perspectives influence that career. The words she is sharing with the rest of us through social media, blogs and forums will be a source of reference someday for her young girl, a young girl who can look at the legacy that was established in her honor and carry it forward with an embedded sense of strength, courtesy of her mother who believes: there is always hope.