I tried not to write another COVID-19 related column. This is hard: The Netherlands just began to re-emerge in mid-January from its strict COVID-19 regulations. Again. Going for another post-lockdown trim of my mane, conversational wayfinding to another topic with my usual hair stylist was impossible. This is our present, when a deceivingly simple, “How are you?” evolves into more extended conversations about how the pandemic mutated routines and livelihoods. This was especially true for my hair stylist: classified as a contact profession, her business had been forced to shut down during the first lockdown in March 2020 for months, and again in this most recent lockdown. I have forgotten the many flavors of lockdowns of the past two years, but her business was always the first to be forced closed.

I noticed a certain guardedness as she spoke, snipping away at my locks. I mentioned going to a Christmas market in Germany for part of a day. Behind her mask, she commented that the Christmas period is usually very busy for the hair business. However, because the hair salon was forced to close, she had been out of work. With a pinch of positivity, she mentioned that usually she can’t go to the Christmas markets in Germany because of work, but this time she did. (Although The Netherlands may have closed all non-essential businesses throughout the country, larger neighboring countries did not.) As she shared this, and then paused, it seemed like her typical energy, pleasant talkativity, and optimism were drained. I could not see her smile as she usually does—or the smile in her eyes, over her mask in the mirror, or hear the smile in her voice as she spoke—sometimes also while gently trying to sell me hair products, talking up their benefits while fluffing my fresh coiffure with her bare hands. Maybe it was just a bad day.

Days later, I still thought about her and our chitchat. She has kept my short crop in control for well over three years. It did seem like more than a bad day. We can talk about many things, yet when we talk, the things we do not say can be the most valuable. We need to be able to hear each other. And it’s not just COVID-19 again.



COVID-19, Health Equity, Medical Ethics, SGIM, Social Determinants of Health, Wellness