• Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Juliet Louden
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Shift after shift, an emergency room doctor saw the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting to help keep her deathly-ill patients alive and watching the devastation it caused to so many families.

This doctor, despite the darkness surrounding her from the virus, decided to use this situation as an opportunity to take a light-hearted approach to help people stay healthy by writing a book.

Col. Colleen Kelley, 910th Medical Squadron commander, and author of "COVID SCHMOVID: A Primer for Survival", was sitting in her office for another stressful and frustrating Zoom meeting with other doctors she works with at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vermont. As the meeting progressed, the tone was anything but light. Kelley interjected with a response that changed the course of the meeting.

“What we all just want to say is, ‘COVID schmovid!’ Can’t we just be done with all of this?” exclaimed Kelley while leaning back in her chair and tossing her arms.

Kelley’s comment created a lighter feeling throughout the rest of the meeting.

“It was the first time in over an hour that anyone had smiled,” said Kelley. “And it showed me how deeply people were affected; families, children, friends, healthcare workers, military, everyone, all of us. To one degree or another, some of us a lot. Some of us have lost everything, some folks, even their lives.”

As the meeting continued, Kelley found a crumpled napkin on her desk and started to write. Twenty minutes later she had written a long poem with one stanza dedicated to each of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Kelley then read the poem during the zoom call.

“After sharing this poem during the meeting and then reading it to co-workers, friends and family, they all said I should write a book,” said Kelley. “Finally inspired by confidence and based on their support, is how this book came to be.”

Kelley’s experience harkens back to a childhood moment that convinced her she wanted to be a doctor.

“I was riding my bike and my toe got stuck in the spokes,” laughed Kelley. “My grandfather helped me up and put a bandage on it, and it instantly made me feel better. In my four-year-old mind, if that is what doctors do, that is what I want to do for the rest of my life. From that moment I knew I was going to be Dr. Kelley.”

Kelley keeps an old polaroid picture of herself on a little bike next to her grandfather that serves as a frequent reminder of her calling.

Helping people is a value that runs deep in Kelley’s family.

“My grandfather was a Navy surgeon at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked,” said Kelley. “He worked for 48 hours after the attack to save people. After World War II, he went on to become a psychiatrist and continued a life of helping people. I wanted to spend my life the same way.”

Both of Kelley’s roles as 910th Medical Squadron commander and an emergency room doctor allow her to help others.

“There was a little kid in the ER with a really cool mask,” Kelley said with a smile. “I read him part of the book. He was fascinated, and behind his eyes, you could see him smiling from ear to ear. His reaction gave me a sense of hope that we can get through this together.”

Not only is the book a way to help people through its content, but all the proceeds from the book are being donated to two local organizations in Kelley’s hometown in Vermont. She chose organizations that provide services to people who are most likely to have been hardest hit by the COVID pandemic.

“This was an exciting project that I hope helps to lighten the frustration and fatigue that we all have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kelley. “While doing what is needed to help keep ourselves and our families healthy, perhaps we can smile together while hoping for a better future for us all.”