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Calgary ER doctor sings about grief and healing during COVID-19 pandemic: ‘Stress changes you’

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WATCH: A Calgary emergency room doctor released a collection of songs about the stress of working through the pandemic. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, the singer-songwriter says the music has helped him cope with mental health struggles that working on the front lines brings – Apr 5, 2021

A Calgary emergency room doctor has released a set of five songs written during his emotional journey through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Music has always been an outlet for Dr. Grant Kennedy.

“Coming home at the end of a stressful shift, it’s been there for me. I can pick up my guitar and just get lost in the moment, and it helps me regroup and refocus,” Kennedy said.

But when the pandemic hit, Kennedy needed music more than ever.

“Working on the front lines, there was massive stress: not knowing what was coming, how big and how bad it was going to be. We were watching reports from other countries and seeing health-care workers getting sick,” Kennedy recalled.

Both he and his wife are emergency room doctors in Calgary. They didn’t think about not working when the pandemic first started, but they did worry about what might happen to their children, who are seven, four and two.

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“We had a duty and want to serve the public but with three young kids at home — the stress of worrying about what if one of us gets sick? What are we going to do and who’s going to look after the kids if that happens?” Kennedy wondered at the time.

Kennedy recently released a five-track EP called Away with songs written during the pandemic that chronicle the grief, stress and isolation he experienced.

“Just the struggle I was having at the time with my mental health and sort of not recognizing who I was really to some extent in that time,” Kennedy said.

The track “The Self You Used to Know” was written early in the pandemic and describes the insidious effect stress has on people.

In the song, Kennedy sings: “Tonight, breathe slow. Take everything that’s wrong and let it go. Because it’s high time, the light, it glows, and you find the self you used to know.”

“Stress changes you and it can do a lot of negative things to your makeup. Early on, that’s when we were feeling the worst of it. I noticed myself kind of changing, my demeanour changing,” Kennedy said.

“I’m usually a really positive person, and I still try to be positive but it was noticeable to me that I changed and that was a direct reference to that.”

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Kennedy said he and his wife are in a much better space now. He said being vaccinated has played a big part.

“Dealing with critical patients in the hospital since, there’s definitely a weight lifted there. It’s kind of more like it used to be. In a way better space mentally for sure,” Kennedy said.

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Kennedy hopes he can connect with others through his music and lyrics.

“Music is something we all share in life and it brings people together,” he said.

“If people can see some of themselves in the material that I write and make that connection and it puts them in a positive space or helps them in any shape or form, then that would be an amazing thing.”

One thing that sticks out to him through the pandemic was how the entire health-care team at Rockyview General Hospital worked together.

“From EMS to cleaning staff, we all came together. People stepping up to the plate and doing what they were trained to do and supporting each other through the difficult times. I’m very lucky to work in the environment that I do with the people that I work with,” Kennedy said.

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Read more: Calgary music community rallies around bar owner hit by house fire: ‘A beautiful collective effort’

Away is Kennedy’s second EP. It was produced by Russell Broom at his home studio near Calgary.

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