First Person: Isolated, Blessed, and Worried
By Martha Michael
The new strain of coronavirus has brought a new normal to society … and as the rising tide of casualties grows hour by hour, so does our anxiety. We’re worried about the health and safety of our loved ones -- from children to grandparents.
And none of us knows how long it will last.
COVID-19 is an issue that’s unifying citizens across the globe. Together we’ve been witness to a slowly approaching health threat of titanic proportions. And equally ominous is the economic wave that’s threatening to crash in the coming months. But while we’re all in this together, not everyone’s experience is the same. Medical professionals are bravely performing a yeoman’s duty while the rest of us are cruising in conditions from stateroom to steerage.
I’m mindful of my advantages. I can’t imagine entertaining multiple children in an inner-city apartment or worse, in a third-world country where my struggle to survive without a paycheck is only eclipsed by the prospect that a loved one will die from inadequate treatment or resources. I’m not so sure the latter prospect isn’t what some people are experiencing here in the United States already.
Those kinds of scenarios make me feel guilty … and grateful.
Not only do I live in a wealthy country, I have a sizable house where my husband and I only have one child still living at home. The other three are on their own and no longer need our financial support.
While spending every waking moment with any arrangement of personalities has its challenges, we are very compatible with our remaining 22-year-old daughter, plus I see this strange and sudden lifestyle assault as a rare opportunity. When will we ever have the chance to bond, round the clock, with an adult child again? Possibly never.
I think I will look back with sentimental smiles at the quantity and quality time we are experiencing right now. We have daily walks, jigsaw puzzle sessions, and meals in which we talk about topics from relationships to career paths.
Because we are in Southern California we go outside every day, weather permitting -- and there's no more beautiful season than spring. My mood is lifted by the fresh air, singing birds and Vitamin D. But I'm a little surprised to see how few people are outdoors biking with kids or taking their daily constitutionals, even while practicing physical distancing of six feet.
One of our sons lives out of state and a daughter is in Northern California. They are both independent and have significant others to lean on for support. For that I am grateful, as well.
Every morning I get up and check the numbers: cases of coronavirus and number of fatalities, which I get from the website of Johns Hopkins University, my late parents’ alma mater. (A doctor and a nurse, I sure wish I could consult them now and get their assurance that they’ll handle it -- just like they got me through every sore throat and stomach flu as a child.)
For the first week it was confusing -- a massive shutdown for a relatively weak virus, so it was tempting to ignore it. We worried that we looked silly adhering so closely to the “rules.” At some point, however, I realized the insensitivity of being cavalier and passing it to others unknowingly. I can’t imagine how guilty I’d feel if I gave it to my 80-year-old cousin or my 92-year-old neighbor, Betty..
The coronavirus found its way to my family anyway -- despite how careful I have been. We were adjusting to the shelter-in-place policy like other healthy Americans when our eldest son said he caught the coronavirus … and he almost gave it to us unknowingly.
On March 15 he and some friends got together and considered swinging by our house that evening. They opted against it, which was a good thing, because one of his friends was carrying the virus. The whole group became sick within five days, displaying various symptoms. If they had come over, it would’ve exposed three more families to COVID-19 because we had company over for dinner. It’s a reminder that life is a game of chance, which is how my son saw it: one guy gave it to another guy who gave it to five friends. And that’s how a pandemic spreads: exponentially.
“The numbers game is horribly unreliable,” he told me. “Of all seven of us who had it, only one person got the test.”
The testing problem is another ball of wax, but I’ll admit I worried -- I wondered if my son would dutifully steer clear of us, knowing he was contagious, or would he join the millennial masses who were crowding beaches -- either ignorant or laissez faire about the health of others. He made me proud. His friend was asymptomatic, and it occurred before the quarantine period began. He never left his house after he learned he was exposed.
These young adults are in one of the safest demographics, so thankfully, all are on the mend. But I’m aware of other threats as well.
I have heard reports about the possibility of coronavirus survivors acquiring chronic respiratory problems. Health issues are a grave concern, of course, but in the case of my son’s girlfriend there’s another factor. She is a professional jazz singer who makes her living performing in resorts, hotels, restaurants and cruise ships. Because such businesses have ceased operations, she isn’t working now. But her sagging hopes of returning to a successful career are further muddled by the possibility she could suffer from long-term respiratory issues that may impact her ability to make a living while following her passion.
It’s been tough for them financially since she isn’t working and my son, who is a psychotherapist, is seeing only about half of his clients through remote teletherapy. But their situation is only the tip of the iceberg when you consider the worldwide impact of the pandemic.
The numerous ironies aren’t lost on me -- that the virus knows no economic or political differences, but its treatment and lasting effects will vary along such lines. Ultimately, it’s closed systems that will save us, yet people have opened their hearts to reach out in new and clever ways. I dislike that physical distancing is such an unfriendly business, but I do like that it’s inspiring creativity.
There’s been a ripple effect in the harm caused by COVID-19, from innumerable industries economically maimed to the separation of families. I get nervous about what’s going to change permanently. Will we bow and no longer hug one another? Will there be massive divorces from the stress of too much togetherness?
But we also see growth emanate from seeds that were mostly underground, such as mass telecommuting and environmental cleanup.
My natural flexibility has helped me adapt and accept these choppy waters -- it’s worse for some of those close to me who fastidiously map out their futures and expect smooth sailing to get there.
Staying confined to your quarters, hoping someone commandeers the ship and steers it away from danger, makes it hard to find the silver lining overhead. But it’s a good time to try.
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