As a kid, I had pneumonia several times. It was during the 1960’s and the pediatrician made house calls. House calls didn’t mean a phone call, it was literally the doctor coming to our house. The pediatrician, with his little black bag, would arrive and provide medical services and check-ups as my nervous mother paced the room. The visits from the doctor in that era included him starting a vaporizer under a tent made of sheets over my bed, and talking down my mother, which was never an easy task.
The thought in those days was that leaving the house with a fever would make you sicker, therefore the in-home doctor visits. It was the 1960’s version of the “self-quarantine The practice of house calls in the current century feels like an outrageous use of time and resources and is mostly reserved for a celebrity or person on palliative care.
My Mom was always a wreck when I coughed, and every cold had the potential of the dreaded pneumonia in her eyes. (Now my friends are probably thinking, AHHH…that’s why she’s a health nut). My Mom harped on wellness. It felt and looked from afar as if my Mom was harping on illness but in fact, she was fixated on maintaining the absence of illness. This is not the type of wellness you think of in today’s world where you eat healthy, exercise and take vitamins. In fact, I grew up on Carnation Instant Breakfast, McDonalds and Entenmanns’ cakes. Dinners were classic 1960’s food and I recall my dad loving the fat that congealed on his plate after a good steak. Hmm, perhaps that’s one reason I became a vegetarian.
As an adult, I was always on the germaphobe side, not a surprise to anybody who knows me. Typical daily practices included:
- Washing my hands every time before I eat or use the restroom
- Always keeping Purell in my car and purse
- Keeping silverware on a napkin at a restaurant, rather than on a potentially germ-infested table
- Cleaning my hands after touching the gas pump
- Rarely sharing food or drink, unless I’ve had a few drinks myself (which always lowers my germaphobe standards.
Perhaps it’s upbringing or perhaps it’s a genetic predisposition to obsess about something? But all the random handwashing and caution suddenly changed in March 2020.
One would think a change is the opposite , like you changed direction. I did not change direction, but I, as so many of my friends and family, have changed this month.
With each Coronavirus report, and there are many all day long, I feel like I had to add new steps to my routine. My standard handwashing has now become a very specific detailed handwashing. I count at least 20 seconds, making sure each finger is covered in soap, as well as the back of my hands, thumbs and tips of my fingers. Who knew that hand washing could be so comprehensive?
Going to the supermarket has become a complicated task. Wearing gloves so as not to touch the cart , surfaces, money and store items picked over by others was a good idea at first. But when I arrived home, I realized that my germ-infested gloves touched all the bags and food items and now the items were in my house. Is it safer to just use hand sanitizer instead of gloves? Do you sanitize the food packages? What happens when you get home? Do you quarantine the food? I did put some food items in quarantine where they sat comfortably for three days. But this made no sense as all the other items freely entered the home. The ability to overthink has not changed and I just watched a YouTube video that showed me I’ve doing it all wrong!
Even my dog, Daniel, was a source of concern. Daniel is a therapy dog and his job is to be petted. A therapy dog is different than a service dog. Service dogs are for the comfort of the owner whereas therapy dogs provide comfort for others. The thought of a person petting Daniel now became another source of anxiety. Can you Purell the dog? How long do potential germs stay on fur? Endless rabbit holes of scenarios. Just four weeks ago, Daniel and I were visiting schools, nursing homes and kids with disabilities for the sole purpose of petting Daniel and giving joy. And today, just a month later, Daniel is also isolated from the outside world and hands. (For the time being, Daniel is not a therapy dog for the masses, but a service dog for me. Prior to the acceleration of Covid-19 outbreak, when I was still going out in the community, my sister-in-law Evie flew in for a visit to our rental home in Key Largo. As the news got more intense each day, Evie and I were feeding off each other’s anxiety. Alcohol (not the rubbing kind) and worry were the daily activities. The absurdity of our new life came to a head in a public bathroom, as we were unable to get out because it didn’t have paper towels. How to the open the door? We each tried different techniques and yes, we laughed which almost caused us to use the bathroom again! We eventually escaped by using creative techniques of toilet paper, agility and Purell. The ability to laugh has not changed.
On March 17th my husband Mitch and I woke up and said we need to escape the Keys ASAP. Ok, escape was my word, Mitch just agreed to drive home. Why leave the Keys? We were able to sit outside, walk in the sun and sit on a boat. And, at that time, there weren’t any diagnosed cases of Coronavirus in Monroe County, Florida.
Our sense of family brought us back, even though New York State is one of the most affected states. We drove about 28 hours straight thru to get back home. We used an apocalyptic toilet ( A Large Bucket) so as not to go in public bathrooms. This is something that I never thought I would be able to do and it’s interesting how most germ standards have increased while other standards have become obsolete. We did a small food shopping in West Virginia since they have the least amount of Covid-19 and continued to drive back to New York State.
I don’t even recognize my-self right now as many of us are probably feeling. I, as many of my friends, do not like change. The bigger the change the harder the response. But this change is unprecedented. How does anyone navigate this new world?
Change takes many forms and it does not always mean turning in another direction. Change can also mean accelerating what you are doing to a level of infinity. Our casual little routines of germ avoidance have now become a job.
But some things never change. The love of family, the love of friends. Empathy towards others and the desire to do the right thing. The capacity to hope. The ability to laugh. The freedom to talk on the phone, skype, facetime. The lack of guilt watching all those TV shows that I was embarrassed to admit to watching just last month, Ok that’s a change.
So, I sit on my chair with another clean glass of wine, a small piece of chocolate and try to breathe. ( As long as nobody is too close!)