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Coronavirus: Everything is more complicated than we first assume

I’ve come to terms with this pandemic and understand the need for isolation.

On Tuesday, the Illinois National Guard operates a COVID-19 drive-thru test site for medical personnel and first responders in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File

The first day of spring was also the beginning of our city’s lockdown.

I woke up that morning, turned on the news, and began to sob. I held my face in my hands, trying to muffle the sounds, so my husband wouldn’t hear. My grief, like the coronavirus, became unleashed and uncontrolled.

I’m sequestered in Chicago while my daughters and their families are in Arizona. We talk on the phone daily, but it’s not the same. Even if I still lived in Phoenix, we would be isolated–those are the new rules.

I drink my lemon, ginger, and turmeric juice this morning as if it’s magic — as if it has the power to cure any disease that might be lingering inside my body ready to strike at any time. I swish the yellow orange liquid around the bottom of my cup watching the swirls before chugging it down in two giant gulps.

This is worse than 9/11, although some of the same thoughts cross my mind. “I want to be near family, close to my daughter, grandchildren, and friends. I don’t want them to feel scared or alone. Or is it that I feel lonely?

“Schools are canceled,” my youngest daughter tells me on the phone yesterday. I offer to help, but she forbids me to travel the 1,755 miles from Chicago to Phoenix. “No Mom. I’m worried about you.” She wants me to wait until it’s safe. I don’t want to listen, so I change the subject.

Thoughts race through my mind. I could drive back to Phoenix, trying to escape, to get ahead of the virus, but then what about staying in hotels and eating in restaurants along the way possibly exposing myself or others to the virus? None of us know for sure whether or not we’re carriers.

I peer out French casement windows from the eighth floor of my condo and watch the changing landscape of the city. I feel more like a prisoner every day and picture black bars on the outside of the glass. I’m trying to stay positive by listing interventions to divert my attention, like sitting in my overstuffed chair reading Euphoria by Lilly King, practicing Yoga at home, or sorting through family photos. Maybe I should try a new recipe for apple pie or take a brisk walk along the lake. None of the activities on my list excite me.

The streets are deserted, except for a few people walking, carefully distancing themselves from one another. Some have cloth masks covering half their faces, others have scarves tied around their heads leaving only eyes and foreheads naked. Four men walk around exposing their full face, looking courageous and foolish at the same time. Not everyone can find a mask or afford one. I have five N95s in my stockpile sitting in a cupboard and two paper masks my manicurist gave me last week. I grabbed one with a shield from my doctor’s office yesterday. Now people everywhere seem to be on a scavenger hunt for protection from the virus.

I call my friends in Phoenix to discuss COVID-19. A girlfriend tells me she’s flying to Sarasota for the week of spring break with two physician friends and their three children. I give her advice to stay home, protect herself and others by not traveling. Then I suggest she talk with her physician friends and discuss the safety issues with them. By the end of our conversation, she tells me, “Thanks, I’m not going anywhere.”

Another friend confides in me, “Neither my husband or myself took this seriously until last weekend. We never thought it would amount to much.”

She tells me her daughter, who works as an LPN at a skilled nursing facility, won’t be allowed to visit for a while. She called her son in LA and told him to cancel his flight to Phoenix next weekend. “I don’t want to be exposed,” she says. “We’re in that age group, you know.”

I stocked up on groceries from Costco. The lines were short, but still no toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Three customers and one employee wore a mask. When I got home, my Phoenix friends and I compared store shortages and laughed about becoming hoarders.

My oldest daughter, a physician, called me this morning and said she’d been exposed to the coronavirus. She told me about a patient in her 60s who came to her office a month ago exhibiting flu-like symptoms. She sent her to ER for confirmation, but they didn’t have any test kits at that time. The patient was sent home where she recovered within two weeks.

Then I remembered when my daughter told me she felt ill with a low-grade fever and chronic cough. That was three weeks ago. Today I listen and study her voice on the phone. She sounds hoarse and has frequent coughing jags.

She tells me she may have been exposed and has been waiting over a week for her test results.

I want to make an airline reservation, pack my bags, and catch the next plane to Hawaii. I tell her my plan to visit and she speaks to me like our roles are reversed. “Mom, I’m on the front lines. If I didn’t already have the virus, I’ll probably come down with it sooner or later. I don’t want to pass it on to you.” She suggests a visit in June or July.

Walking by the lake seems to lessen the loneliness. I distance myself from the others. I’m masked and gloved, trying to unlock my phone, but the facial recognition doesn’t work so I tap in my security code which doesn’t register until I remove my latex gloves. That makes me chuckle.

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. The coronavirus is our experience to remember, learn from, and record — our only real defense in not forgetting something important that once was and is no longer. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. I’ve come to terms with this pandemic and understand the need for isolation. I made the right decision.

Terry Ratner has been a nurse for 30 years and and a free-lance writing for 20 years.

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