“As for me, I am in a very vulnerable category, and I intend to be very cautious about contact with others for as long as it takes.”
Margi McKay shares her COVID-19 experiences.
As I sit on my deck, in the gentle breeze, listening to birdsong, I could believe there's not a thing wrong in the world. And yet as soon as I open Facebook or see a newspaper, the harsh reality hits hard: the whole world is in the grip of a pandemic which threatens lives and economies. Although we in Kingston, and South Frontenac Township, where I live, are in a blessed little bubble, with very few cases and no deaths recorded, yet I have friends whose lives have been disrupted in excruciatingly painful ways. My college roommate and her family, not from this area, all contracted the Covid-19 virus and were very sick with it, and one of their family members died. Another close friend has not seen or spoken to his beloved wife of 50 years since March, when her Long Term Care Home was locked down. The same is true of a dear friend's 102 year old mother, who isn't able to converse on the phone, and so her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have to be satisfied with the word of the staff, who assure them that she's fine. It's impossible to know how these LTC home residents feel about the lack of contact with their loved ones, and we have to hope that one day is much like the next for them, and that they aren't too aware of an absence in their lives.
And so, I feel a pang of guilt as I relax, feet dirty from hours in the garden, without any pressing tasks or agenda items nagging at me. To be sure, I know I will need to cook dinner for my family who are at home with me – my husband, who heads off to work in his “office” in the garage every morning, my older son, who has spent the days since his university term ended with online classes and exams building raised garden beds from reclaimed lumber, and my younger son, who splits his time between helping me in our large garden, working at a local garden centre, now that they are open, and of course, playing video games. Much of my day is spent cooking and cleaning up after this gang, but I am blessed to know they are safe, and I am never lonely! There are times when I would love a bit of alone time, but that's what early mornings are for.
To be honest, this social isolation has given me a gift I have been craving since my first child was born, 27 years ago: more time. No alarm wakes me in the morning. In the heady first days of lockdown, I culled and categorized the mountain of photos that had been tucked away in bags and boxes labelled “to be sorted". I tackled sewing projects that had been squirreled away decades ago. More than anything else, I spent many hours planting and tending seeds and seedlings that were destined for my flower and vegetable gardens, to the point that every one of our house's wide window sills was full of trays bearing pots and plastic beer cups full of little green shoots. I can't imagine having tried to do this under any normal schedule. As spring finally arrives here after a chilly start, I am working at getting all of these into the ground outdoors, in the hope of a bountiful harvest in the summer and fall.
People have remarked on how exhausting life is in this situation, and it's true. I find my rare masked excursions out into the world for groceries or essentials stressful, and I'm grateful when I get home safely. Not that we know if we're safe – the virus is sneaky and persistent, and one can be infected yet asymptomatic. It has a long incubation period, and a bewildering variety of symptoms or lack of them. It's impossible to really know our adversary, and scientists are scrambling to keep up with the information coming out of hospitals that are in the throes of the battle. My oldest child works in health care administration in Nova Scotia, and while that province too has been lucky so far in the fight against this disease, we know it will not be over for a long time, and that the worst may be yet to come.
Everyone is spending more and more time staring at a screen, as we depend on the internet for our information, our livelihood and our entertainment. Even those of us whose favourite pastime is reading find ourselves turning to e-books, since libraries have been closed since mid-March. There have been treats that would not normally been available, like wonderful plays from the Stratford Festival and Broadway, musical offerings from all over the world, and of course the daily memes on social media keeping us all laughing at ourselves. I have been enjoying my weekly Zoom yoga class and a virtual choir (record your own part and send it to be combined with the others to make a completed whole). We are holding church council meetings and happy hours with friends on one of the various meeting software platforms. I feel like I talk to more friends more often, although virtually, than I did in the “before times". There is friendly competition over birdwatching, orioles and indigo buntings being the goal recently, and much discussion of gardens, including lots of seed sharing.
I miss seeing my daughter. This is the week I should have been flying to Halifax to see her new house, help her plant a garden and do some pre-wedding planning and shopping. I miss hugging her. Although we chat at least once a week, and text much more often than that, I haven’t touched her since Christmas. My airline ticket has been credited, good for 24 months, but I will not be in a hurry to be crammed into an airplane with a lot of strangers any time soon. Most estimates for a vaccine, which would allow a return to previous levels of contact, predict a wait of at least a year and possibly longer.
My family’s future is uncertain financially. My husband works in industry, and no one can foresee the impact on manufacturing. We are looking at a change for his career, much the same way as many of us are looking for a reboot of modern society as a result of the pandemic. Nature has taken advantage of the changes in the world – pollution levels are vastly reduced, wild animals roam the streets of cities – and even political regimes are affected by their ability, or lack thereof, to manage the crisis. I keep thinking of Noah’s Ark, except that the folks who don’t survive may not be those who deserved to die. One of the hardest things to deal with throughout this has been the risk to, and toll on, the healthcare workers who are doing their best to save the sickest patients. Many of them have literally given their lives.
One of the most frustrating things at the present time is that some folks are vigilantly following the hygiene and social distancing protocols, and others, perhaps tired or bored with isolation, are carrying on much as they always did. The deprivation is very hard on those in apartments or those with kids, who are hungry for the company of their friends. Some perhaps don’t take the threat seriously, or believe themselves invulnerable. Unfortunately, the likelihood of a second wave of the pandemic is very high, as people resume their close contact activities, and there are frequent reminders about the Spanish Flu pandemic of a hundred years ago, which killed far more in its second wave than in the first. For governments it is a balancing act between infringing on liberty and keeping people safe. As for me, I am in a very vulnerable category, and I intend to be very cautious about contact with others for as long as it takes.
All in all, I feel blessed in my access to outdoors, my relative comfort, the safety of my loved ones and the richness of what I have at hand to keep me engaged, enlightened and safe. There will be many sad tales coming out of this era, and many lessons to learn for everyone, but for now, I am grateful and open to the wonder of a world we humans thought we controlled.