How Are We Doing? Is It Getting Old Yet?
A few days ago, I wrote a coronavirus prose poem. As you might expect, it wasn't a very happy poem. Here it is:
Random Grayish Thoughts on Social Distancing
A warm day for March
I sit on the back patio catching
dove-gray-cool, sun-from-behind-the-clouds light
It’s just me til
my neighbor’s dog, escaped from his leash
bounds into my yard
black-and-white coat gleaming in pale sun
I lure him with treats, catch his collar, stroke his head
as much to comfort me as him
Laura calls over the fence
comes to retrieve her errant pet
We stand six feet apart
Six feet, the magic number at which
We’re not threats to one another
She moves forward
attaches leash to collar
retreats in an instant
I look especially infectious today
clad in charcoal gray scrubs
from a shift at work
should shower, change clothes
but I’m weary
Here, outside, it seems safer
and I’ve already rubbed alcohol
on my raw, red hands
Now that’s something I can’t buy, hand sanitizer
Made my own in a mixing bowl:
two parts isopropyl alcohol, one part aloe gel
Joke’s on me though--
The lady in the Rite Aid,
lank salt-and-pepper hair, nails bitten to the quick
laughed at me yesterday when I asked for more aloe
“It’s all gone, it’s been gone… Ha. Ha.”
I was asking her for something crazy
like toilet paper
The shelves where they used to keep that
sit empty, leaving aisles as blank
as the stares I get from strangers
I dare to smile at from two yards away
Soon I will look like her, the Rite-Aid lady
an inch of gray root
all so high-maintenance
Guess it’s a good time to go gray
match my scrubs, the sky, the collective mood
No explanations needed,
no apologies for looking like a skunk
or whatever other wild animal
is at fault
for this feral, fearsome time
Only a week or two ago
I prepared for a day
blow-dryer, undereye concealer
clothes carefully considered
Now it’s nothing but
gray scrubs and isolation gown
or gray sweats and isolation
I place an order:
thirty bottles of water, six bags of kettle corn
twenty-two books I’ve been meaning to read
Everything I need
to hunker down for a month or two
or maybe a year
A box of courage
a gallon of hope
as much resilience as I can afford
with my dwindling retirement account
They say we will soon run out
of masks and gowns and
the vials of pink culture medium
where virus grows from the
noses we’ve swabbed today.
I try not to think about the headlines
‘Doctors Get Sick at an Alarming Rate’
Why worry, or think at all?
Just wash your hands
wash until red skin burns
meeting disinfectant soap
like a match meets a cigarette
The world is not ending
or maybe it is
Perhaps I’m pretending but
I won’t build a bunker or buy guns
to protect a stockpile of Tylenol and Clorox wipes
I’ll share whatever I have with you
Being alone hurts the most
Give me your germs
I’ll give you my homemade hand sanitizer
what’s left of the toilet paper
the best book in my stash
my last kiss
It didn't get better in the few days after I wrote the poem:
I found out I'd had at least one COVID exposure with less than optimal PPE (poorly fitted mask, a mistake doffing my gown) but I'm still healthy and it happened more than 10 days ago--the tests from the commercial lab are taking a very long time to come back--and my own test is not done yet, but I can work because the new guidelines are to isolate for only a week...I suspect it will be negative. I also suspect we all had more exposures than we will ever know about given all the patients we saw with flu-like symptoms who were considered low-risk--no known COVID contacts and no travel. We didn't wear PPE with those patients until everyone started understanding community spread. Then we did, and now the recommendations keep changing all the time...reuse of masks is considered acceptable, because of shortages, and because removal might cause self-infection...every day brings new rules, new guidance, new problems.
On the positive side, we split our Urgent Care sites between patients with probable or possible COVID and all other patients. The two sites where I usually work are for the non-COVID patients, so I am safer, but I'm still on my guard all the time, because it's everywhere, and we know there are asymptomatic infections. A few healthcare workers in my organization are on isolation because of exposures. I worry about my colleagues who see COVID patients all day. I don't think anyone is sick yet, though in the Philadelphia area, there are a number of doctors and nurses sick with coronavirus infections. Not as worried, though, as I am about colleagues in New York City- as well as their patients.
In the midst of all this, we went live on Epic. For those of you who use Epic as your EMR, you know what a big deal that is. It's my third time around on a version of Epic, and the sixth change of EMR I've been through. So it's not a shock, but of course, it's a different version than I was on in the past, so I have to search for icons and figure out how to document various procedures. It makes work a little more frustrating than usual.
It's hard not to see friends, and I get antsy in the house. Since I work long shifts, I also have a good number of days off, and that isn't necessarily good when we're on a shelter-in-place order. My husband and I have gotten on each others' nerves a few times when we've both been home. My concentration has been overall poor, and it's hard to write or get anything else done.
I read news headlines way too much, and watch the news too much. I even watched a couple of Trump's news conferences. The messages are contradictory, crazy, often alarming, sometimes absurd.
I was horrified to hear that a man in Arizona died after taking chloroquine phosphate in an attempt to 'prevent' coronavirus. It was packaged for maintenance of a fish tank, but he and his wife ingested it. She's in the ICU.
But I laughed when I heard that a couple in Canada was getting facebook death threats after they were seen hoarding meat in the supermarket. And felt sick when I read that a man, angry at a Wegman's clerk, coughed on her and told her he had coronavirus, but felt better when I heard that he will likely go to jail for it.
Overall, it's no surprise that I ended up in a deep slump a couple days ago.
Yesterday, though, after a good night's sleep, I decided I needed to change my strategy. This is an awful situation, but it doesn't help anyone for me to skulk around and put out negative energy. So I cut back a lot on reading the news. Once a day is enough to be 'informed.' I turned on upbeat music (today it's a Spotify playlist called Happy Days, with fun songs from a better time). I went out for a very long walk, with a friend on the other end of the phone. I waved at people I saw from a distance. Last night I finally pulled it together to invite a few people to a virtual dance party, and to set up virtual game night with the kids.
This morning I pushed myself to shower, dress, and even put on makeup and jewelry, even though the only time I've been out was to walk the dog. Strangely, it really did make me feel better! I lit a candle that smells like evergreens in the study when I sat down to work. Then I dove into some writing and kept at it for a couple hours.
I also downloaded a bunch of Pilates videos- hoping i can get myself to use them. And then I moved a brightly colored rug from the guest room into the hallway so I have something 'new' to look at in the house. So far, so good today. No promises about tomorrow, but i'm going to try.
I think it's normal and probably healthy to be worried, scared, and confused in the middle of a pandemic. I feel those things off and on all day. I'm still seeing mostly gray skies. But now I'm looking hard for a streak of blue. Now and then, I see it.