I walked slowly across the parking lot and got into my car. I felt like I was starting to get a slight headache, but it was probably just my imagination. I sat there in the car, remembering how it all began. Thinking about the virus that brought the whole world to its knees. It has been almost a year now. Is there finally some light at the end of the tunnel? I’m not sure anyone really knows.
We first heard about it on the news. Most people weren’t too worried in the beginning. They thought it would be like a really bad flu. I knew better. I had been in healthcare for forty five years before I retired. I had been through a few pandemics, and I was really scared. And now that it was here, it was obvious that we were not prepared.
I had been living with my son and grandchildren for almost two years. I took care of the children while their parents were at work. One of my duties was to take them to school and pick them up. On Friday, March 13, 2020, I went to the school to get them. My nine year old granddaughter came running up to me.
“Nana,” she shouted excitedly, “My teacher said we had to bring all our books and supplies home. She said we might not be coming back to school on Monday because of the virus.” Was it wrong that I felt a huge sense of relief? The media was saying that senior citizens were the group that was most at risk. They said it was dangerous for grandparents to be around their grandchildren, as the children could be carriers of the virus and remain asymptomatic. I remembered a night about a week before, when I walked into my youngest granddaughter’s room and found her sobbing.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” I asked her.
“I heard Daddy say that we could get you sick with the virus. I don’t want you to die, Nana,” she said between sobs.
“That’s not going to happen,” I reassured her. “I know how to keep us very safe. Remember that I used to keep everyone safe at my job.” But deep down, I had to admit, I was terrified of this very thing.
We all tried to adjust to the new normal. My son and daughter-in-law worked from home now. The children did their classes virtually. We didn’t leave the house. We tried to get groceries delivered but there were no delivery windows. There were many necessities you just couldn’t get. I started to worry that we might not be able to get food. We went to the store one last time, and bought as much canned food as we could. One by one our local restaurants started to provide curbside service. Our local deli started selling milk, bread, eggs and other staples. The community pulled together and there was a glimmer of hope. We could get through this.
Spring came and the pandemic got worse. Many people were getting sick and too many people were dying. Healthcare workers were overwhelmed, and getting sick as well. They didn’t have the right PPE to protect them from the virus. We saw horrifying accounts of refrigerator trucks parked outside of hospitals because there was no more room in the morgues. And the crazy thing was, I felt guilty for not being on the frontlines, helping to fight this battle.
Although the experts told us we did not need to wear masks, I personally did not agree. Why else had I worn a mask all those years when caring for infectious patients? Since by then you couldn’t buy any protective equipment anywhere, I was surprised and grateful to receive a package from my old medical practice. It contained a few masks, gloves, goggles and hand sanitizer. We reused the masks for months before they were once again available to buy. I was able to get some bleach from the store, and I made a diluted bleach solution. I cleaned everything that came into the house including groceries. I know that my obsession with disinfecting was getting on my family’s nerves, but I was determined that when this virus was over, we would all still be together.
We started to fall into a routine as the weather warmed up. I helped my six-year-old granddaughter with her kindergarten classes. I would sit at her desk with her and look out the window. The trees and flowers were blooming. The birds were singing and building their nests. The sun was shining and it felt warm on our faces, through the glass. You didn’t see any people though, it looked like a ghost town outside. The street was totally silent.
Every evening at seven the children and I would wait to hear the town horn make its thunderous sound. All over the country, people would gather to cheer and clap for the healthcare workers, who were risking their own lives to try to save others. Seven p.m. was the time when the shifts were changing at most hospitals. As the workers came into work and were also leaving, they were able to see how much America appreciated them. The children and I would grab instruments or pots and pans and go out on the porch and make a racket for the prescribed five minutes. Unfortunately, after a few months of the pandemic, enthusiasm waned and the tributes slowly stopped.
We became accustomed to hearing caravans of cars going by, honking their horns, with adults and children hanging out of the windows, screaming and flying banners. This is how people were celebrating birthdays and other milestones now. It was also how they were visiting their older relatives. I was lucky, I guess. Since I lived in the same household as my grandchildren, I got to see them everyday. We were quarantining together, and as long as we stayed home, we were safe. Their maternal grandparents didn’t see them for almost 4 months. They came by once or twice and waved to the children through the window. In June, when the case numbers dropped, they started to come over again. At first we only entertained them outside. We knew they were being very safe and responsible, so they became part of our “bubble”. It was good to socialize with someone outside of the household once again.
My son and daughter-in-law were friends with another family, that they felt certain, were extremely careful. They started taking the kids to their friend’s pool on the weekends. This was important for the well being of all concerned, as everyone was starting to suffer from extreme social isolation. I just sat in the house and read and watched TV, as I was scared to go out. At the end of the summer, my family went on vacation to the mountains with the other family. And still, I just sat there, as I had become almost agoraphobic. I had been hiding from the virus for so long, I was scared to leave our property. Later, I would learn that I had suffered from a special form of PTSD, caused by the pandemic.
Fall came, and it was time for the children to go back to school. It was decided that they would continue to do remote learning. Once again, I was relieved that they would not be bringing the virus home from school.
It was not easy for all of us to be quarantined together for over 6 months. I had retired and left my home in Virginia, to come and live with my family, because they needed me to help with the children. Now that everyone worked and learned at home, I wasn’t really needed anymore. It had become uncomfortable living in their household, now that my help was no longer needed. I felt as if I had become somewhat of a burden. I decided that I would get a place of my own. I was leery of finding a place, and moving during the pandemic. I had donated all of my furniture and household items to charities before I left Virginia. There would be no use for them while I was living at my son’s house. Although I could buy most of what I needed to set up a household online, I would have to go out to a few stores. I was not at all pleased that I would have to leave my safe sanctuary, and venture out into the world, where the virus was.
I closed on my condo on election day. I had made it through finding a home, buying it, and purchasing what I needed to live in it. I was feeling like I was home free when I got the call. One of the people that had been at closing, had tested positive for COVID. Although we all had worn masks, we had been in a closed room for hours. I went into quarantine for 14 days, which delayed my move. I got tested, and when the results came back negative, it was quite a relief.
I finally got settled in my new home. It was really nice to have my own place again, although it was far too quiet without the kids. None of my neighbors seemed to wear masks in the building, so I didn’t go out very often. I was only five minutes away from my family, so we saw each other often. The holidays were not the big, loud occasions we were used to, but we were able to celebrate with the portion of our family that was in our pod.
The new year came and went, and I signed up for the COVID vaccine. I got the call in January to go in for my first vaccine. There was nothing remarkable about that first shot, and I had almost no side effects. My second vaccine was scheduled for February 2, 2021, the day we got almost 2 feet of snow. The appointment was canceled. It was rescheduled for the next Sunday, when we were due for another big storm. Luckily, I was able to go the day before. I got to the vaccination center three minutes before it closed.
So now I am sitting in my car, right after my second vaccine, already getting a headache. I have a feeling that this time I will definitely have side effects. Yet, I am so very grateful. I am grateful for the scientists that were able to develop this vaccine in record time. I am grateful for all the essential workers that got us through this pandemic. I have hope that we will all be able to return to some semblance of a normal life soon. I also have hope that people all over the world will come out of this, all that much wiser, with a better understanding of what is truly important in life. But the thing I am most grateful for, is that everyone in my family, including me, is still alive.
Coni Evans was awarded Honorable Mention for this story in the 2021 Essex County Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest. You can read all the winning entries here.