Writing Prompt Pandemic Reflections
A Year For The Ages — Reflecting On This Time Of Pandemic
It’s been an odd year. Not just the pandemic, but with life in general.
COVID Hits My World
He’s a cousin of mine, but not a first cousin. He’s the grandson of my mother’s cousin, actually. Still, when you were raised in the United States and half your family lives in Wales, the family members you spend time with when you visit are the ones you hold most dear.
When his grandparents were alive and I was in my late twenties, they were who I stayed with when I visited. He was still a teenager and was always around checking in on them. He was funny and kind (like his grandparents) and I adored him.
I hadn’t seen him in many years, but when I heard he had COVID, it got my attention. It was exactly a year ago when it was still this odd sickness circling the globe.
We weren’t even connected on Facebook when I heard the news, so I stalked his Facebook page along with those of his family and friends and the local newspaper. My mother, who has Alzheimer’s, never could seem to remember details. I wanted details.
From his own page, I saw where he posted on a Friday morning (March 6) that he and his wife were going to a spa for the day. That evening there was a post that he was being admitted into the hospital.
He said he had double pneumonia and then said “Thank God it’s not the coronavirus.”
By early the next week they realized it was the coronavirus and put into an induced coma.
His heart stopped twice during his time in the hospital. He was resuscitated. He stayed in that coma for two weeks. He stayed in the hospital for eight. Because at that time people were still ignorant of the risks, he unknowingly passed it on to 26 people.
He was lucky. He made it through. In November he was able to go back to work. Despite all the obstacles. I learned COVID is more than the death toll. Even those who survive it can have their lives changed beyond what they ever imagined.
Living his story from afar changed my whole outlook on the disease. I was not complacent, even though I was surrounded by people who were. I also got educated, as I wanted to know all I could about it.
Back in North Carolina
I live in a small city in North Carolina, north of Charlotte. Our county is mostly rural and many still make their living by farming.
There is a strong sense of independence here. A lot of good old boys and women who support them. Discrimination of all types is not heavily veiled, and outsiders are a bit suspect. People on all sides of the fence don’t like anyone telling them what to do.
While I was trying to follow the science and understood why a new coronavirus would mean that information would be changing rapidly, many around me found the science suspect. They still do. They think there are a lot of conspiracies going on. Just ask them. They’ll tell you what’s what. It may vary from their neighbor, popular opinion, the scientific community, and the medical community, but they will not waiver.
I shared my cousin Scott’s experience in Wales with people and tried to explain some of the science and why it changes, but often people felt it still didn’t impact them. They thought I was being unreasonably cautious when I masked to go to the grocery store.
When the governor closed down all but essential businesses for a few weeks, people were angry. Some accepted it, because we certainly have a mixed bag of opinions, but many were livid.
When that was lifted and the governor issued a statewide-mask mandate, the sheriff issued a public statement that he did not believe it to be constitutional, so he and his department would not be enforcing it. This made life difficult for business owners who were trying to enforce the mandate. They had little recourse when fits were thrown.
Iredell County, where I live, was a bit late to the party for the rise in actual coronavirus cases. Though our first case was reported on March 16, 2020, and our first death was reported on April 8, 2020, it was November 2020 before we saw a large number of cases.
Most people here were anti-maskers early on. Many still are. I have been impressed that, knowing our culture, so many have started to comply.
Still, the attitude on vaccines has changed since initial discussions. While most I talked to early on said there was no way they would get one, it seeks to be more prevalent to get them than not. At least in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I suspect knowing people who have had the virus (some like my niece have had it twice already), the vaccine appears the lesser of the two evils.
I got a new job. I had been unemployed since January of 2019, so, it was welcome. The job only lasted a month (a story in itself), but what a month it was. The company president thought that people should be in the office working. We had zones, and we were supposed to stay in those zones and mask if we left our offices. It was odd. Most people stayed in their offices with the doors closed. There was absolutely no benefit to being there in person, but all I could figure was that the president did not trust people would work at home.
Yet it was in the airline industry and in my job as Benefits Director I talked to quite a few people with COVID. I listened in on calls about how it was being handled. There were a lot of mixed messages. Even within a month I saw patience wane for people being out of work for quarantine or having COVID. It was quite easy to tell who cared most about the welfare of the employees and who cared most about the business. It was an interesting way to get a picture of an organization.
The True Personal Crisis
For me, though, the biggest story in my life since March of 2020 has been the dramatic escalation of my mom’s Alzheimer’s. She has progressed to what now appear to be the latter stages. To think about the rapid decline in her mind and abilities since this disease started its progression is jolting.
My four siblings and I began to take turns staying with her at night when it appeared worse, but a recent wandering episode during the day has shown us it is probably time for 24-hour care. She still recognizes us, but if someone were to ask she would not be aware which of her children was with her that morning. In fact, while we have brought her dinner and spent every night with her for six months or so, she does not recognize we do this. She is happy to see us, but would not notice if we failed to show up. The day after she has no clue we have been there, even though we interact with her continuously.
Having to decide whether she was vaccinated was odd. My mom was a nurse and always made her own medical decisions. She still believes she can, but she is not able. She is not able to correctly answer the easiest of questions at doctor’s appointments. She has forgotten every surgery she has ever had, as well as the major drug reaction that nearly killed her.
Because of this life-threatening reaction to a drug years ago, early on we were hesitant to get her vaccinated. Her primary care physician said to hold up a bit, though I later realized she had not been her provider when the drug reaction occurred and didn’t know she had seen a specialist who determined it was indeed the actual drug that was the issue. When I took her to her cardiologist, however, he was adamant she get it. He had been her doctor at the time of her reaction, knew the full story, and I trusted his opinion.
My siblings were split, however. Two of us were in favor of her getting vaccinated, two somewhat against (though one of these is healthcare and had already been vaccinated himself), and one had no strong opinion either way.
My younger sister who was also in favor of her getting vaccinated made the appointment. I took her for both of her vaccinations, the first on Valentine’s Day. Our thought was the risk of the vaccination was less than the risk of COVID and we were willing to take responsibility for the decision. Mom was always in favor of vaccinations and we felt sure this would be the choice she made for herself.
I took her to a hospital site, which had an incredibly well-run drive-through operation that was doctor-supervised, and we waited the full thirty minutes after her first vaccination. She never even had any arm pain at the site of the injection, for either injection. She has to be reminded she has received both vaccinations.
What A Full Year It Has Been
Somewhere in all of this was also the election, participation in a non-violent protest calling for justice for my neighbors of different races, and the loss of my nephew to an overdose of fentanyl and two uncles and a friend since high school to non-coronavirus illnesses. That these are all just a mention in this paragraph is significant.
How have I changed this year? I have become more aware of the insidious. So much evil creeps in and we get distracted by the shiny unimportant stuff. On my pessimistic days, I feel as though we are that frog being boiled slowly, but instead of our whole being dying, it is our souls.
My choice, however, is to live in hope of the human spirit. To believe there are more good people than bad. To believe at some point we will all sort out the shiny from the important. That we will learn and grow and recognize we are all a bunch of humans that should be living lives of purpose and caring for each other better than we have been.
As someone that has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I sometimes get unreasonably overwhelmed with all that needs to be done but to use one more over-used cliche’, we each need to attack a different part of that elephant and start eating.
Thanks for the prompt, Anna Maltby!
Kim McKinney actually enjoyed her few weeks of isolation and would have been quite content to spend much of this coronavirus year staying locked away from reality, but instead has found the year quite busy and demanding. Still, she is quite thankful for life and all it brings, even when there are challenges and heartbreak mixed with the joy.