Sunday, March 21, 2021
A Year Ago This Month -- Was It Only a Year Ago?
A year ago this month, the world shut down. It felt unprecedented but very temporary at the time. "By summer," we told ourselves. "By summer this will be over." We had no idea.
By March 8, 2020, there had been 539 officially diagnosed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and 22 deaths. On March 8, 2021, there have been 28,771,749 officially diagnosed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and 540,973 of us have died.
We have lived a year of fear and isolation, of uncertainty and virtual connections. We have seen rampant political cynicism, heightened political polarization and a violent challenge to a smooth transition of power in Washington. We've seen racism exposed in all its ugliness and we've seen it challenged with new resolve and a flicker of cautious optimism that so many wrongs can be corrected at last. We've also salvaged hope in the form of vaccines that will, at the very least, sharply curtail the death toll from Covid-19.
We're looking to summer and then on to fall for some return of normal. And yet, what will the new normal look like? What parts of pandemic cautions and customs will we keep? What have you learned from this memorable year?
Here's what I've learned:
I've learned that technology can bring us together as well as keep us apart. We've all complained in the past how our smart phones and tablets have kept us apart, diverting our attention as we avert our eyes from each other to text or surf the internet. But sometimes technology can keep us connected -- in our work, in school and for doctor's appointments -- when it's too scary to leave home.
A year ago this month, I saw my last in-office client for what we thought would be a few months and a year later, I have no immediate plans to resume in-person, in-office therapy. In addition to my private practice, I had been working three days a week for two telehealth companies since October 2019, so felt at ease with the technology of virtual therapy sessions as I transferred most of my private practice clients to a special online platform.
A few chose to halt therapy sessions for a time rather than go online "because this is just temporary and I'm not comfortable with technical things." We're still waiting, of course. And in the meantime, some previously in-office clients can't imagine going back. The last client I saw in person a year ago recently told me that "I was skeptical at first but now I LOVE online therapy. No dressing up, driving 20 minutes and hunting for a parking place! And you've had a chance to get to know my new kitten!"
Yes, I've found it as easy to bond and communicate with clients online as it was in the room with them -- and I do get a chance from time to time to have a sense of their homes, meet their pets and an occasional child or spouse who drops in briefly to say "hello." It is a different, but generally positive, sense of intimacy.
As life has unfolded in the past year, I've found new comfort and joy in having a partner.
Several months before the pandemic shutdown, in January 2020, my left foot was crushed in a freak accident. I had surgery to reconstruct the foot with metal plates and clamps in February last year. Then in March 2020, I visited the doctor's office to have my temporary cast, post-surgical dressings and stitches removed from my foot and a new, more permanent cast applied. In pain from the stitches and the swelling, I had both anticipated and dreaded this appointment. But, as with the pandemic, I had no idea, on a smaller scale of course, just how bad this could be.
I took a deep breath as the doctor began to upwrap the bandages, increasingly bloody as the layers were peeled away. I looked over at my husband Bob and saw his eyes widen as my foot emerged from the bandages. My heart began to race.
Bob had been at my side throughout the long ordeal since my injury and surgery -- helping me with the most basic daily rituals from using the bathroom to bathing in the early days after my injury and surgery to lifting me and my wheelchair out of the house and into my office twice a day, taking over all household tasks, organizing grocery shopping expeditions and offering comfort during times of pain, sleeplessness and frustration. He never complained or ignored the faintest sign of my distress, sometimes just sensing my pain from a quiet intake of breath. He never saw himself as a hero. "I'm just doing what a good spouse is supposed to do," he would tell me. "I love being able to help you. I know you'd do the same for me." Still, I remained grateful on a daily basis.
Now, in the doctor's office, he left his chair in a corner of the small examining room and came over to me as I reclined on the table. "Close your eyes," he said, taking my hand.
The doctor had been shaking his head. "Get a surgical packet," he told his assistant quietly. Then he turned to us. "I'm going to remove the stitches now," he said. "But I'm also going to have to do a little more surgery here. You have a large area of necrotic tissue on the top of your foot. I'm going to have to remove that layer of skin before we can put the new cast on. I'm so sorry. But it's absolutely necessary."
Bob tightened his grip on my hand. "Take a deep breath," he told me quietly. "Let's go to Maui together. It's morning and we've just finished breakfast at the Sea House on Napili Bay. We're walking on the beach. Look how the sun is sparkling on the water and those beautiful blue, translucent waves. Smell the scent of flowers in the air -- jasmine? Plumeria? Breathe deeply and just savor that scent. Feel how warm the water is as the waves wash over our feet..."
I imagined and hung on as I focused on Bob's words, the images and the memories that helped to block out my pain and fear. And I was immensely grateful to have a partner who knew just how to help me through this latest challenge.
The procedure finished, the doctor's assistant was building the cast on my foot and leg. I opened my eyes and looked at Bob. "You did so well," he said quietly. "You were so brave."
Tears filled my eyes as I struggled not to cry. Bob knew my fears of medical procedures and pain that are rooted deeply in a sickly childhood of battling polio and another life-threatening illness. And he knew just what a comfort this guided imagery escape would be. It felt so good to be known so well and comforted so sensitively and expertly.
A year later, I am largely healed from my ordeal -- walking, back to sharing household tasks, back to our old life in so many ways. But I am immensely grateful and still especially moved as I remember that day -- was it only a year ago -- when I realized anew the blessing of being known and loved so well.
Now, in our post-vaccine euphoria, the new "firsts" feel strange and tentative. I got my first haircut in many months today. As I sat in the waiting area, an older man, socially distanced from me, reached over and touched my shoulder. He smiled through his face shield. "It feels so nice to touch someone," he said. "I hope you don't mind." I didn't.
I look forward to hugging friends and family. How will that feel? Will it be safe for them? Will we be so accustomed to elbow bumps that a hug will feel incredibly awkward? I look forward to rediscovering the joy of reaching out to and hugging those I love.
We've all gained new insights in this year of solitude and adversity -- whether from the fallout of a global pandemic or from personal challenges.
We've learned what's important -- and what's not -- in our lives.
In the time before the pandemic, Bob and I enjoyed a number of meals out each week. It has been a year since we've eaten in a restaurant and we're fine with that. While it might be nice to have a weekend breakfast out or a special dinner at our community golf course view restaurant from time to time this year, we're mostly content with simple, healthy meals at home.
In the time before, we felt pressure to be more social. Now we're more at ease with solitude. It will be wonderful to see good friends again after all this time, but we treasure quiet time as well to pursue our various interests.
In the time before, we tended to take good health for granted and the spectre of mortality was dark but distant. Now we know, with new clarity, how fragile life can be. We've lost neighbors to Covid and other health crises in the past year. Family members have become frail and my dearest cousin recently died. We've felt newly vulnerable. Even though we now have the comfort of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19, we're not making any asssumptions. We are embracing good health and the habits that make this possible with new fervor.
There are some joyful possibilities on the horizon -- going back to the library, the gym and the community pool, the chance to travel to see family and dear friends once again and maybe even to go to Maui once more to smell that perfumed air and feel the warmth of the waves for real.
But now, more than ever, there is gratitude for what is and for the blessing of love -- being known and loved well -- expressed by family and dear friends remotely or, in Bob's case, at close range through this painful, unprecented year.