Like our ancestors, we are enslaved. In Egypt, Moses led them through the desert to escape a torturous life. Instead of Pharaoh, we are now held captive by a virus. Each day, COVID-19 hovers over us. How do we avoid its wrath? We wear one mask, now two masks. We wash and sanitize our hands until they are raw. Our forefathers carried bricks on their backs. We carry bricks too – but ours are invisible.
COVID is our enemy. We face a dark sea filled with fear and misery. How will we get through it? How can we get to a corona-free world? Who will bring us there?
People need love and compassion now, more than ever. I work with older people and help them find joy, relevance and meaning in their lives. The pandemic has taken away our ability do this without consequences.
How can I remain in touch with clients when I can’t be physically with them? Some clients understand; others are confused. A few have died. I grieve their loss. I grieve what we are no longer able to do.
I began working with elders because I saw how much they had to relinquish as they aged. Relevance, independence, and good days seem to vanish. We advocate for them so that they have an overall better quality of life. We spend time with them. We are family when there are no relatives close by.
My client Rose is 89, and lives alone. She is visually impaired and fiercely independent. The fear of getting sick took the wind out of her sail. She couldn’t be without human contact for a week, let alone a year.
I had to decide – see Rose and follow CDC guidelines to keep her safe from COVID (please God) or watch her diminish from loneliness.
I continued to visit her. I got tested every few weeks for reassurance. After almost a year of tiptoeing around the pandemic, I got COVID literally days before I was eligible for a vaccine.
My COVID experience lingers. It started on a Sunday in January. A friend called to say her son was diagnosed and suggested that I get tested because we were together briefly earlier in the week. For the record, I never saw her son. I was just with the mom. (I say that because COVID has made me defensive – I have to prove I did everything I could to avoid the scourge).
I tested negative on Monday but four days later, I woke up with a fever, cough and aches from head to toe. I knew I had it. The phone call from Massachusetts Coronavirus Contact Tracing Program made my diagnosis official. I was told to quarantine for 10 days and someone would check back in with me.
Before retreating to my bed, I alerted my doctor and arranged testing for my son and husband. The calls to my client and her family were torturous. My presence in her life jeopardized her. I was a plague – at least until everyone was tested and deemed clear.
COVID is disruptive even when you are not directly affected. The turmoil that accompanies a positive diagnosis tests the best of us. I was a virus – no longer Carolyn – who put her husband, son, client and strangers at risk. I brought my car in for service the day before and called the shop to let them know, especially because one staffer wasn’t wearing a mask when I walked into the office.
Thankfully my symptoms were minor and I could recover at home. My husband moved to another room and the dog was temporarily and unsuccessfully banned from seeing me. Family and friends turned into my corona concierge team. That is the wonderful part of the experience. So many people rallied around our family – from all parts of our world.
Despite having a minor case, I couldn’t get out of bed even after the first 10 days. Two weeks passed and the COVID team said I was no longer a threat. I was relieved but frightened. I had been in another universe during my seclusion and I still wasn’t feeling like myself.
It has been almost two months and I still have headaches. Each week I tell myself, give it more time.
As I still struggle with whatever lingers from COVID, I think about my clients. Now I truly understand what it is like to want to just get up and go … but can’t. When I do, exhaustion overwhelms me and I have to curtail whatever it is that I’m doing or hope to do. My brain sometimes feels a little out of sorts.
This has been a preview of old age. It’s not pretty or easy. I have even more regard for what my clients face. The good news is that I will hopefully emerge from this with new energy, a clear head, and an appreciation for the love that surrounds me.
Right now we need a miracle and a Moses. Perhaps our modern Moses can be more than one person. Or, perhaps, the miracle we are witnessing is the creation and distribution of effective vaccines. When we sit at the Seder table in a few days, let’s hope that in 2022 our families will gather in person, young and old. In the meantime, this year after reciting the 10 plagues and sprinkling drops of wine, let’s add COVID to the list.
Carolyn Schultz Eggert writes from Newton.