Dragging On

Today suddenly feels more bleak.

I want to sleep all the time. We’ve had warmer weather and some sunshine, but getting outside to walk feels like an absolute chore.

I sense that I’m not alone, that the isolation is becoming a heavier load for many of my friends as well.

For the first several weeks, I made a point of getting in at least one vigorous walk per day, weather permitting. I’ve been slacking on that this week, partly because my feet have been hurting from all the walks. Typically, I exercise vigorously several times a week, but in my rec center’s lap pool. I haven’t been there since March 11. And I’m feeling the results of that neglect.

Today started out foggy. I took a nap mid-morning. I dozed off a little in the early afternoon as well. But then I saw the sky. It was sunny. The weather app on my phone indicated the temperature was 72. Even so, I nearly had to force myself to leave my apartment.

I went outside in short sleeves and capri-length yoga pants. And flip-flops. Instead of focusing on a workout, I threw all my attention into soaking up the sunshine. I strolled. No power walking today. I sat outside on benches in the plaza in front of the Morris Civic Auditorium. I strolled on the sidewalks and grass in the park. I admired the perfection of the daffodils and the blossoms of the weeping cherry trees.

The Morris Civic Auditorium plaza.

The Morris schedules a free summer concert series at noon on Fridays every summer, and concert-goers fill this plaza and lawn most weeks. There is an abundance of food trucks, and often people get up and dance to the music. There’s no telling whether those concerts will take place this summer.

From this angle, the path of the park seems to lead straight to the back of my apartment building.

The half hour or so that I spent outside in the sun changed my day — and my outlook. Sunshine is our best source of vitamin D, and studies dating back several decades verify that vitamin D is an essential mood regulator. Depression very often is linked to low vitamin D levels. But I don’t think you have to know much about science to understand that a little sunshine lifts the spirit.

More recently, research has demonstrated that people deficient in vitamin D are more likely to have cardiovascular disease. Supplementation does not always solve the problem. But sunshine does, I’m certain.

I worry that hiding away from exposure to the novel coronavirus may cause other health problems should we start eating poorly, neglect exercise and forget about that daily dose of sunshine.

Tonight, as I write this blogpost, first responders in our community are parading our three local hospitals with lights and sirens to honor medical workers. From my living room window I watched and listened as emergency vehicles surrounded Memorial Hospital, just four blocks north of where I sit. It’s my reminder that we’re all in this together, each one supporting the other. May it ever be.

Tonight’s light and siren parade of emergency vehicles surrounding Memorial Hospital, South Bend, Indiana.

The Grotto

The Grotto at the University of Notre Dame

The lack of worship gatherings during this time leaves an empty spot in the Easter season. My daughter in particular seems to need a set-apart place for that. She’s found that in the Grotto on the University of Notre Dame campus.

We’ve lingered here several times during the past few weeks. It’s a natural setting for prayer and reflection. And — unlike churches and cathedrals, chapels and basilicas — it isn’t closed. A number of park benches circle the outer edge of the piazza at its approach. Almost always two or three others have gathered there as well, all scattered apart in respect of social distancing. Often a congregant will kneel in prayer along the fence.

We’ve lit candles too. There is a sense, in that physical act, of having done something tangible to mark the prayer that has been said. The rocks that form the Grotto are solid and secure, and isn’t that what we all want more of right now? Something solid to lean on.

Masks

Authorities have been discussing for a while whether or not wearing cloth and other masks would stem the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, but yesterday it became official. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that everyone wear a mask outside their home.

Up until now, many scientists — longtime director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci among them — have argued against masks, in part because people tend to touch their faces more while wearing them. Additionally, the N95 and surgical masks have to go first and foremost to the healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients. But evidently camp against them has lost the argument.

The CDC recommendation is only that — a recommendation. But I can see some logic to it. First of all, it does appear that there is a fair amount of transmission going on due to the number of people who have the virus and unknowingly are transmitting it to others without have any symptoms themselves. Wearing a mask to a degree will help stem that transmission. Additionally, others have argued that any face covering is better than nothing, even if it’s just a scarf.

So I’ve started complying.

First of all, I do worry it’s possible I could be a carrier. At present and for the past several weeks, I have been suffering, as I do every year about this time, with seasonal allergies. Despite my diligence in taking my allergy medicines, I cough. I sneeze. I sniffle. In the past couple of days my sinuses have become a bit congested. But I’m not running a fever. This I check, morning and night. So it makes sense that I should probably cover my face when I go out to shop for groceries and other necessities.

Additionally, my daughter and I have started wearing a face covering when we’re in the apartment building, but outside our own apartments — especially when we’re in the elevators.

Research evidently has shown that the virus can linger suspended in the air for a period of time, put there when a carrier simply exhales, without a sneeze or cough. Possible but probably unlikely. Nonetheless, we live in a 45-unit apartment building. Wearing a mask might offer us some additional protection.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. Last week I decided I needed to wear a headband when I go to the store, because my bangs are getting long and a headband would make it less necessary to push them back from my face with my hands. And I found I had a headband that I’d bought at Walmart a few years ago made from a stretchy tube of fabric. When I put it on, I realized this might also fit the bill as a face mask. So I went to Walmart and bought quite a few more.

This is me wearing three headbands, one on my head and two around my neck.

I wear this new ensemble in sets of three, one around my head — for the hair — and the remaining two around my neck, like a collar.

When I go inside a store or out into halls and elevators of my building, I pull the neck collar up over my nose.

Here I am with one headband holding my hair out of my face while two more form a double layer to snugly fit over my mouth and nose. It can get a bit warm, but it works.

Another positive aspect to this strategy is that I can hand-wash the whole set, hang them in my bathroom, and they dry easily over night. I actually have three sets.

My daughter also has several headbands of her own to cover her face. Because she has very limited use of one hand and relies almost entirely on the other, these are easy for her to put on and pull up and down without any help. We’ve decided to keep her out of the stores completely for the foreseeable future, but she does have to navigate our apartment building.

Speaking of stores, here’s a morbidly amusing story. I went to Meijer’s near us on Friday morning to pick up some things we needed that day. I made a point of getting there before the store open, believing my best bet was shopping in a store that had been freshly cleaned overnight. Or at least lingering viruses might have become nonviable overnight. A number of people were lined up outside the store, patiently standing at least ten feet apart. About a dozen more of us sat in our cars waiting in comfort. Eventually a man came out to open the doors — presumably the manager. He held the door open with his back as those who had been waiting in line passed within a foot or two of him to get inside.

We who had been waiting in our cars got out and stood around as the others entered. He waved for us to come in, and no one moved. “You can come in now,” he called out to us. Finally, I yelled back, “You have to move. We’re socially distancing out here. Or at least are trying to.” I heard some chuckles.

The poor fellow, embarrassed, retreated, and we all entered and got our carts. I was out of the store within fifteen minutes.

I would say at least 60 to 70 percent of us who entered that store at its opening were wearing some type of face covering — a mask, a scarf, or a makeshift substitute like mine. We looked like a motley congregation of bandits, yet there we all were, getting used to the unimaginable as if it were just another day.

Closer Still

My son Zac called me yesterday afternoon to say that he was self-isolating. A friend from work was sick now from Corona-like symptoms.

I have known this particular friend, by the way, since he was in middle school and a friend of my younger son, Jacob. He lived in our neighborhood, and the boys of course rode the same school bus.

Self-isolating will pose some challenge for Zac’s family. They live in a small apartment with only one bathroom – a family of five already squeezed to their limits. How to do this without infecting the entire family is something they’ll simply have to figure out. Moving him — or the rest of the family — to a hotel is a financial burden they’re reluctant to take on.

My son Zac

To make matters worse, his son Jaxon, my grandson, has fairly severe asthma that has hospitalized him a number of times in his twelve years. This is a child who once was transported from a school field trip by ambulance to a local emergency ward.

We aren’t entirely sure what this will mean for our family. These are challenges faced by families much like us all over our country — no, all over the world. How do we do this? It’s uncharted territory.

This is Jaxon last Halloween. At the time his costume, one he had come up with himself, seemed really cool. Now instead it seems morbid and eerily foreboding.

Recession Worries

My neighbor Brandy lives exactly four floors above me. Our apartments have identical layouts, and our beds sit in exactly the same place inside our apartments. When we sleep, GPS (Global Positioning System) would not be able to differentiate her location from mine.

Brandy introduced herself to us on the day my daughter Anna moved into the building thirteen months ago. She’s one of the first people we met that day.

And when it came to the corona virus, she saw it all coming. During Mardi Gras, she thought, all those people, crowded all together like that. She knew it was just a matter of time.

But now Brandy’s worried about recession.

“I get Social Security Disability. I’ll still get a check. But I’m thinking of people in my family who have to work for a living.” She also worries about increased prices, noting how milk and eggs have gotten dramatically more expensive already.

Brandy goes outside for three reasons — to smoke, to take walks, and occasionally to shop. “I just can’t just sit in my apartment. I’ve got to get fresh air and just get outside.”

But even though her father lives just four blocks away, and her mother and brother also live in the community, she has not seen her family since everything closed down. “They’re being paranoid. They’re staying in.”  

And she’s being proactive too. “I’m keeping my hands washed. I wear gloves outside. I eat healthy. I take a multi-vitamin. I take fish oil. I take care of myself. I get regular sleep every night. I go to bed at the same time. I get at least eight hours of sleep. My health is generally pretty good.”

Brandy enjoys drawing and making jewelry.

Up until March 20th, the company that manages our apartment complex employed Brandy part-time to clean the public spaces. Bright and early every weekday, she mopped the lobby and elevators, vacuumed the carpeted halls, cleaned the laundry room, and washed the glass door entries. But even working half time, her feet suffered, and at the end of February, she gave three weeks notice.

Within days, the difference was noticeable. The building’s office, which previously was open twice weekly — if that — has been closed completely for about two weeks now. A cleaning crew came in today for a quick clean-up, but they said we probably would only see them about once a week. We’ve been told, as long as the social distancing rules are in place, Brandy’s replacement can’t be hired. This too is a cause for worry, for all of us.

Brandy was brought up in the Jehovah Witness faith and never was Catholic, yet she reveres the Virgin Mary, because she was highly favored by God. Pictured here is a miniature of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Aztec mother. Brandy now sees herself as nondenominational.

The Grandchildren

The hardest part of this social distancing is not getting to see my grandchildren much. Up until now, I’ve driven my granddaughter to her community college classes a couple times a week, and my grandsons visit my place at least weekly. In fact, being closer to my grandkids was one of the best benefits of getting an apartment here.

Of course, all three now are participating in on-line learning. My son is considered an “essential” worker, so he’s out in the community at least five days a week. He’s our weak link, and he and Jenni have been reluctant to take the chance of infecting me and my daughter Anna.

Friday, however, we did have a quick meet-up at a local park. Zac took the boys out to play catch, and we watched standing a bit away from them, just as much to avoid getting hit as to stay Corona-free.

I’m afraid all of this time indoors might be increasing our dependence further on our digital devices.

After the game of catch, we all sat down on some bleachers near the park’s ball diamond. A man and a boy – presumably father and son – practiced golf swings out in the field while we watched. We talked a little, and I’m really going to have to find some other conversational topics besides this virus and the resulting economic downturn. I think the children need to be spared. But it’s difficult, you know? And it’s all we’re thinking about.

All of the playgrounds in our community have been roped off — closed for the duration. My grandchildren live in an apartment and have no backyard to go outside to. Their lives have been altered dramatically by the current state of affairs. Playdates are out. Their mother is stressed to her limit making sure the school work is completed. And Zac is working 10 to 12 hours a day and getting little sleep, while a good many of the rest of us have more time than we ever dreamed of.

And I worry. I worry about my three children who continue to show up to work every day. I worry about my grandchildren, especially Jaxon, who has severe asthma that alone has hospitalized him several times in his twelve years. Anna and I, despite my age and her health history, are the least vulnerable of our family, isolated as we mostly are.

Stay healthy, friends, and be well.

Heaviness

Today I’ve felt such a dark sense of foreboding.

I’m trying to spend less time on social media and news surfing. It’s taking a toll. Everything feels like we are teetering on the edge of something big, something dramatic.

The stories posted by health care workers from New York and other cities are so vivid I can taste their fear. Their courage puts me to shame, but I’m angry that our country and their employers have not prepared better for such a day. I don’t understand why we don’t have billions of protective masks squirreled away in an underground vault somewhere. I realize we didn’t see this precise situation coming (although we should have), but catastrophe has hit before and surely we must have known it would strike again.

I failed to post this picture from our walk at Notre Dame yesterday. I’ll post it now and make it my closing prayer for the day.

The Grotto at the University of Notre Dame.

Walking the Lakes at Notre Dame

My daughter and I are taking daily walks. We just need to. Yesterday we walked the two lakes on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I wish I could share a picture of the little girl in her princess outfit flying down the walking paths on her skateboard scooter, but she was faster than I was. Instead I’ll post the my sightings of spring on its way.

I was surprised this egret let us get so close.
This angry swan chased away one goose after another as they got too close to his mate’s nest.
We almost always finish our lake walks with a visit to the grotto.

A Visit

My daughter’s friend Devin arrived for a day visit Tuesday. He drove from his home in an Illinois state college town. Yes, we have a local stay at home order here in South Bend, and Illinois’ Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered a shelter-in-place on Friday. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered a similar shelter-in-place beginning at the end of the day Tuesday, after Devin left.

This visit is not a decision I would have made, but Anna is an adult, Devin is an adult, and that’s the decision they made.

Anna and Devin social distancing.

The two of them walked a bit on the Notre Dame campus. Their site-seeing consisted of driving to see Anna’s high school and grade school. All meals were either drive-through or carry-out.

At the end of the day, Devin allowed me to interview him about the current state of affairs and its impact on his life.

“For the most part, I’m naturally a loner,” said the guy who drove 160 miles to see my daughter. Typically, his social life centers around twice-a-week meetups with about fifteen other gamers at a local game store.

The owner of the store had shut down before the shelter-in-place mandate, and in the past week the gamers were meeting in groups of five in each other’s houses, limited now by the size of the room. Devin isn’t sure whether that will continue now.

A school bus driver, he has not transported students since the schools closed on March 13. His employer is contracted by the school district, so he is not considered a school employee.

Now his district is hiring bus drivers to transport food from the high school to local schools to provide free school lunches to the children who rely on them. “I’ve basically become a glorified truck driver,” he says.

About 100 drivers are rotating through this offer to work. “I expect I’ll work about three or four days over a two-week pay period.” His shift is about four hours each day.

He also filed for unemployment a week ago. Given the number of people filing, he isn’t sure when or even whether that will go through.

“My plans are to sit tight, go grocery shopping when I need to, talk to my friends online and play video games. That will get me some social interaction for the next couple of weeks.”

His county, at the time of his visit, had one reported case of COVID-19. Our county, by contrast, had a dozen confirmed diagnoses. Two already socially-limited individuals met up for a friendly mental health visit. He did not stop anywhere along the way. What are our chances that we all remain healthy?

My Children

I have four adult children. Three of them have essential jobs and are working their butts off while the rest of us look for ways to fill our time.

My oldest, Zac, helps run a box factory in Elkhart, Indiana, just to the east of us. Most of the firm’s business is manufacturing boxes for medical supplies, including right now packaging for COVID-19 test kits. He has two sons, 9 and 12, navigating online learning in their small apartment, along with their college freshman sister. My daughter-in-law Jenni is running that show.

Second son, Jake, is an HVAC sales technician in the Chicago area. Thankfully, government officials consider heat and air conditioning essential. But he and his wife Kasia, a Polish immigrant, had plans to visit her parents in Poland in a month. That probably won’t happen.

My youngest, Allison, runs a transit system for a state university in an eastern state. Even though undergraduates have been sent home, buses continue to run around the campus perimeter, servicing those who remain. Among other things, there is the University’s medical center that needs to remain accessible. Allison is scurrying to get sanitizing products to keep her bus fleet clean. On top of this, her workforce was dramatically reduced when student drivers left campus, and many of the drivers who remain are older or have pre-existing conditions.

The last picture I have of all my children in one place was Christmas, 2016. From left to right: my daughter-in-law Jenni, my granddaughter Jadyn, Allison, Zac, Anna, and Jacob.

My third child, Anna, is the one you’ll likely hear the most about, given that she and I – with apartments in the same South Bend apartment building – are acting like one household unit through all of this.

Anna’s story is particularly poignant. First of all, she suffered a stroke at birth, resulting in hemiplegia. That means she has paralysis on one side — her right side — much like anyone else who has had a unilateral stroke (a stroke in one of the brain’s two hemispheres). Because this happened at birth, it falls under the umbrella of cerebral palsy.

When she was seventeen, additional health issues forced her to finish high school homebound and me to stop working almost entirely to care for her. She graduated in the top twenty percent of her high-achieving high school class, but she remained at home, deprived of college, until her health suddenly improved in 2018. That’s nearly seven years of just the two of us, with a limited social life.

Last spring, Anna moved into her own place, back here in the community where she grew up. By fall, I realized I too probably needed to be closer, and, when an apartment opened up in November, I moved into the same building. At the time I worried maybe this was a little too close, since she was finally achieving a little bit of self-sufficiency. This coronavirus crisis however has me grateful we are physically close so that we can keep an eye on each other.

For all those years while Anna remained at home, she said she felt forced to live in Neverland, not being allowed to grow up as her siblings had. For the past year she has worked with Vocational Rehab in South Bend to set career and education goals and to develop skills essential to achieve those goals and become as self-sufficient as possible.

Anna had all along worked with children in our church, teaching Sunday school and helping with various programs for kids. When she moved back to the South Bend area, she also began volunteering at our local Ronald McDonald House and at a local library branch. The Vocational Rehab process moved much more slowly than we had anticipated, but last month she filled out her very first job application, to work at another library branch doing just about the same thing she already was doing as a volunteer. It was exciting, and she was trying with all her might not to get her hopes up.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Within a matter of days our church suspended all gatherings, including Sunday school classes. The library closed. And Ronald McDonald House — serving as it does families of very sick children — cancelled all volunteerism within the building. And our local rec center, where we typically work out in the pool several times a week, also has closed until further notice.

So I have one grown child chomping at the bit to leave the social isolation forced upon her by a life-threatening health condition. And she is the only one of my four who is left to shelter in place and avoid all social contact once again.

From a health perspective, the high fever that accompanies COVID-19 is a big concern, and she as much as anyone probably needs to avoid getting this virus. There’s very little data suggesting she’s truly at risk, but why take a chance?

Still, there’s the irony. And it couldn’t have come at a more difficult time.

That’s why we’re observing the social distancing mandate, but we’re also trying to be sane about it. We take walks, daily if it isn’t raining. Yesterday, even though it was chilly, we took two 45-minute walks, the first through a historic cemetery along the river and the second on the practically empty campus at the University of Notre Dame, where I worked for quite a number of years.

Our mayor has asked us to shelter-in-place except for necessary trips to the store, work, etc. And today the governor made that state-wide. If anyone stops me, I’m going to argue that these are mental health outings. I don’t think we’ll make it if we can’t get exercise and fresh air.

So that’s what’s going on within my immediate family. The odd thing is, I’m accustomed to worrying about Anna. But right now I’m just as focused on her siblings, all of them out on their respective front lines.

I think about every other family out there that has its own story, every person with their own perspective on this situation. I believe it’s the telling of our stories that will keep our sense of community intact.

Anna and her cat Rosie.