People tend to want to join things – golf clubs, book groups, churches, fraternities and sororities – the list goes on forever. But there is one group I would more than happily resign from if I could. This is the group of people who are at a high risk of having complications or even dying from COVID-19.
In fact, on two occasions, I heard Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaking about the virus. Dr. Fauci has been in that position for years and he has a great reputation. Accordingly, I always follow his advice. I remember that he basically said that people who were in the high risk group should not take long trips and should especially not get on a cruise ship. He used as an example on two occasions people over the age of 60 and with underlying conditions like chronic congestive heart failure. Wait a minute - that's me!!!!! Yikes – I felt like there was a target on my back.
Needless to say, living in the corona virus age is making my life very challenging. I truly believe that as a heart failure patient, I am in remarkably good condition. Judging by my blood tests and echocardiogram results, I would assume it is far enough along the spectrum to be considered chronic. I do know that when the virus crept into the U.S., I made it a priority to act as responsibly as possible in terms of having what I needed on hand in case I started to show symptoms and needed to quarantine. But I also did my best to act responsibly and proactively without slipping into full scale panic mode. But as I watched the landscape around me in Arlington, Virginia, I saw (and still see) healthy people who seem to have crossed over the panic line, or at the very least lost their perspectives.
I saw (and still see) empty shelves in grocery and drug stores. First it was hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes – and not just the name brands but virtually any brand of these products. No big deal – I have always heard that the better option if you have it is washing your hands with soap and water. Of course disinfectant sprays that you can use with your own sponge will do the trick to clean surfaces in your home. But soon all soft soaps were gone too, so I bought more bar soaps which were still in stock. Disinfectant sprays not so much in stock anymore. I have to wonder – how many surfaces do my fellow Arlington residents have to clean, and how many hands are in each of their families?
Anyone who has been in the Washington DC area during a major (or minor or almost non-existent) snow storm is familiar with the run on the stores the night or two before a predicted storm. Bread, snacks and toilet paper literally fly off the shelves. Well welcome to COVID 19, the snow storm of illnesses. Toilet paper soon disappeared from the shelves, followed by Kleenex, paper towels and napkins. I even saw a newspaper article where female shopper said the toilet paper was all gone, but fortunately she had found some napkins. I assume that she wasn’t buying the napkins to use on her dinner table but as a substitute for toilet paper. If they do not know it now, all the folks who purchased other paper products to use as toilet paper will soon learn that the septic systems will probably not accept the switch to other paper products.
Other items that were in low supply were canned goods, bottled water, frozen vegetables and frozen pizza. I think the run on all of these supplies was because the federal, state, and local authorities were cautioning residents that if they were exposed to the virus, they would need to self-quarantine for two weeks. Where I live, that seems to have been translated as “stock up for the next two years.” I started to wonder – do these people not have any staples and food supplies in their homes? Is Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard largely bare unless there is a crisis going on?
Then came the advice that Americans need to practice social distancing. This is pretty much defined as do not go congregate in groups, and when you are out in public make sure there are 6 feet between you and each person you encounter. In my mind, the term should really be antisocial distancing, but whatever! My church complied by cancelling meetings and service, and holding any gathering on Zoom. Of course, it isn't the same as being together in person but it is a wonderful substitute.
Last week, government began to issue orders to restrict events to less than 250 people. I think I heard that the local movie theatres of the size of 250 were only going to sell 50 tickets for each showing. But what about other businesses that attract crowds and/or have tables that are closer together than 6 feet? Soon the District of Columbia and a number of states started to put restrictions on restaurants – how many people could be in a party, how far apart the tables were. Some states closed restaurants for eat-in customers and only allowed delivery.
On Monday morning of this week, we heard the news that the Federal government was recommending limiting gatherings to 50 people. I heard about couples with upcoming weddings who were scrambling to figure out what to do. How does one cut a crowd of 200 to 50 people? That would be a hard task, but then Monday afternoon came the news that the government had changed the recommendation to no more than 10 people. (And just in case you think that is Draconian, some U.S. locations have shelter in place orders which would seem to totally eliminate weddings). I have since heard that a number of couples are having a small ceremony at home or the courthouse (if that still happens to be open), and then holding a reception when this is all over. (Please trust me folks that indeed at some point this will be all over).
Also on Monday afternoon the President said something to the effect that this could go on until July or August. My immediate reaction was “prick me with a fork, I’m done!” Fortunately, later in the news conference Dr. Fauci clarified that while the trajectory of this virus until it is gone could go on for a while, the government would be reevaluating every 15 days. That sounded reasonable because I can’t imagine something as wide-reaching as COVID 19 would just disappear. Just as there is a surge of cases, the downturn when it occurs should also be dramatic but also drawn out until it totally disappears. But reevaluating will help us know if we're hitting the mark or need to further restrict. Hopefully each reevaluation will show light at the end of the tunnel.
I thought okay I can do this. I just have to suspend any exercise routines in the fitness center and instead do some cardio/resistance in my home, and take long walks outside in the fresh air while keeping people at a distance. As to grocery shopping I just had to get out early and have a list of exactly what I need and then aim for those products like a homing pigeon. If I can’t find wipes at the store (because my supply is dwindling), I can wash my hands in the restroom and then wash my hands when I get home. But this is all doable for someone with discipline.
And then that evening I checked to see exactly what the CDC guidance contained. My eyes immediately focused on this paragraph: "If you are a person with an underlying health condition, that can put you at increased risk (for example, a condition that impairs your heart or lung function or weakens your immune system) you should stay home away from other people." I sent a relative an e-mail that said: “CDC guidance. See page 1, last item. I don't know if that is telling me that I should stay home? What do you think? Maybe I should check with the heart doctors tomorrow?” The next morning, I had a text which said: “Yes, it sounds like the advice is for you to stay home but I would base your decision based on what your doctors advise.
By that point, I was still anxious because the thought of just sitting between four walls for the foreseeable future was not pleasant. But I also went to the AHA website and found a number of cardio type exercises I could do to keep me busy. Then I e-mailed my doctor and cited the relevant language from the CDC, and detailed my most current routine. I wanted to know if I was I doing too little or too much.
He got back to me with the advice that was right in line with the measures I had implemented on my own: I should: practice social distancing when reasonable and practical; avoid the fitness center or gym; do the best I can with exercise on my own in the fresh outdoors or in the confines of my condo - the outdoors being important to mental health if I could do it and maintain social distance. Fortunately, I live in an area where most businesses are closed down and the subway is open only for essential travel. So early in the morning, the landscape is fairly deserted and I have been able to keep my distance from folks. Happily, the Whole Foods across the street is now sponsoring an hour between 7 and 8 in the morning that is devoted to shopping for those over the age of 60. Trust me, I’ve never been so happy to prove that I was 62. These brief outings, and going downstairs to get my mail and dump my recyclables when people are not in the lobby, are my only ventures outside my condo unit.
All of these things are doable, give me some flexibility, and are not confining me to my condo 24/7. Are they how I want to live my life forever? Of course not. But will I survive this pandemic? Well, no one can predict that with a certainty. However, after consulting with a few family members and the doctors, and searching my soul, I feel I am too darned stubborn to disappear off the earth at this point in time. I also know that since I was able to alter my behavior a number of times since we started to have the virus appear in this country, if I have to alter it again and stay within my condo, I can do it. It's just a matter of getting into a routine.
Another nagging restriction caused by this pandemic has nothing to do with health and everything to do with stylistic. I had to cancel my hair appointment on Monday when it became clear that with my heart risk, I should avoid any situations where social distancing would be difficult. The red that you see in my hair is of the same color family that was in my hair in my teens and is my preference as a color that blends well with my features and coloring. But now, it is less natural and more bottled. As time goes by since I have seen my hair stylist, the gray roots just seem to be screaming for attention.
I was able to find a root touch up product similar to the red hair color that is my current preference. But ordering it was difficult. The same people who are hoarding toilet paper must be stockpiling intense red auburn dye. I fin Ifally found it in one store, but I wont' get it until late next week (assuming deliveries are still something we can rely on). Whatever – by the time I dye it, the color should last for three weeks and hopefully by then I can get out and see my stylist who is a rock star.
In the meantime, I admit that I have never dyed my hair before. I keep telling myself I'm only going to color the area of my part and the hair line and any obvious root regrowth - how bad can it be? I realize that I may be eating those words later! But as my sister points out, since I will not be outside much, who will see the gray (or the botched dye job). If I have to go to gray for a while, I will make it my new short term preference.
As you can see, one of my solutions to dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty of COVID 19 is your sense of humor. If I can find something to joke about, how bad can it be? And you must resort to 3F support – family, friends and faith. Family and friends need to be there for each other, to keep each other functional when another scary revelation about COVID 19 hits the public domain. Yes, it is frightening to think of the number of people who might die. So just don’t go there. Think of how to stay healthy. Help each other get over the obstacles. In an age of distancing, use your computer and iPhone to stay in touch.
Then there is the importance of faith. Each time I hit another pandemic roadblock, I seek refuge and discernment with God. At several times in this pandemic, I have gone to God at night with my problems and fears. Surprisingly, I have been able to sleep despite the changing landscape. I then spend the next day planning what I need to revise in my life and what I can keep on doing.
When I had a challenge in my life in the past, I reinvented myself so that I not only got through it but became stronger and a better person. I believe the same thing will happen now. I get into ruts sometime, especially when it comes to exercise. So maybe it's a good thing that I have to get into the fresh air (albeit socially distant), get out of the gym and try new exercises, and explore how far I can expand the strength of this heart and body. I'm confident that at some point if I trust in God, and most importantly, trust in my own strength as a child of God, it will all somehow work.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.