I am sure I am not alone when I say that the past few weeks have felt like a few years. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of those who have lost someone to this new viral threat, and the fear felt by those who have been diagnosed or who love someone who has been diagnosed.
As we all hunker down as best we can for the greater good, several concerns float through my mind, like stones skipping on water. I am sure this is true for all of us who are caregivers. We may be pushing through the laundry or the dishes or the Spring cleaning while we are experiencing this odd calendar-clearing, but the backs of our minds are full of what-ifs. And yet, as new and strange as this situation truly is, the stones skipping on the water--the what-ifs in the backs of our minds--all feel soberingly familiar, don't they?
Quicker and shorter shopping trips. A meditative focus on handwashing. A bundling up of the medically vulnerable loved one away from exposure. Removal from social situations because the fun that would be had just isn't worth the risk. A gathering of resources and emergency plans so that they are at-hand. The medical team on speed dial. An assumption that all pathogens everywhere are threats to the integrity of one's health and peace of mind. A vigilant awareness of the simple, icky "everywhereness" of the germs. The steps that we are dutifully following as given by experts for the current crisis are substantially similar to the steps we tend to take even on a normal day. It is true that our lives are rife with precautions that are over and above what most folks have to think about in addition to their regular routines.
As I see how my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances are handling this sudden requirement to stay home for the foreseeable future, the differences between the daily itinerary of a caregiver and the daily itinerary of someone who is not a caregiver become abrasively clear. The folks who are clearly bored within their four walls baffle me the most: do they not have a medication schedule to keep up? Do they not have dietary restrictions to research before making dinner? Do they not have piles of bedclothes that must be kept immaculately clean? The folks who are bouncing off the ceiling trying to find something to do with their newfound time at home are like exotic creatures to me. What would that be like? I've been doing this for so long that I don't remember a to-do list that wasn't pages deep that all related just to the logistics of this house and the needs of the people inside it. To put it briefly and bluntly: to all my friends who are now working from home, welcome to the world of a caregiver. I am always working when I am at home, and when I am working, I am always at home.
I say this all with my tongue in my cheek, of course, with nothing but support and understanding for all my friends who have been abruptly dumped into this situation. But for my brotherhood and sisterhood of caregivers, I say: do not be discouraged by the inconveniences of the sheltering in place. Rather, try and be encouraged by all the ways in which we already know how to deal with isolation and medical uncertainty. Unlike our friends who are not in this boat with us, we know that we are always waiting for shoes to drop. We never know which shoe it will be, but we know one will fall. We are always expecting the unexpected. We are always wondering what new diagnosis might arise, and always wondering how to best seek help for it. So, we have solid plans in place. Blueprints with well-worn edges. Our non-caregiving compatriots do not have the benefit of that foresight. This is not to say that there aren't practical problems in our laps right now that are aggravated by the current state of affairs. To be sure, there are many. There are prescription shortages, doctor unavailability, and treatment postponements, just to name a few; and, of course, the elephant in the room: the stultifying fear of a bug that seems to target our very worst fears.
But...I daresay we have already imagined these contingencies many times before, and we have developed work-arounds for them just like an immune system develops antibodies. We are, indeed, an extra "immune system" of sorts for our loved ones. A barrier. A first alert system.
We are grieving this international crisis together, and we are fearing deeply for our loved ones for obvious reasons, but take heart in this one thing if nothing else: we have trained for this. We have lived this possibility. Many of us have even had dress rehearsals. I offer you these thoughts in love and solidarity, in hopes that the only-natural fear will not immobilize you, but mobilize you, by helping you to recognize your strength. Let's turn our efforts outwards, to the best extent that we can under the circumstances, and help those who are not prepared. Let's band together in hope and action. We're all in this together. <3