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21

On March 14th at 5:00 in the morning, after a sleepless night filled with a pit of foreboding in my stomach and with a fog of war creating a haze around the planet, I walked into my mother's assistant living facility. The afternoon before the governor had issued an order forbidding family members from visiting their loved ones at nursing homes for thirty days. Two days earlier I asked mom if she wanted to come home with me. She said no, she had friends there, she loved her apartment, they had activities and, besides, her ALF had the best chocolate ice cream. But on that Saturday morning, with the possibility of the governor's order already being enforced, I went on a reconnaissance mission to retrieve my Holy Grail. I wore sweat pants, a raggedy tank top, and flip flops. I was dressed in all black. No camo makeup.

I parked in the near empty lot, glad barriers hadn't been erected to keep out family members. The Florida humidity hit me as I jumped out of my car. The flip and flop of my flip flops echoed as I jogged toward the entrance. 

The man at the front desk was entrenched in whatever was playing through his ear buds. When I got close, he sensed my presence and looked up. 

"I'm here to see my mother," I proclaimed.

I was prepared for a myriad of responses ranging from a recitation of the governmental order to a request for me to leave to having to answer a series of questions--have I been exposed to anyone with coronavirus, have I traveled out of the country recently, was I a healthcare worker? I was even prepared to have my temperature taken. But none of that happened. He scribbled in a notebook and went back to his ear buds. 

Once inside mom's apartment, I began to do what I always do when I visit. Washed the dishes, checked her pill supply, gathered the garbage, cleaned out her frig.

"Who's there?" I heard her say.

"It's me, mom."

"Is everything okay?" She sat up in bed. "Why are you here? Is it the middle of the night?"

I explained the governor's order.

"You mean I won't be able to see you for thirty days?" she asked. "What time is it?" 

"5:30 in the morning."

She threw the covers off her bed. "Let's go."

On the first trip to my car to load mom's medications, her prized bottles of apple juice, and other supplies I thought we could use over the next thirty days, the worker at the front desk seemed unimpressed. But just to be sure he wasn't going to become suddenly aware of the governor's proclamation and exclude me from re-entry, I explained I was going to my car for only a moment. I would be back soon, very soon. Less than five minutes, I said. His look said to me, TMI.

I quickly returned to mom's apartment. Her bag was packed. Her much loved briefcase of makeup given to her by my sister-in-law was on her walker. With the shopping cart again loaded, we headed downstairs for our final escape. Mom wore black stretchy pants, a soft pink cotton t-shirt and her favorite pink slip-on sneakers. No makeup.

"I'm taking her home with me," I told the man at the desk.

He seemed rattled by my declaration. "Uh, that's not advised."

As he wrote in a notebook, mom and I completed our escape. 

A few hours later, relatives were no longer permitted to visit. Two days later, the residents were confined to their apartments where they remain.

That was nine days ago and the facility where my mother lives has been at the forefront of the news. Three residents have died due to coronavirus, atleast six are hospitalized and reported to have the virus, a minimum of five are waiting for results. Each time the newspaper reports a death at the ALF, or the ALF sends an email, I wonder who passed away. I knew the 77-year-old man who was the first to die, often seeing him with his wife and dog. I do not know the identity of the 92-year-old man and the 96-year-old woman who have passed. I was able to confirm that the woman was not someone I often attend shabbat services with at the ALF.

I am in touch with many residents and employees--people who have become my mother's and my friends--and have learned the news isn't always reporting things accurately about the facility. But still, with three deaths and people sick with the virus, I am relieved to have taken her out when I did. 

Nine days into our self-quarantine we are showing no signs of illness. We have six more days until the end of our self-quarantine period. (Self-quarantine is when you voluntarily keep away from others because you might have been exposed to an infected person). After the fifteen-day period ends, we will continue to self-isolate but will feel a little more relaxed about the potentiality of getting the virus. (Self-isolating is when you voluntarily keep away from others because you are at risk to get the virus if you come into contact with an infected person or surface, which is basically all of us). 

I'm working from home and have set up a home gym with resistance bands, free weights, and a makeshift heavy bag. (My sofa pillow will never look the same!) I take daily walks. During the day, Mom watches what I call her murder shows--Blue Bloods, the CSIs and NCISs--with a few breaks for the news and, of course, naps. At night we watch a light-hearted movie. Last night we saw the first half of "As Good as It Gets"; to be finished this evening.

Here are some of the things I have learned so far about surviving the hour-to-hour and day-to-day experiences of this pandemic. 

1. Routine. Following a routine is paramount. Try and follow the same or almost-same schedule Monday through Friday. I make mom coffee each morning, tea for myself. We watch a bit of news and then I go into my home office and work. There are interruptions, for sure. A whiny cat that wants to go out on the terrace. Mom is hungry, or I want something to eat or drink. But the interruptions are welcomed. When I've taken care of whatever has drawn my attention away, I go back to work. My routine also includes exercise and walks. Treat weekends as weekends: well-earned time off. 

2. Acceptance. Accept this is going to go on for awhile. Forget the governor's order that forbids family members from visiting their loved ones at nursing homes for thirty days. We all know this is not a thirty-day debacle. I first told mom it was going to be longer than thirty days, maybe sixty days. Now I am telling her it could be months. We just don't know.

3. Kindness. Be kind to yourself and to others. When mom asks many times during the day why she is here and what's happening at her ALF, I gently explain each time. When I feel overwhelmed by the reports of deaths at her ALF and around the globe, I remind myself I am human and it's okay to be scared and anxious.

4. Build/Maintain Your Immunity. Eat well, soak in the sun, exercise, get sufficient sleep. It's tempting to stress eat during this time. It's reasonable to feel blue. But remember, this isn't short term. We can eat our treats in moderation and acknowledge we are frightened, but it's important to be in this for the long haul and eat well, stay strong, and keep our immune systems healthy. In moderation, the sun and vitamin D are mood and health boosters. Get some. It's only a few steps away and costs nothing. Please try and sleep well. (Something I don't always do).

5. Socialization. It's physical distancing we are practicing, not social distancing. Stay engaged with those you love and care about. 

6. Stimulate your Mind/Find a Purpose. Do something creative. Be intellectually stimulated. Cook, bake, write, read, draw, play games, build something, write the plan for that business you've been wanting to start, watch You Tube videos to learn something new, make your own videos. Start that novel you've always wanted to write, or the short story, or perhaps a memoir. 

7. Spirituality. Practice it daily.

8. Dress Comfortably. Since the start of our quarantine, I have worn sweats, PJ bottoms, shorts and tank tops. I am barefoot unless I put out the garbage or recycling, and then I slip on flip flops. When I go for a walk, I wear sneakers. Mom favors comfy skirts and leggings with soft t-shirts and silky sleeveless blouses. She wears her favorite pink sneakers when we walk the hallway for her exercise. If she is cold in the house, she wraps herself in her favorite bathrobe or blanket. Neither of us wear makeup, camo or otherwise.

Above anything else, we need to control what we can control and accept what we cannot. That's how to dress for a pandemic.

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Joanne Lewis Blog