Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Pandemic Diaries 10

L.A., Ohio, Massachusetts, the Midwest, New Zealand
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From Los Angeles:

My wife works in a hospital, and there’s no sign of COVID-19 yet.  She’s an occupational therapist in a cancer hospital, so it’s unlikely that she’ll be asked to treat any COVID-19 patients. They’re also doing their best to keep the hospital COVID-free, since the patients are medically fragile.  Still, they don’t have enough N95 masks, and everyone at the hospital is under tremendous stress, as the hospital has been implementing difficult new procedures. What’s more, visitors have been disallowed — even for dying patients.
I’m now home alone with our two kids (2 and 5 years) for 11-12 hours a day. I normally thrive on my time with my kids, but it’s been a struggle.  They miss their friends and their activities, and I’m the one that’s got to fill the hours now.  How do I balance education and fun?  Do I create a schedule?  How much chaos am I willing to endure?  Last week didn’t go so well.
I’m an author and consultant who often works from home, but last week I found it impossible to get any work done at all.  The kids are just too demanding.  My second book, which I’ve been working on for six years, comes out in May.  In the last 10 days, the launch events have all been cancelled.  It’s a huge, huge disappointment.  The book will still get some attention — It was excerpted in Quillette back in January, and another excerpt will be published in Education Next in early May.  (AmCon requested a review copy.) But, like all those high school seniors who will miss prom and graduation, it seems unlikely that I will experience the celebratory rituals that I was looking forward to.
That said, there are bigger things to worry about right now.  I’m an older dad — just turned 50 — and it’s incredibly stressful to read accounts of patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s being put on ventilators or even dying.  I waited so long to be a dad, and our life has been so blissfully happy the last few years. I can hardly bear to think that all of it could be at risk.  My family will be okay financially.  But we have many family and friends who were already struggling.  I wonder what may become of them if this gets really bad or if the shutdown lasts for months.
Over the weekend, with all of those thoughts rattling around in my brain, I had a panic attack.  I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding.  It took me about three minutes to convince myself that I was having a heart attack, and I was just another few minutes away from telling my wife to call 911.  But she kept her cool and talked me down — She knew right away what it was.  It only lasted minutes, but it was terrifying.  Never happened before.
But, since that night, things have been better.  I decided to attack my new job.  I get up every morning at 5:30 and get a couple hours of work in before my wife leaves for the hospital.  I make a list of everything we’re going to do in the day — educational games, trips to the park, marathon reading sessions, meet-ups with their church friends on Zoom.  During their nap, I cram another 90 minutes of work in.  Last week I had my phone out the whole day, checking for COVID-19 updates constantly.  This week, I’ve put it aside and only checked once or twice a day.  I’m less informed but also less stressed.
And I’ve become a hyperactive Mr. Mom. If I let the house fall into chaos, I start to feel my stress levels rising.  So I clean the house *all day long*.  It sounds ridiculous, but it’s working.  This is my new job, and I’m going to try to do it to the best of my abilities.
From Westerville, Ohio:
I live in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. I am an attorney who specializes in litigation support and electronic discovery. I’ve been working from home for two weeks. Two people in our office were exposed to someone with flu symptoms, but it looks like no one has come down with anything further.

The past year and a half, I applied for several different jobs, and I had two that seemed like a sure thing. Both of them didn’t work out. In fact with one of them I was actually hired, but then there was a legal conflict that prevented me from accepting it. I was very frustrated. Now that everything has changed, I’m thankful for my current job. Those other opportunities would have been less stable than this one. The Lord is faithful.

My oldest daughter came back early from college. We haven’t seen each other yet, just to be safe (I’m divorced, and she’s staying with her mother). She was around a lot of people before the school abruptly sent everyone home, and as I said, my office was concerned about exposure as well. So we’ve agreed to just call and text each other. She was having a perfect first year of college, and it was pulled out from under her. She’s disappointed, but understands. My younger daughter is in high school, and was actually looking forward to her “break” once the schools shut down, so she could hang out with friends. I tried explaining things to her but she didn’t really get it. Then someone in her suburb tested positive for COVID-19. That city has a good mayor who cracked down immediately, and so all the high school kids dropped their plans, and stayed home.

I don’t know how much attention you’ve paid to Ohio, but Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, is doing virtually everything right. If you have a chance, watch a brief excerpt from one of DeWine’s press conferences. A few clips are on YouTube. He shows exactly how it should be done: sober, informative, transparent, expressing regret and empathy for people’s suffering, not overreacting or getting defensive to difficult questions, admitting what he doesn’t know, and deferring to the expert next to him (who I’ll talk about in a moment). Most everyone I know, regardless of political ideology, is praising his leadership and communication style, which is often contrasted with what’s happening at the federal level. Even his Democratic adversaries have voiced respect and appreciation for him. This is despite the suffering that’s starting to come because of his numerous orders and shutdowns. Even though it’s an election year, no one to my knowledge is trying to take partisan advantage.

I noticed something very small recently that was beautiful to see. Ohio’s Director of Health is a doctor named Amy Acton. She’s perfect for her role – brilliant, compassionate, and reassuring. She speaks with authority, but isn’t detached from the human impact of her decisions. At one of the press conferences, a journalist asked a question, and Governor DeWine was at the podium and started to answer. Dr. Acton walked up behind him and lightly touched him on the elbow. The Governor stopped talking, without completing his sentence, and just simply moved out of the way. He didn’t have to explain himself. And then Dr. Acton answered the question with all of her medical expertise. When she was done, the Governor came back and reiterated what she said, and emphasized certain points. (You can guess where I’m going with this.) There was mutual respect and admiration, there was effective teamwork and communication, and there was humility. Governor DeWine didn’t have to be the center of attention, and Dr. Acton didn’t have to worry that she would be contradicted, or treated dismissively. As I said, it was a small moment, but it was beautiful. It was the complete opposite of Trump’s press conferences, and his whole style of leadership.

Over the past three years I’ve been much more supportive of Trump than you and many of your commenters. I won’t go into detail why, because it’s irrelevant. I think there were legitimate reasons to appreciate some of the things he’s done. He is very popular in Ohio. But now I’m close to despair. I watch him ruin everything with his interviews and tweets, contradicting the incredible doctor on his team, and even his own Vice President. All Trump has to do is shut up and get out of the way – we’d even respect him for it – but he can’t stop dominating. People are going to die because of his arrogance. And meanwhile, he’s still tweeting his clever insults about the Democrats and the news media. A few months ago, that could be overlooked and forgiven, but now it honestly feels like borderline criminal behavior. He really is playing the violin while Rome burns. It’s Götterdämmerung.

Yesterday a reporter asked Governor DeWine about Trump’s presumption that we can all get back to normal by Easter. This is a direct rejection of our state’s explicit orders and recommendations up until now. Amy Acton has done an amazing job laying out her strategy for dealing with the surge of medical needs that’s about to come. None of it has been done lightly. But poor Mike DeWine looked for a moment like a deer in the headlights. He took a few seconds before answering, and you could tell he was doing his best to find an appropriate way to be respectful. He eventually said that we have to be realistic, that hope and optimism are good things, but his desire is to save lives and protect the hospitals from being overwhelmed, and that nothing would change his strategy for the state of Ohio. I voted for him, but never paid him much attention. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him and Dr. Acton. They are literal godsends, while chaos rules in Washington.

If I can continue in a political bent, for the first time in years I would gladly vote for a competent Democrat for president. But every time I watch one of Joe Biden’s videos, he looks and sounds worse than before. He’s clearly suffering mental decline, and if he can’t handle a campaign even under normal circumstances, he certainly can’t handle one in a year of plague and economic catastrophe. When it comes to Congress, I’m too numb to be angry. I’m so tired of it all. How these people can play the same ridiculous games is beyond me. They waste so much time arguing and bickering over their petty little interests, while literally millions of their fellow citizens are suffering.

My favorite café closed yesterday, and I was their last carry out customer. They tried to stay open but it was impossible, so now they’re all going on unemployment (but not all of them can get it yet because the system is crashing under the strain). My elderly neighbor talked to me two weeks ago about how grateful she was to have her job at a consignment shop. Today she was let go, and I did my best to comfort her.  More importantly than that, the hospitals are receiving growing numbers of patients; doctors and nurses are starting to get infected; and people are starting to die (ten deaths so far in Ohio). And this is only the very beginning.

Thank you for giving me a place to speak. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

From the Midwest:

I am a hospital pharmacist in a medium-sized city (~250,000 metro area) in the midwest.  Right now, you could count the confirmed COVID cases within 100 miles of here on two hands.  There is literally no indication in our patient population that anything strange is happening yet.  Thankfully, this gives our healthcare leaders critical time to prepare.  Elective procedures are being cancelled, the ER is quiet, supplies are being stockpiled, separate floors are being prepared and workers trained to handle COVID patients.
When people ask our family how we’re doing, we have to tell them that not much has changed for us.  We were already homeschooling our kids, so very little has changed there other than many out-of-the-house activities are off-limits for now.  I still go to the hospital every day to care for patients without COVID. Grocery stores seem to have plenty of everything except toilet paper, although everyone seems to be a little more wary of how close they get to others.  I’m anticipating that my income might actually increase during this time due to extra shifts I’ll need to work (If we get a relief check from the government, we will be using it to help others).  We’ve chatted with a few neighbors, and reached out to some elderly neighbors to make sure they know we’re available to help if they need anything.  Our church has moved to online, taped sermons with frequent live video-chat sessions.  The elders at our church are great; I hear from one of them at least every other day.  They are doing a fantastic job of caring for the congregation in an unusual time.
The biggest change is the constant, low-level anxiety.  It’s as if we’ve been told that an invading army is approaching, and it is fearsome.  It might get here tomorrow, or three weeks from now. Who knows?  It might kill many of our friends and family, or not.  We might have the resources to combat it, or not. Who knows?  It might turn my workplace into a nightmare and make me afraid to hug my kids when I get home, or not.  The anticipation and not knowing is almost worse than being in the battle, although I am sure those who are currently in the battle could rightly rebuke me for my naivet​e.

From Los Angeles:

My wife and I are discovering the glory of homemade bread. Did you know you can make an entire batch of dough for $2? I didn’t. One batch = three or four loaves. Shape to suit your whimsy. Warm bread fresh from the oven tastes like nothing else, and for 65 cents a loaf makes the house smell like nostalgia for a childhood memory you never had. Why didn’t we always do this? Free Time, our abundant new houseguest, that’s why.

She is teaching remotely, from a laptop in our kitchen, and waiting to hear if her private school will re-hire for next year, due to enrollment uncertainty. I am waiting to hear on a television script crawling through the pipeline. I moonlight as an Uber driver, or did, until a few weeks ago. Now, of course, I’m off the road. We are facing possible penury in a few month’s time. In view of this, I did what felt therapeutic. I rented a 20-foot bin and chipped up my asphalt driveway with a pick and prybar. Do I have money to lay in decorative concrete? Of course not. What could be more frivolous than DIY beautification at a time like this? I needed donkey labor. I wanted to turn off the dread feedback loop by grounding myself to the earth. Tip for AmCon readers, it works.

Make soup, bake bread, take on large projects, the more creative and unattainable the better, pray unceasingly, turn off the news and be grateful and patronize any local business you are able. This too shall pass.

From Massachusetts:

I live in western Massachusetts, where many New Yorkers have summer homes. We’ve seen an influx of the second-home owners in the past week. Our local specialty food store announced it would serve only those over 65 in the opening hour of the day. When I arrived in the parking lot, nearly every space was filled. A long line of seniors stood in the falling snow, waiting to get inside.

I turned around and headed to a large chain super market instead. Inside the store, I found myself holding my breath whenever I passed anyone. It was a dystopian ballet – many people in masks and gloves, pushing carts slowly, eyes cast down, careful not to go down an aisle where another was shopping.
While my husband and I self-quarantine at home, we enjoy our dogs, our meals. We are reading books we have held off reading. We are watching news and streaming British mysteries. We are texting or emailing family and friends. I escape the house once a day to walk in the country with my sister. We walk six feet apart.

I recently came across a passage from the nature writer, John Burroughs (1837-1921), which has inspired me, and gives a deep meaning to “shelter-in-place”:

“The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is, ‘Look under foot’. You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of power than you think. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world. Stand in your own dooryard and you have eight thousand miles of solid ground beneath you, and all the sidereal splendors overhead.”

From New Zealand:

Was midtype on an NZ PanDiary but then this..!

Attached is a screenshot of ‘message-to-all-citizens’, sent to all mobile phones in NZ this evening (NZST)…For NZ curious readers try https://thespinoff.co.nz/covid-19/25-03-2020/covid-19-nz-live-updates-march-24-yesterday-in-nz-recapped-a-crucial-new-edition-of-the-side-eye/

Draconian or astute? Can they be bedfellows? The healthcare, political, economic and social consequences (and coherence) are tbd.

Much love to all you TAC writers and readers.

Much love to you too, and to all of your writers and readers. Keep the diaries coming to me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. Remember to say where you live (you can be vague if you need to be), and to put PANDEMIC DIARIES in the subject line.