COVID Times, Virtual Living and Counting our Blessings
Updated: Apr 27
The world as we know it has changed. We are suddenly in the midst of a pandemic. Covid-19. Four syllables that have thrown our world into uncertainty and fear. We scramble for masks and gloves.
Who could have imagined six months ago that a plague would come upon us and bring so many aspects of our life to a grinding halt?
No dropping into the grocery store every couple of days to pick up some items we need for a recipe. No gatherings with friends. No hikes or outings with people who are not our shelter in place companions. No live theater. No movie theaters. No live music. No museums. No visits to the library. No workouts at the gym. No going in to work, for most people that is.
Working from Home
I am one of a smaller group of people who is used to working from home. Most other people have a daily routine of waking up, getting dressed and ready, driving (for the most part) or taking public transport to their place of work. It is definitely an adjustment to suddenly have that routine disrupted. It can affect us in so many ways. First, folks have to actually figure out how one can work at home several hours a day, every day--not just a few hours in the evenings and weekends, largely achievable from the sofa, kitchen table, dining table, lounge chairs, patio table etc. But being at the computer while lounging around for several hours a day, every day, can be painful, literally. In my six years (and counting) of mostly working from home, I have taken care to ensure that I maintain a good posture, keep my back straight, my neck straight and not lean forward to peer at the screen. I try to keep my wrist and hands slightly below the elbow as I approach my keyboard. I try to keep my elbow at my torso. When I deviate from these for extended periods of time, I end up with aches in my neck, shoulders and back. Without colleagues around or meeting rooms to walk to, we have to remember to get up from our computers. Walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Remember to drink it! Keep a bottle of water nearby to keep hydrating. For conference calls, either video or file share, I usually connect to the audio through my phone, not through my computer, so I can get up and fill my water bottle if needed and keep listening, and am not tied to my desk for the duration of the meeting.
I’ve heard many people joke about their attire during this stay-at-home order. Apparently the sales of tops have gone up quite a bit, as people only feel the need to be presentable from the waist up for their online meetings. Many joke about changing from their day pajamas to their night pajamas. Pondering all this, I came up with a plan. I did not want to wear sweats, pajamas or loungewear all day long every day.
So I have taken to dressing every day in clothes that I would be comfortable going out in. And I take a photo in my mirror every day. My longitudinal study of stay-at-home attire: COVID couture! My daughter hates the term. Nevertheless, I persist. Some clothes are decades-old, others are only a few years old. Many are gifts from dear friends. I often take the time to select earrings to wear with them, and those too may be a gift. As I shelter in place, this allows me to remember many loved ones. Also, I must confess, when all this began, I felt the need to keep a record. I wondered if I too would be struck, how many such photos I would be able to take. My own personal record of the pandemic, for however long it could go on. A little grim, I know. Which brings me to the next topic.
All of us have a lot of anxiety right now. Both for our own health and those of others. A tickle in the throat takes on previously unimagined weight. Tiredness? Yikes. Hope it’s nothing serious. And new appreciation for every day that goes by when one can still taste and smell food.
We pore over graphs with terrifying trajectories of infection and death. A few weeks into it, we look for patterns as the numbers keep rising across the world. Areas with early shelter-in-place orders appear to have slowed the onslaught of the coronavirus. Other areas where social distancing/separation is ignored (mega church gatherings, spring break at Florida beaches) seem primed to become hotbeds of infection, spread and suffering.
At a low point one day, I looked at the mortality rate and wondered, which of the people in my circle of close friends, neighbors, acquaintances, colleagues may not be here six months from now. I fervently hoped that every one of them would be here. I wondered about my family members, scattered across the globe. My brother and his family in Australia, my 87-year-old father in India, as well as numerous relatives, and close friends. Both countries are at the early part of the grim curve… will their curves flatten or would they rise?
I worry for my friends, relatives and neighbors who are healthcare workers. Bob, the surgeon in Michigan, which is a hotspot. Since elective surgeries have been canceled, everybody is preparing to serve in the ICU. David, the anesthesiologist in Modesto. Lakshmi, the cardiologist in Fremont. Gigi, the hospitalist in San Luis Obispo. Sumit, the internist in Kolkata. Krishnan, the nephrologist in Gold Coast, Australia. Tushar, the neurosurgeon in Sacramento. Tracy, the nurse at Stanford. Three neighbors, Charlene, Jessica, Leslie, who are nurses. David, a geriatric physician in Mountain View. Gayatri, a pediatrician in Davis. Leila, an ER doctor in Florida. I worry about, well, pretty much everyone. We are only beginning to understand the ways of this virus, the patterns of illness, death or recovery in the increasing numbers of people who are infected. Only when we know more can we beat it. It took years for us to understand HIV – its genome, its protein make up, its transmissibility, its vulnerabilities. Now, finally, it can be managed. We have battled Ebola, H1N1, SARS, MERS, each hideous in its own way. This time, I hope we will get a handle on things faster.
And yet, amidst the horror of it all, there is much to be grateful for.
The precious time with our children, the ability to be together not just when we are on holiday.
The clean air. What an astounding lesson in how rapidly the air improves when fewer cars are on the road.
Here are some of the things that I have appreciated during this time:
An online book club, started by my friend Mahmud. So far we have read a few novellas:
--Folding Beijing, a novella by Hao Jinfang.
--This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill.
--Suspended Sentences by Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano.
We read Afterimage, the first of three novellas.
--Next on the list: The Accusation by Bandi, Translator: Deborah Smith and
Flights by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk.
Andrea Bocelli's gift of music on Easter Sunday from the fabled Duomo. Cathedral in Milan. To date, 38 million people have watched it!
Zoom get-togethers with friends are enjoyable, particularly when there is a little bit of structure, and not just random chaotic conversation.
Virtual museum visits. I enjoyed seeing the Musee d'Orsay in France and learning how it was built.
The Ken Burns documentary on Jazz.
The incomparable Patrick Stewart in Star Trek Picard!
Streaming versions of plays. I watched an ACT-SF play called Gloria: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play set in the publishing industry. It reminded me that if I hadn't planned to see it in the theater, perhaps I don't need to watch it via streaming either.
Movies, notably, one called Samsara, which reminded me of Koyanisquatsi : stunning images and vistas with entrancing music.
Lady Gaga's curated 8-hour music show One World Together at Home on April 18th to honor healthcare workers. You can watch all 8 hours on YouTube!
There’s no denying it, shopping for groceries has turned into a bit of a nightmare. Getting ready to go is like preparing for battle as we don gloves and mask. Up to half an hour of waiting in line to just get into the store. Buying enough for 10 days to two weeks. Coming home and wiping everything down. Finding room for all these items in the refrigerator, freezer, and on the shelves. But the silver lining: All the new recipes that can be tried. On Easter Sunday, Sunaina made chocolate lava cupcakes and I made a mushroom quiche. It was a delicious meal!
On grocery shopping, how fortunate some of us are to be able to even do that. Some cannot afford to buy food, and food bank services are more in demand than ever before.
So stay safe, dear Reader. Be well. Until we meet again, let us count our blessings and help those we can.