One of my more visceral memories from childhood comes from when I had chickenpox. Age-wise, I’m among the oldest Millenials and I got it before the vaccine was widely given. Mostly, what I remember is the incredible itching. I had gotten a full-blown case, spots everywhere with fever, but no major complications. “Don’t scratch,” my dad told me.
“But it ITCHES!” I wailed.
“You don’t want to get infections and scars, especially on your face.”
“I DON’T CARE IF I GET SCARS!”
“You will when you’re 16.”
As I grew up, though, I read more about diseases like polio (author Peg Kehret’s Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio is a well-written, YA-level account) and mumps and measles. I shivered at the horrific accounts of the Spanish Flu and did high school reports on the Black Plague. I was glad that I never had to experience them, and even as my belief that medical science could conquer almost anything faded quickly, I felt fairly secure. I rejoiced when the girls got their chickenpox vaccines, that they wouldn’t have to know even a week’s itchy misery, let alone the more serious complications.
After E got home from the NICU, we were under quarantine for a year. I was allowed to take her to medical appointments and occasional shopping expeditions (where I kept her covered in her car seat and sanitized virtually everything we touched). Arthur went to work and did everything he could to stay away from illness, as did I. I had an elaborate routine post-shift of changing at work, washing any exposed skin from my shift, my scrubs sealed in bags and washed separately with the washer bleached afterwards. E and I didn’t go to church, and after his second job ended in the early fall (before cold/flu season), Arthur didn’t either. We didn’t go to gatherings (with the exception of my brother’s memorial service, where the worry E would catch something added to the general awfulness of the situation). I used to take E for walks in the fresh air when it was nice, social-distancing ourselves by at least 3 feet from other people before the term entered the lexicon. We had hand sanitizer stationed all around the house and my hands were often dry and cracked from washing.
All this to say, these precautions aren’t totally new to me. The fear isn’t new. The isolation isn’t new.
It’s a deep breath and the slow burn of anxiety as we wait in ways I never thought we’d have to do again.
In my house, we are all low-risk as possible for the serious complications and doing everything we can to be responsible citizens to prevent the virus spreading/complying with social distancing. I know the virus can be severe in younger people as well and we are not by any means taking that potential lightly. Strangely, I’m less anxious about working in health care than I would have thought – but, then, I’ve known since long before going to nursing school that communicable diseases were a risk I had to assume if I chose this field. Obviously will be following all guidance closely and extremely careful complying with all personal protective equipment/isolation requirements (as always).
I am definitely worried about my parents, friends, my last surviving grandparent, all the elderly/immunocompromised and what happens next. Reading about Italy’s current situation is almost overwhelming in its awfulness and the decisions that I suspect we will shortly face in many other places.
I know that experts have long modeled and predicted pandemic scenarios, but in day-to-day life, it’s felt easy to rest secure. There are so many things to worry about just in a normal course of existence. This one really didn’t make the cut in my head.
Yet here we are. I gave blood on Monday – one tangible thing I could do as someone who’s eligible, currently healthy, and has a blood type in high demand. Now we take the precautions recommended by the experts, comply with public health recommendations, check in with people by internet/phone, and wait.
Waiting, as I think we all have experienced in various ways, is far tougher than most people give it credit.