A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
GOD BLESS THE CHILD THAT HAS HIS OWN
Momma has some/ papa has some/ But god bless the child/ that has his own.
Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog Jr.
Day 5 – 7: Businesses close. People work at home unless they can’t. Many, many people find they are unemployed. Others find themselves on the front line even though they aren’t doctors, nurses or hospital workers. They are essential workers, stocking grocery shelves, sanitizing, doing checkout, driving buses and subway trains for the many who have to use public transport. At 7 p.m., people go outside and bang on pots to thank these warriors. (8 p.m. in NYC. and in Brussels.) From time to time, my brother requires me to join him on his Bois Fort doorstep via Facetime to cheer on Belgium workers.
You noticed, didn’t you? There was steak on that list in my last post. If you are actually hungry at the moment, I apologize. For my sins, I’m a member of a dying breed. I have a pension, a teacher’s pension. It’s not extravagant, but I’ll be able to pay my rent this month. Management has taped a notice to the door of every apartment: here’s what to do, if you can’t pay your rent. Our building is owned by British Columbia’s teachers’ pension plan.
How I Got a Pension: As a graduate, I wanted to go into the theata, darling! On the other hand, I needed to have children. Somebody had to rectify my parents’ mistakes. And my Aunt Mae, who saw the future, told me I needed a steady income and a pension. It was the children waiting to be born that convinced me.
Every Day: Our young prime minister -whose wife has Covid and who is in quarantine with her and their children – briefs us on his doorstep about what funds are available to those suddenly unemployed, even gig workers. Small business owners have their own fund. By a miracle all of my ‘people’ will have an income. No scandals emerge about fat-cats getting this money.
WAITING FOR THE BULLET (c.f. David Downing’s Diary of a Dead Man on Leave)
News from Wuhan, China at first disgusts me. One child of my acquaintance says, “It happened because the Chinese eat too many bats.” Sorry bats. One of you flew too near my hair once. The unhygienic live market puts me off. I have studied t’ai chi and Taoism and worked in a Chinese herb pharmacy putting together formulas, I have tutored dozens of Hong Kong students, but I haven’t given China’s live-markets an A+ for hygiene. I do feel very bad for the people under lock-down, some apparently chained in by local authorities.
But then, instantly, it seems, Covid leaps to Italy. Thousands escaped Wuhan when the shut-down was announced. Two of them fly to Milan.
Day – 6: Italy closes down the north. We learn that the virus has tiny hooks (Corona/crown) that dig into tissue and layer over the lungs until they are like leather. One after another airline cancel flights to Italy.
Canada prohibits flights from China, then Italy and before long the flight path over my building is as silent and empty as the 4 lane Glen Erin Drive below my windows.
Gradually, the horror in Italy grows clearer. Old patients, especially from long-term care homes, are being rendered unconscious and placed on ventilators. If these patients recover they have no memory of the weeks that have passed. Mostly, they die. Alone except for a iPod or cell phone, unconscious or not, distraught loved ones saying farewell from an inconceivable distance. Hearses line up and haul the victims away to lie in storage in cathedrals or ice rinks to wait their turn for a solitary disposal. Italy begins to triage. Old patients are just sedated and left without life-saving treatment.
Certain that we are in for the same, I hand-write an addition to my will opting out of ventilator treatment. I want no time wasted on debate, no healthcare worker feeling bad about making the choice. I want someone younger to enjoy a long life. The front office admits me – it is still 6 days before lock-down and I get my signature witnessed.
I am not certain this is an altruistic decision. I am sure that I am well and truly terrified.
I pay tax due for myself and my late, lamented ex-husband, even though we have a moratorium on payment. I write a list of final instructions for Blake’s estate and cue up his second choice executor to take over if necessary. I start secreting cash in a metal box to meet cremation costs and work diligently to pay down debt.
Day 4: Catching a Bullet in Belgium
My younger brother lives in rue de l’hospice in Brussels, a reverse immigrant 50 years ago. Ambulances double hoot past all day, ferrying old folks from the long term care home for which the street is named. Most never return.
I can barely hear him on Facetime. He coughs so much. “Go to the doctor,” I shriek.
Not so easy. He gets a specific time. He waits on the pavement. The door is unlocked on the dot. He is handed a mask and swept into the exam room by his doctor, clad in full pandemic gear. Yes, his lungs are inflamed. Here are prescriptions for an inhaler, cough medicine and something else. Call if you get worse. And he is out on the street.
I monitor him closely. At first, he goes down hill. Then he begins to improve. Two weeks later, he calls his doctor for a checkup. “No, you can’t come in,” she cries. “Why not?” he asks. “Because you had it. And no, I can’t get you tested. Tests are not available.” “She’s usually so kind,” he tells me. He vows to continue living as if he could still catch it.
Okay, he survived.
But he’s only 73.
Day 14: What to Expect When You Catch the Bullet
You ride it out at home with the remedies you already have in your medicine cabinet. When you can’t breathe anymore, you call an ambulance. You get a bed in a hallway and wait for the DNR (do not resuscitate) order to kick in. Or you get better, like my brother, having eaten all your frozen soup.
On my first scuttling trip to the supermarket at 7 a.m., senior hour, I buy a whole chicken and make a huge batch of stock.
Days without number: Who is that Masked Man
I hasten to tell you that this started long before wearing a cloth covering over your mouth and nose was a political act or a moral act or a class divider or a sign you hate the poor Trump lad.
We are told not to use N95 masks because medical staff need them. My sister and my daughter are embarrassed to realize they have them already, but decide they might as well use them. You can’t buy any kind of mask anymore than you can buy toilet paper. I try to hand sew one out of a dish towel. It is beyond ugly and I trash it. I learn to make masks by folding a man’s handkerchief and cutting the tops off socks to act as ear loops.
I have over a dozen such handkerchiefs. Well, men don’t offer me immaculate hankies when I get the vapors and I am self-reliant.
Girls start sewing them up for friends. My sister gets a bunch. Slowly mask ads start popping up on Facebook. I order 3 from a veterinarian supply shop. It takes ages. The post office is down to 3 postal workers for our city. When the masks arrive, they are not as advertised – no way to shorten the ear loops. I knot them. The knots slip out. I sew the knots. I see another ad in late June with devices to shorten the loops. I order 4. They come in a few days and they do actually shorten.
In case you are reading this in the future – and believe me I’m delighted there is a future even if I’m not in it – we didn’t take or send things back in these days. Going out once a week was enough. Being the only car on a usually busy road, one of three people in a very large store was freaky and once you got something, however unsatisfactory, you fell down on your knees in thanksgiving.
Day – Every Two Weeks for 17 Weeks So Far : Laundry
The laundry is on the first floor off the east corridor. It is open 24 hours a day. The first time I use it during lock-down, I find 3 other people and the cleaner going in and out. I very nearly jump on top of a front loader avoiding them. No distancing, no one but me masked and why would anybody stay to fold and smooth every item blocking passage to the machine that tops up your laundry card. Next time I wash at midnight. No problem, if you don’t call going to bed at 2 a.m. a problem. Finally, I settle for Tuesday at dinner time every two weeks. I find I no longer clench my entire body just as weekly trips to Whole Foods or Metro no longer traumatize me.
I know I’m a neurotic wuss, but you’re not 84. (If you are apologies and congratulations. You made it.)
Day 13: If You Can Make It There, You’ll Make It Anywhere
I used to love New York. Then the Twin Towers fell as I was having major cancer surgery. I went to Los Angeles to recover and saw a mural of the New York skyline in a bookstore. I was so stricken with grief I had to leave the store.
I pretend the city that came down with Covid is a different place. And It is. The streets are empty. The hospitals, crammed. The exhausted doctors and nurses are wearing large black plastic garbage bags as protection. This is the city where my grandson’s wife interned at Mt. Sinai. Shamefully, I thank God they are living in Dallas now with their babies.
Refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals hold the over-flow bodies, or just plain trucks until the neighbors identify the smell. I listen to Governor Cuomo at noon. Like Trudeau, he is rational and on the job, but folksier. And his brother Chris is broadcasting CNN’s Lets Get at It from his sick room in his home’s basement. Chris has Covid. The Cuomo boys feel like family. I need that. Day by day, I learn about the disease and how a city is handling it.
I follow Sandi Bachom on Twitter, a 75-yr-old photo journalist who lives in Manhattan. Like me, she initially expected to die, but found that if she does as Andrew Coumo advises she is relatively safe. She is devastated by the loss of friends to Covid. When the demonstrations start, she goes out in her mask with her camera. Eventually, she gets mistreated. Plus ce change, plus la meme chose.