Black Belt of the Mind or Notes From The Front Line of COVID-19

Sunday February 23rd

My husband, an emergency doctor whose work place is preparing for COVID-19, tells me that we may want to stock up on essential supplies. “I’m not afraid of the virus,” he says. “I’m afraid of people panicking.”

In the end he’s the one who does the shopping, as I’m tied up with our three kids. He texts me that the grocery stores are packed. He returns with enough legumes, rice, eggs, and milk to last us two to three weeks. He orders a normal (for a family of five) supply of toilet paper from Amazon. We don’t want to over shop – we just want to have a buffer.

I text my best friend, telling her to stock up. She’s a psychologist who lives in New York with her two children; her physician husband, an infectious disease specialist, works long hours. His hours are about to get longer, and I don’t want her to get stuck. I send her a list that my husband and I have created. “But he forgot to include tampons,” I text.

I call my parents and leave a message, telling them to let me know if they want us to buy them groceries. My father, who was a child living in Normandy during the Second World War, remembers long weeks of privation. “There was never enough soap,” he says, “nor enough food.” Once, the neighbours dug up a recently deceased horse and cooked it. When I was a child, my father always stocked the pantry with dozens of bars of soap. I’m not surprised when my mother calls me back and reports that they already have enough supplies to last them several weeks.

Wednesday February 26th

My husband advises me to cancel a long-awaited girls’ weekend in Washington with my best friend. “You don’t want to stuck with a bunch of people in a confined space right now,” he says. This trip took weeks of planning, especially on the part of my friend, who works in an American psychiatric hospital and only gets one day off a week and who, because she has just started to work in this hospital, has no extended time off. Reluctantly, I cancel my trip and inform my friend. She texts me that it makes sense, particularly because, she writes “your husband isn’t an alarmist.”

My parents are scheduled to fly to France mid-April to visit my grandmother, who has just moved into a retirement home, and plan to combine the visit with a French river cruise. A few weeks before, my father, who’s eighty years old, flew to France to be with my grandmother, who had taken ill. Around the world, borders were starting to close. For days I worried about him getting home. Then I worried about him being cooped up in a plane. Finally, after several weeks, he made it home, healthy. “Nobody was wearing a mask on the plane,” he tells me. “Not the flight attendants, nor the passengers.”

Now my parents are planning to leave again. I call my mom to ask her to cancel their trip. “It’s a cruise,” I tell her. “That’s the worst possible scenario. Have you been following the news?”

My mom is in a chronic state of exhaustion caring for my sister, who has special needs. Although my sister lives in a group home, she needs constant input and care-taking from my mom. My mom refuses to cancel the cruise. She adds that she still has time to change her mind. “I really need this,” she says.

Tuesday March 10th

We’ve been aware of COVID-19 for a while now, but we’re not yet taking it seriously. I go about my day. My daughter is on March break, so we take the opportunity to shop for her grade eight graduation dress. My husband is on a day shift at one of the three hospitals where he works, so I text him photos of our daughter, whom I barely recognize in her slick, semi-formal dresses.

“She looks happier in option 1,” he texts. “But looks great in both.”

When I ask my husband what time he’ll be finished work, he texts me that he’ll be late. “Lab here is broken.”

Turns out that someone pulled a fire alarm and the sprinklers went off. Lab work is delayed.

“Argh,” I reply, and send him a grinning smiley face. “Kind of funny though.”

My husband send another text: “That + COVID = very bad.”