Things I’ve learned in the past three weeks:
- How to make sourdough bread
- How to change the humidifier bottle on an oxygen concentrator in the dark
- How to teach multiplication facts to a 7-year-old with ADHD and anxiety in the middle of a stressful pandemic when you yourself have anxiety and also no teaching background
- When to give up
- The symptoms of sepsis (no one has it, thankfully, but I was worried enough to fall into a Google rabbit hole)
- The symptoms of dementia versus delirium
- How to make Jell-O in an orange half and subsequently cut into wedges
- How to use Zoom
- How to disinfect nasal cannulas
- How to properly remove latex gloves
- How to safely bathe a frail elderly person
- How to make a dog-safe birthday cake to celebrate a dog’s birthday
- How to quickly convert Celsius to Fahrenheit after buying a shitty thermometer from China because they were sold out everywhere else
- To always brush my teeth before putting on a tight-fitting face mask
In other words, folks, it’s been a whirlwind.
There have been moments of joy, believe me: Easter egg hunts; fresh-baked bread steaming as I cut into it; walks on the levee with the dog; “cocktail hour” with my husband in our backyard; early morning and late night snuggles with my daughters; family movie nights; neighbors playing music and visiting from across the street, all out on our porches, together but safely separate; long soaking baths; sweet, sacred moments with my dad as he tells me old family stories; watching with pride and relief as he eats a double portion of food I made him after 10 days of nothing but chocolate Ensures.
And there have been moments of sheer, sobbing terror, like when I took my dad’s temperature three times in a row, using two different thermometers (one that I made my husband drive across town to bring me) and kept getting a reading in the 96 degree range, low enough that it could indicate sepsis. (Did you know that, particularly in elderly people, a low temperature can also indicate a serious infection?) (Once I actually got the ear thermometer in his ear, once my hands weren’t shaking so bad, it read 98.4, and I threw the other thermometer away.) There was the night we had a storm and I worried the power might go off and I wasn’t certain I had really absorbed what the home health people tried to show me about the portable oxygen tank that we’d have to rely on if there was no electricity. There was the day my dad accidentally called me and then hung up, throwing me into a panic thinking he’d had some sort of “episode” and dropped the phone, unable to speak, and sending me out of the house barefoot and in my pajamas. “You’re in your pajamas,” my dad observed drily when I burst into his house 10 minutes later, hyperventilating from behind my two masks. “You scared the shit out of me!” I told him.
Overall, I miss my old life. I miss having company and going to people’s houses. I miss going anywhere. I miss the frantic morning rush to get the kids to school. I miss treating myself to a latte on Fridays. I miss eating sushi with my coworkers. I even miss the stuff I thought I hated, like making small talk at kids’ birthday parties or hugging people I don’t know super-well. I feel guilty for admitting this, but I miss the freedom of being able to ignore my dad’s phone calls. If this has exposed any lie in my life, it’s that I often “don’t hear” my cell phone. (I do. I will frequently hold it in my hand until it stops ringing so I can go back to using it to text or check my email.)
I have been trying to focus on the good. I have been limiting my consumption of negative news because it sends me into an anxiety spiral. I have been setting small goals and luxuriating in the time with my family, even though we bicker from time to time. I’m reading more. I’m walking more. I’m slowing down. I’m appreciating my friends.
But in general? The same thing is true here that’s true of my life thus far: I’ve learned a lot, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.