My Pandemic Experience

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My Pandemic Experience

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When the pandemic was coming, I was initially relieved. I was supposed to fly to Chicago to visit my sister and go to our favorite band’s (Keane) concert, but as a person with anxiety and panic disorder who is terrified of airplanes and crowds it allowed me to back out. The concert was cancelled. It was the excuse I needed to back out without shame or blame. It seems silly now, but at the time covid seemed more like a bad cold or flu to me. It seemed like another Swine Flu or Avian Flu or other scare in recent memory which hadn’t amounted to a plague style pandemic. Lockdown was even kind of nice at first. My husband, daughter, and I got to spend a lot of family time together. I had taught ESL online for a number of years previously, so converting my in school classes to online was easy. I had no problems teaching over Zoom. I’m a homebody anyway, by habit and by anxiety, so this was great… until the body count started.

I was horrified and sickened to hear about the freezer containers being used in New York City to store the overflow of bodies. The germaphobia that had plagued me in childhood, that I had gone to years of therapy to overcome, came roaring back with a vengeance. Like everyone else, I went to the grocery store to stock up so I wouldn’t have to leave me house for awhile, only to find shelf after shelf empty. As a super health conscious, organic, vegan my choices were extremely limited. My husband and daughter aren’t vegan, but they do eat only organic, which became impossible. Soap, disinfectant, cleaners, and hand sanitizers were nowhere to be found. At a time when it was so important to be as clean and healthy as possible all those modern conveniences were utterly gone. I felt helpless. I imagined that people living during pandemics like the bubonic plague and Spanish flu must have felt similarly.

After a couple of weeks, quarantine started to feel more like a claustrophobic prison sentence than a family vacation. I missed my sister, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, and my students. On my birthday and Easter I just had to wave at my parents through the glass door. My favorite hobby- taekwondo, which I had started in order to relieve stress and help with my anxiety was taken from me. I had to do the classes online from my living room, which was nearly impossible. I felt trapped. A raging epidemic across the planet from which there was no escape. If I spent too much time thinking about it, I would start to feel the claw of panic. By the time summer arrived I was at breaking point.

Luckily with summer we had some reprieve. Case loads declined, and I started meeting my best friend outside. We socially distanced ourselves and wore masks, but we were together and that was a start. By the end of summer she and her boyfriend were on our “quaranteam” that is we decided we could see each other since we weren’t seeing anyone else.

In the fall school started. Since I teach at a Catholic school we were able to have school in person full time, though we had students in every grade who opted to go remote. But my bestie and I were back in the building with most of the kids, and I started to feel less trapped. I was going to stores masked and my daughter was also in school. But as soon as Thanksgiving hit everything changed again. So many people ignored all of the recommendations and restrictions and got together with family and friends. It made me so angry that people were so careless. A friend of mine had a large family in Pennsylvania who all got together for Thanksgiving. She didn’t go because she thought it was reckless. 8 out of 14 people at the family dinner got covid and 2 of them died. Then at Christmas, my great uncle passed. No funeral. No wake. Nothing. Schools shut down again. We were trapped.

Then the vaccines came. It was nearly impossible to get one for a long time even if you were eligible. Slots filled as fast as they were posted. You needed to present a lot of proof of eligibility in order to get one. As a teacher, I was able to get mine earlier than many others. I got the Moderna. The first shot made me feel a little sick for a few hours, but with the second I had a fever of 103.5, aches, chills, nausea for 12 hours and a general malaise for 3 days. A friend of mine in taekwondo, who has some autoimmune problems, had a severe reaction after her first Moderna vaccine. She has had side effects for a few months now that are not going away. She has dizzy spells and heart palpitations regularly. She is undergoing testing and being monitored by the CDC. Despite some horror stories, the vaccine is still the absolute best thing that we could have hoped for. I would like my daughter to get it as soon as they open it to the under 12 population. A lot of people won’t get the vaccine because they are in the “Science is fake, I’m a Trump supporter” camp. In my opinion, Trump’s misinformation and mishandling of the pandemic cost tens of thousands of American lives, and his diversive legacy is going to cost us dearly for many years to come.

It is now June again. School just finished. New York State is allowing people to enter buildings unmasked if they are vaccinated, but few people are actually requiring any proof. Given that the people with a cavalier attitude toward wearing masks are many of the same people who are against getting vaccinated, an honors system policy towards wearing masks is really just a no-mask policy. It is very frustrating to me that people can’t just deal with masks for a while longer to fully insure this disease’s eradication before we have another relapse and find ourselves back in quarantine again.

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This item was submitted on June 28, 2021 by Ashley Tibollo using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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