Weeks ago I was on the phone with a friend who has family in Germany. A relative of hers had come home after being in Northern Italy and she was experiencing symptoms of the Coronavirus.
She made a phone call to inquire what to do and was told to stay home, that they would come to her. When they arrived at her door, they called. No touching of door knob or door bell. She was instructed to open the door and right there they gave her a swab test, secured it, and told her to close the door. Then they called her again from outside her door and told her they’d notify her with the results by the next day. They also shed their hazmat suits right outside her home and explained to her how to dispose of them.
If you’re American, that whole scenario feels like it’s straight from an alternate universe where health care is organized and treated as a right. It’s almost as if health and the greater good transcend all else.
This is my context for everything that has happened in the United States in the last month or so. Every time I see the patchwork, haphazard press briefings, the petty presidential Tweets ripping governors who are exhibiting real leadership, and the many, many stories and posts from healthcare workers pleading with us to stay home and get them some equipment, I think about that story from Germany.
One word keeps coming to mind – mobilization.
We don’t have that in America. What we have is a politically divided country with one faction led by a President who is unapologetic about his willingness to help some and not others and to leave the heavy lifting to the states. He fancies himself in charge, but is unwilling to actually lead.
The other night I was watching television and a voice drowned out my TV. I went to the window and heard, but couldn’t see, what sounded like an older man repeating “help” over and over. I was about to call 911 when I heard another voice yell to the man that he was getting help. Moments later, two police cars and an ambulance appeared.
What was happening was just beyond my peripheral vision, but I could hear the exchanges between the officer and the man. Apparently he fell. The officer was friendly, professional, as he tried to ascertain why the man was out three hours past the 8 p.m. town curfew, where he was from, and if the man really needed the ambulance.
“We want to make sure because we don’t want to take one away from someone who may really need it,” the officer said.
I don’t know what the result was. I went back to my TV thinking, these are our leaders. These are the people who are taking this pandemic seriously because they see it all in real time.
I live in Hoboken, a New Jersey town across the Hudson River from New York City often referred to as the sixth borough. Many people live here because of the easy commute to Manhattan, so when Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks, I sit up and pay just as much attention as I do when my own governor takes to the mic. We dwell in both worlds here.
This is what many of us are doing, learning who to trust as we navigate this unknown place. I walk the riverfront and think about its healing powers, shooting a little video on my phone of the spot where Captain Sullenberger landed that plane and panning over to the Freedom Tower that stands where the Twin Towers once were.
I stream season after season of gritty, human NYPD Blue, gasping each time I see a shot of downtown and the World Trade Center in its former glory. I fill the eerie quiet of post-8 o’clock Hoboken with Hail Marys, phone calls to friends, Amy Stran on QVC hawking a sweet Isaac Mizrahi cardigan, delicious hot cups of decaf, the delightfully complex season finale of This Is Us, a few more Hail Marys.
I am an introvert who does a lot of work from home, so isolation comes easier to me than most. I reach out to those I haven’t heard from, those I know are struggling, those who soothe me. A friend offers on Facebook to teach people how to use Zoom and I pounce, getting up to speed and pulling together a free weekly gathering of those who want to write and connect.
I make an appointment with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC each day at 4 p.m. because, darn it, I deserve that hour of news delivered by someone I trust. I let in the exterminator for his monthly maintenance visit because if there’s anything that makes me more anxious than the quiet, it’s the idea of little pests in the quiet. I walk in the biting cold rain and find it exhilarating. Each time I leave the grocery store without a bag of chips or some kind of chocolate, I want a medal pinned to my chest.
The morning after the magnitude of how hard New York has been hit by this pandemic seeps in, I’m awakened by a cramp. I go to the bathroom five times in 40 minutes, each time going back to my bed in an agitated state. Do I have a fever? Where’s my phone so I can Google symptoms of the virus? Oh no, intestinal issues can be an early indicator. My mind swirls with what to do, what might happen, what it all means. Do I have saltines and ginger ale?
Within a few hours I realize I have an appetite. No fever. No cough. No runny nose. No breathing issues. It was the physical manifestation of my emotions, the enormity of this bearing down. A moment of panic.
I call my mother after I even out just to make sure she’s still taking the isolation seriously (for more on that, see previous column). She tells me she’s calm, just fine.
“Nan, I have to go. Dad and I are going to the foot doctor to get our nails clipped.”
I pick up my jaw and don’t even bother working myself up to ask why in the world they are going to routine appointments in their senior citizen-heavy town. Just hours later the President they love Tweets about the LameStream Media wanting to hurt his re-election chances, even more petty than his earlier Tweet about “terrible presidential candidate” Mitt Romney testing negative for the Coronavirus.
I fight off the flashing red words in my head – how do I not hate him? I don’t want to be that person. But there’s a pandemic and he’s toying with us. Over and over and over again. Finally I tell myself to get used to it, try to find an acceptance of our reality while in the throes of a global crisis.
OK, then. We will mostly lead ourselves, turn to each other, listen to our governors and stay strong.
Nobody is coming to our door in a hazmat suit.