My speech community has a new word to describe being extra sensitive, teary, emotional, sad, scared, and reacting more strongly than would be considered reasonable under reasonable circumstances. It includes being vaguely uneasy, on edge, even being on high alert and hyper-vigilant, and worrying beyond repair. It covers wanting control over things like the neighbor’s dog – and a global pandemic. It also encompasses brief moments of flooding joy that wash away as quickly as they come. It does NOT include anything close to letting things slide like water off a duck’s back. It DOES include being thin-skinned and feeling unsteady, like the ground under our feet is about to give way. The word is “covidy”. It may disappear from our vocabulary along with this pandemic, but for now, I find myself being – and apologizing for – and forgiving myself for – being, well, covidy.
My hospital just announced they are changing their policy for visitors to loosen up after a very strict period of virtually no one allowed at bedside, and I almost started crying with relief. Women in labor can have a partner AND another labor support person, who can stay up to two hours after the baby is born. The partner can stay on for the duration. Dying patients can have someone at their bedside again, even two visitors at a time, and older children can see their hospitalized parents (one at a time with an adult accompanying). Patients having surgery can have their support person during the long waiting time, and in-patients can have a loved one in their room during hospitalization.
Patients can even bring a friend to a routine clinic visit! All the usual precautions remain in place. Temperature taken at the door. If you leave the room, you leave the hospital. Mask on at all times. Still protective, but less restrictive, because we are having less cases, and it seems our isolation is paying off. When I read through all the new rules, I got trembly and joyful with the kind of relief I felt at age 4, when my Mom found me in next aisle at the grocery store after I was convinced she was gone forever. Safe again! We are safe again, because we are back together.
So why did I tear up with relief, why did my face beam with joy, at such a simple thing as loosened visitation rules at my hospital? Mostly, because I am covidy. I am carrying my share of the weight of our collective burden of concern and sadness. I am a health worker and I care deeply about how vulnerable people are feeling, and at the same time, I have been feeling quite vulnerable myself. Quite like a bird in a storm-shaken tree, watching as twigs and moss and other bits of my carefully placed nest fly away in the screaming wind.
As I sit and translate the new visiting rules for one of my speech communities, I feel momentarily happy and relieved – like the storm clouds have parted just a bit and those ephemeral beams of light are shining upon the waters. There is a feeling of cautious hope and coming renewal. People are able to be with their loved ones again in their hour of need. People are getting support. Visitors are able to show their love and share it, and we can lean on each other again. Especially in those communities where independence isn’t even a core value – where interdependence is the mainstay of the social structure. Being together is the way.
I think back to my beloved dying parents, when each of their turns came, and how grateful they were, how safe they felt, when they knew I would never leave them. They had me and my siblings, along their grandchildren, and they were never alone. No matter how scary it got, or how long it lasted, or how many unknown variables were in play, they knew that whatever they faced, they had the comfort of family right alongside them. Asking questions, getting that warm blanket, arranging a visiting nurse, showing them how to do the home injections, setting up a hospital bed, arranging for hospice and pain control, talking to their doctors, or just being in the room. Just being nearby. Within reach. The immeasurable, unspeakable comfort. They were not alone. They had us.
I am unutterably happy for my dear patients, that they no longer have to face the hospital alone. Happy that they once again have the deep comfort and relief that comes with having a loved one nearby. Because in spite of the fierce independence that a few of our cultures like to pride ourselves on, underneath it all, not so very far beneath the surface, we are completely and irremediably interwoven and connected, interdependent in every way possible.
If any of you out there are feeling as covidy as I am, I totally understand and relate. And I hope we can all be as patient with each other as my loved ones have been with me. This, too, shall pass. But the web of interconnectedness will remain as always, vibrating and humming just below our conscious awareness. And even if we lose sight of it as we slowly and carefully hunker back down into our usual daily routines, let’s remember to look for it, and appreciate it, and revel in our glimpses of it, just like the sun through the clouds over shimmering over the water. As covidy as we may be feeling, we are not alone. We are in this together.