Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Meeting the Monster: My Pandemic Journey


By Karen Buchanan, Friendship Manor Assistant Administrator

Feb. 2020: New coronavirus in China; the USA declares a Public Health Emergency. My boss, the President/CEO of a Continuing Care Retirement Community, tells our Purchasing Specialist to stock up on personal protective equipment. He says the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 surged early, killing many, declined over summer, and roared back “like a whipsaw” that fall, more lethal. He fears this virus may do the same.

Early Mar. 2020: The World Health Organization declares a pandemic. We shut down visitors, per regulatory guidance. Daily, I take calls of loved ones angry or in tears about this. Our team works long hours, radically overhauling our normal mode of business to keep everyone safe and stay in compliance.

Late Mar. 2020: First staff cases at work. News vans camp outside all day as we continue to focus on best measures for keeping the virus out. We are on the front page of the paper.

Mar. 31 – Apr. 12, 2020: Sick. I know I was near a coworker right before their positive test. I ask l my doctor for a COVID test—she can’t order one, but I’m probably positive. Same answer from our Medical Director and Teladoc. Local testing sites turn me away; since I know I was exposed I should presume I am positive, they say. Weird, scary two weeks. No fever, but breathing feels like fire in my nasal passages. Chest pain. Miserable cough. It feels like my brain is trying to push through my eye sockets and eardrums. Almost too weak to walk to the bathroom. Eating a bowl of soup leaves me needing a nap. I prop myself up to work remotely. A coworker’s husband is hospitalized with COVID; I sob in fear at her texts. We both survive.

Apr. 20, 2020: I suppose my pain is my gastric reflux issue. At the hospital and I’m diagnosed with Acute Pancreatitis; my gallbladder is removed. A very pregnant nurse there wears two masks and a shield—I worry about her breathing well enough. I miss two weeks of work, then work remotely for a week, then return to my desk.

May – Nov. 2020: Long work hours as we scramble to keep up with changing COVID trends and regulations. After work I cry in the shower, then struggle for elusive sleep while thoughts race. I am the central hub at work for all things COVID; I track the regulations, report to regulatory agencies, and draft near-daily communications with a couple of editors. My right knee is bothering me; by the end of November it robs me of sleep. Can’t walk without holding onto walls. Can’t drive even 5 minutes without crying.

Dec. 1, 2020: We’ve had a steady drip of mostly mild staff cases for a couple of months; now COVID cases pick up. My boss is alarmed. I see an orthopedist. Injections in both knees and a month of physical therapy. My first time I can’t lift my leg off the table.

Early-Mid Dec. 2020: COVID explodes in our nursing center, despite the extensive measures we’ve taken. Nearly every resident tests positive in three weeks. New staff cases daily. I call around for staffing help; no one comes. Our leadership text message thread is 24/7 with reports of new cases and deaths. In a recurring nightmare I stand in the nursing center as a giant insect-like monster roars over me, blocking the light. The new vaccines are out; I join a webinar on a Sunday morning at 7am to learn how our facility can get in line. At least I’m back to walking and driving.

Jan. 2021: Vaccinations arrive; I get a Pfizer shot. My husband and I count the weeks to full vaccination and reserve an AirBNB on the Florida coast. Worn out by the pandemic and traumatized by December’s horror, I need anticipation or I fear I won’t be able to get out of bed much longer.

Feb. 2021: Second Pfizer shot. Routine eye exam; something unusual turns up. Laser surgery takes place the day before we leave for the beach. We fly double-masked and enjoy a secluded escape.

Mar. 2021: Wobbly emotionally, I use two counselling sessions through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). My orthopedist and I start planning my knee replacements.

Jun. 2021: My daughter and her kids move in as her marriage hits a hard place, exacerbated by the pandemic. Between work stress, surgery terror, and a broken heart for my daughter, I can’t stop crying at my desk. My boss gently sends me home to rest a bit; I line up more EAP.

Early Jul. 2021: My first off-campus in-person meeting since Mar. 2020; the topic is “takeaways from the pandemic.” PTSD hits hard; I flee to my car. I’ve used up all my EAP, so we do an intake for ongoing services.

Late Jul.– Aug. 2021: Presurgical clearances are glitchy; further tests clear me 2 days before surgery. On the verge of emotional collapse, and worried/angry that some careless surgical team member could give me COVID. Surgery is 8/19; I miss 2 weeks, then work remotely a few weeks before returning. For my mental health I need to get back to church (18 months out is too much); my parents’ church is following good protocols, so we go there.

Sep. – Mid-Oct. 2021: Recovery from surgery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Anxiety about the next surgery on 10/20 is through the roof; daily I ponder canceling. COVID surges again, looming over workdays. I’m grateful my daughter and grandkids live with us—helping care for the kids saves me from sinking into despair. Pfizer booster on 10/11.

Mid-Oct. 2021 – Apr. 2022: Coming to terms with recovery taking longer than I’d hoped. Counseling is weekly, biweekly, monthly, discontinued. COVID and related regulatory issues continue; the world is “coming out” of the pandemic, but no end in sight for us. Moderna booster on 4/19.

May – Jul. 2022: COVID overshadows workdays; I wear a mask in all indoor public settings while the greater public is “over it.” Mental health wobbly again. Often anxious on the verge of tears. Doctor prescribes a low dose anxiety med. Bad day on 4-week checkup; anxiety attack on the way there. We increase the dose. I join the Y, working out each morning to fight for my body and mind.

Aug. 2022: A coworker says, “We don’t have to LIKE this new normal, we just have to ACCEPT it.” This goes to my soul; as if God is telling me, “You’ve been down for the count, and that’s okay, but it’s time to dust yourself off and get back up.” Daily I am intentional about acceptance. I throw my best energy into self-care and work projects that aren’t about COVID. I see a personal trainer.

COVID isn’t over; it may well get worse again before it gets better. But here at Friendship Manor, our residents are safe, well and happy—they can leave the worrying about “what COVID is doing now” to us while they enjoy their lives. At last, COVID isn’t ruling my days. Time to get back to life.

Questions about Friendship Manor? Call 309-786-9667 and ask for marketing.