Life has seemingly changed overnight with the arrival of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the United States. Today, I wondered, how will this event be described in history books? What will grandparents tell their grandchildren? What will I remember about this event and what will fade into the past? That final thought sparked me to put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard. So begins quarantine journal week one.
While this is an incredibly tough time for many reasons, I don’t want to forget the lessons I’m learning. The history books often remember the big picture. But I also want to remember the smaller, day-to-day details.
Unexpected humor. Mental burdens. Silver-linings. Small inconveniences. These are the stories I want to preserve for the future.
1. An unexpected email
The gravity of the situation with coronavirus, or COVID-19, didn’t hit home with me until I got an email the night of Friday, March 13. Friday the 13th. What a date.
The email was for attendees of the Junior Leauge Women’s Leadership Breakfast, which I had attended on Friday, March 6. The email stated that a volunteer at the breakfast had tested positive for coronavirus. Due to this individual’s responsibilities that day, it was likely that many people, including myself, had direct contact with her.
The email asked that attendees of the breakfast consider self-quarantining for one week, which would allow for 14 days to pass since that contact. (Note to the future: At this point in time, medical experts say that 14 days is the number of days by which most people will show systems of COVID-19.)
That email freaked me out. Even though I probably had a low risk of exposure from the breakfast, I still felt an obligation to backtrack through the last week and contact anyone with whom I’d had close contact to let them know of the risk.
And what a week it had been. A bridal shower. Dinner with friends. The dentist. A hand doctor for a previous injury. A bridal fitting. Church. Work. Personal training. The esthetician. All filled with people with whom I had close contact.
Luckily, the 14 days passed without me or anyone with whom I had close contact showing any systems. But it scared me.
So starting on March 13, I began self-quarantine (or extreme social distancing). With the increasing numbers of COVID-19 in the United States right now, it doesn’t seem like I’ll stop social distancing any time soon.
2. Teleworking pressure
I began full-time telework on Monday, March 16. At the beginning of the week, telework was optional for the rest of my company. As the week progressed (and the coronavirus news got worse), my company decided that all employees were required to telework for the foreseeable future.
My company previously only allowed for telework one day a week. Although some people wanted more telework days, management only felt comfortable with one day. Suddenly, a maximum of one telework day a week became full-time telework.
During this first week of full-time telework, it felt like everyone was trying to demonstrate telework productivity. I was inundated with emails. Phone calls. Webex meetings. Projects that had to be completed immediately.
I was completely overwhelmed. Although I pride myself on grace under fire, the combination of sudden isolation, the worry of coronavirus, and working more hours than usual just seemed like too much.
3. The mental burden
Friday, March 20 should have felt like a celebration day for me. I’d made it 14 days after potentially being exposed to coronavirus and I didn’t have any symptoms.
But instead of feeling excited, I felt like I’d been hit by a mental sledgehammer.
The workweek had been overwhelming. Usually, I could get in my car to drive home and physically distance myself from work. Now all I could do was shut my laptop and continue living in what was now both my office and my home.
I couldn’t go blow off steam with friends, go out to eat at a nice restaurant, or enjoy some wine at a local bar.
Instead, I was alone. With the prospect that I couldn’t have the simple comfort of a hug for the foreseeable future.
I wasn’t prepared for the mental weight. I have a good job, with a roof over my head, and a steady paycheck. My health isn’t at risk on a daily basis like the nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, sanitation works, janitors, and delivery people who are keeping the rest of us safe.
Yet, I found the prospect of being alone in my condo for weeks on end daunting. At the start of this week, my focus was on trying to be as productive as possible. My focus quickly switched to finding mental health distractions so that I felt less overwhelmed. Writing this quarantine journal week one has been a good mental distraction, too.
4. White gold
In the United States, the arrival of COVID-19 led to a panicked buying spree by many people. Almost immediately, people stripped stores bare of cleaning products and toilet paper. Milk, ramen noodles, and chicken flew off the shelves.
I was able to find most products I needed except for two glaring gaps: Toilet paper and milk. No store I went to had these items. People had snatched up hand sanitizer, hand soap, and just about every other sanitation product before I made it to the store.
But then I received a text from my friend Stephen – Mom’s grocery store in Del Ray had toilet paper! My 14-day self-quarantine was over, so I made a mad dash to Mom’s the second I got the text message. I made a wrong turn on the way and felt every second ticking by as I turned around and went the right direction.
But miracle of miracles, Mom’s had toilet paper when I got there! They only had individually wrapped rolls, but I managed to snag a few.
On a whim, I went to check out their refrigerator section to see if they had milk. Double miracle! They had milk, too!
White gold, my friends. Toilet paper AND milk.
Mom’s was a calm oasis compared to the chaos I experienced when visiting Giant and Harris Teeter the week before. It will be a couple weeks before I need to make another grocery store run, but I’m going to Mom’s first.
5. Sanitation efforts
After going to the grocery store, I felt an instant need to sanitize everything.
I used disposable food gloves to take my groceries out of the bag and put them into the pantry/refrigerator. Some people have been washing all containers in case there are germs living on the surfaces, but the jury’s out on whether that’s even necessary. I haven’t been doing so. Instead, I’m careful not to touch the containers with my bare hands until at least several hours later.
After taking off the disposable food gloves, I washed my hands. Then I used a Clorox wipe to sanitize my purse and phone.
Next, I put my fabric reusable grocery bags and the clothes I wore into the washing machine. Then I took a shower.
It seems extreme to take all these precautions, but with so many things out of our control, these steps can help us feel like we’re doing something to protect ourselves and others.
I repeat these steps every time I leave my condo. I don’t know if any of it helps, but it gives me peace of mind.
6. Package purgatory
While I haven’t been washing containers, I have created what I call “package purgatory”.
When I get a non-perishable delivery, I put the package in my foyer. It stays there for 2-3 days (or until I need it). I’m hoping that length of time is enough to kill any potential germs that live on the packaging.
When I open the package, I use disposable food gloves and immediately wash my hands afterward.
Again, I don’t know if this is helpful, but it gives me a slight feeling of control in an absolutely crazy world.
7. Unprepared for non-food needs
The day before I got the email that sent me into self-quarantine, I had made a huge grocery store run. While the threat of coronavirus wasn’t real to me yet, the threat of empty grocery store shelves did feel real.
I lucked out with my purchases. I managed to get plenty of frozen and non-perishable things that were relatively healthy. One week in and I feel confident that I can last another couple weeks without another trip to the grocery store for food.
But I didn’t consider the other household items that I would need. I didn’t get shampoo, conditioner, or body soap for showers. No detergent or dryer sheets for laundry or dish soap for doing dishes. I didn’t think about needing lotion for my dry, over-washed hands.
I was able to go to the grocery store a week later to get most of these items and was able to order the rest from Amazon. But it amazed me how short-sighted I’d been about what I’d need for quarantine.
8. The silver lining of a baseball finger
It’s nearly impossible to find Clorox wipes and disposable food gloves on grocery store shelves right now. And “currently unavailable” is the message you receive when you try to order these items from Amazon.
But I already had these items in my condo before this all went down because of something called “baseball finger”.
On December 31, I injured my right middle finger. While trying on bridesmaid’s dresses (face smack).
A hand doctor told me that my injury was mallet (or baseball) finger. Baseball finger happens when something hits your finger (like a baseball, or in my case, really tight pants) when your finger is fully extended. The tendon separates from the top of your finger and the finger can no longer hold itself straight.
It didn’t require surgery (yay), but it did require 8-12 weeks in a splint (boo). For the first 8 weeks, I had to wear the splint 24/7. The doctor gave me two splints, so I could slide the dirty splint off (while pressing the finger into the counter to keep the finger straight) and then slide a clean splint on.
To prevent the splint from getting wet in the shower, I previously got some plastic food gloves to wear. I also got some Clorox wipes to clean the splints and my finger.
The plastic food gloves aren’t medical-grade and wouldn’t help in a hospital, but they do give me a little comfort as I handle outside objects that come into my condo.
I got the Clorox wipes right before they disappeared from the store shelves, but before my company went fully telework. So I was able to give some wipes to my coworkers to sanitize their work areas. Shared peace of mind can be a powerful thing.
Having this baseball finger has been a source of anxiety for me for weeks. I’d worried about putting on and taking off the splint. And whether it was healing properly. But now I can appreciate the silver lining that the very materials that were helping me to heal from the baseball finger are also giving me mental comfort in quarantine.
That brings us to the end of my quarantine journal week one. Writing this post was a therapeutic exercise for me. I’m looking forward to the day when I can refer back to this post as a distant memory of a time long gone.