At first, I wasn’t concerned. We’re in the risk group - both 62 - but we’re healthy, our house is stocked with herbs and remedies. We’ll be fine, I thought.
Then, you start to hear about people you know. A friend’s nephew. Another friend’s wife. A son and a daughter, both sick, along with their friends, a young couple who drove up from Florida for Passover, with their two young children. And every one of them under 40.
The area where we live, East Ramapo forty minutes from Manhattan, 30 minutes from New Rochelle is hard hit.
Still, if we stay home. If we take precautions, I keep thinking….
I try to go out only once each week - only when necessary and only to one store at a time, so that we don’t carry exposure on our clothing from one store into another. Yes, this can happen.
I keep my mask in the car, hung from the rear view mirror beside with the glass bird that my sister game me before I drove cross country. It’s an N-95, particulate filtering mask. My husband, an architect, found two stashed in the back of a drawer. He's required to wear it when he visits certain construction sites. Now, it's a precious jewel.
We offered it to our son, a physical therapist who's still seeing patients. "I have masks," he told us. "I want you guys to wear those. You're high risk."
Oh yeah, I thought... again.
When I dress to go out, I choose clothing which can be tossed into the washer and dryer - sweatpants and a long corduroy coat that buttons all the way to my chin, a winter hat with all of my hair tucked up under it, and my 'going shopping boots' which, since the quarantine, stay by the back door and NEVER enter the house.
Waiting in line, I pulled on the yellow dish-washing gloves which I’d scrubbed before leaving the house - just in case one of us is quietly carrying the virus. “We wear gloves to protect ourselves. We wear a mask to protect others” as I’m sure you’ve heard.
As I wait in line to enter the store, standing six feet back from the customer before me, I’m reminded of the box of surgical gloves that I found in my mother’s studio after she died. I figured she’d used them when handling harsh chemicals or … I don’t know, finger-painting. “What would I ever do with these?” I remember thinking, as I dropped them into a trash bag.
Everyone has their own version of COVID-19 hazmat gear. Ski goggles and a plastic trash bag. Improvised plastic face shields made from bike helmets. Almost everyone wears gloves.
The mother in me worries about the people out here without protection. To each his own, of course but all day, I am receiving prayer requests. In line, I pray for their immune systems. And their families.
Last week, I received an email from my mother's 86 year old friend, a doctor who happens to live one town over from New Rochelle, the worst hit area in the US. She’s fine. Thank God.
She wrote, ”I trust that you are being careful and taking your supplements. I hope that includes at least 2000 mg. of Vitamin C 2x/day. If the ascorbic acid variety is upsetting to your stomach, switch to Calcium ascorbate or ester C. If you have the first sign of any infection, immediately begin using Vit. C 3000 mg. every 6 hours. In the past, I’ve used that successfully myself and with others for many years. It is virucidal. That’s been reported for many years.” (I share that here. Perhaps it will be useful for you.)
Though Vitamin C is on my shopping list today, I will soon discover that there is not one bottle on the shelves.
A young man without any protective gear beckons me inside. Behind him, a young woman in a surgical gown, mask and gloves, wipes down the handle of a shopping cart and pushes it toward me.
Can she see my gratitude behind this mask? I wonder. It occurs to me that I have never once had to wonder this before.
Inside, most everyone was social distancing, except the six guys having a meeting by the sirloins and chuck roasts. “I just wanted to thank you,” the section manager was saying. “And to see how you’re holding up.” He stopped talking suddenly which made me look up. The six guys, mostly in their 20s, shuffled their feet as he collected himself. “You’re doing such a great job” he spoke, looking down at the floor. “I just wanted to make sure you’re feeling supported…”
I didn’t want to intrude so I reached around the huddle (from a distance) for a pot roast. As I walked away, I heard him ask, “So, anything you want my help with?”
There was PLENTY of toilet paper, displayed in tiers, all over the store. Other staples were rationed: canned tomatoes, eggs, frozen veggies. Though I don’t normally hoard food - I felt compelled to add two of everything to my cart.
The English muffins I like (Genesis: Food For Life) were out of stock. I can order the Vitamin C from Amazon - unless… my daughter reminded me we’re boycotting them in support of the walkout.
Short checkout lines. People standing behind tape marks on the floor, six feet apart. After each customer, the cashier had to spray down the conveyor belt and credit card reader.
Once called forward, we stood behind another tape mark, and placed our purchases at the far end of the belt. Down at the other end, the cashier bagged everything and placed it all in the cart, minimizing contact.
A woman in the line beside me complained, “this is taking too long.” A moment later, a manager walked over and, standing six feet away, said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am. We are doing the best we can.” He turned to walk away. Then, had another thought. “Just try to imagine what it would be like if there was NO food,” he told her.
Her eyes wide behind her mask, she looked at me. “This is hard,” I said, trying to hug her with my eyes. So hard.
I was surprised when, as I thanked my cashier, my eyes filled with tears. I know he’s heard this all week but wow, I am so grateful he and the others are there. (And in my mother’s heart, I wish they were all wearing masks.)
As I exited, he nodded goodbye. Then, he held up a blue gloved hand, reminding the next customer, “Please stand behind that line.”
My story could end there - and it probably should but grocery shopping is more complicated now.
So, before I tell you the next part, I want to say that I am not a particularly anxious person. I believe in my body’s capacity for self-healing. I believe that, even if exposed, I have the tools to get through this brutal virus. That said, part of the fight, arguably MOST of the fight, takes place at home.
I remove my mask and before hanging it back on the mirror.
I spray it with the three-ounce spray bottle of alcohol that the manager of my nail salon gave me when I paid my bill.
She took my hands into hers and looked into my eyes and placed the bottle in my palm. Though she never said a word about what was coming, I understood, suddenly - as if I’d been standing with my back to the ocean and …. oh.
Inside the house, I leave my boots at the door and unpack the groceries in my bare feet, long coat, winter hat and dishwashing gloves.
I collect the plastic sacks and set them outside the door. (The virus can be transmitted on plastic, on metal, on paper… )
There has been no Purell, no alcohol, no disinfectant wipes or spray ANYWHERE since this thing began so I spray each package, can and clear plastic clamshell with Method surface cleaner. Not my first choice but it was the only one left.
Once wiped down, I leave it all on the kitchen floor (which I washed this morning). I carry the produce to the sink where it will be soaked in a solution of peroxide and water.
I wash my gloved hands, scrubbing at the plastic with hand soap as i sing a 20 second song in my head. I peel off the gloves and set them at the side of the sink. I try to trust that I have washed them enough.
I strip down and throw my coat, hat, gloves, sweatpants into the laundry. I step into the shower and wash my hair. I soap up from head to toe, remembering to wash my thumbs.
I put on clean clothes, fresh from the dryer. (I’ve heard that outer garments can be tumbled in the dryer for 30 minutes to kill any lingering virus. More information for you.)
I come back to the kitchen and shelve the groceries.
I wash the produce.
I wipe down each countertop.
I fill the kettle and click it on. I open a box of tea.
Oh, wait. I think.
I swab the inside of each nostril with Zincam. I dispense four 500 mg capsules of Vitamin C.
I pour hot water into my cup and before touching the handle, I wash my hands again.
Just in case.