Uplifting tales of the Pandemic
|Stories of Humanity
Written By Lori A. Grawitch March 2020
Her unwitting gift, such a simple token, brought a smile to Hannah’s lips. Giving, is a reward unto itself and was a treasure often employed by the woman, but little did she know how far reaching the consequences of her acts of love would become. Hannah spent her mornings as an aide at the local nursing home. She had come to consider the residents as part of her family having spent time listening to their hopes and dreams, understanding their fears and tears, and coming to know their loneliness and the need for love. They shared all aspects of their lives, doing for one another each and every day.
One fine and sunny Thursday morning, Hannah scooped up the mail left at the front desk by the mailman and delivered it to the intended recipients. She spent the next twenty minutes carrying the newspapers to each and every resident. The headlines were frightening concerning the pandemic, but the elderly folks were being the hardest hit by the virus and had every right to know the facts. Hannah took her time to answer any questions asked and said a prayer with one woman. The news was out and it was all they could talk about. Between caring for the residents, she attended mandatory meetings on the added precautions being instituted by the CDC. There was a constant flurry of activity and a steady buzz of whispered worry among the staff and patients. Their lives were about to change and the direction was uncertain.
A national state of emergency was declared and all nursing homes were restricted visitors. Family members would be allowed telephone calls, skyping, or personal face time calls only. There was a limited amount of time for staff to put the needed hardware and software in place in order to meet the needs of the residents. Soon they were isolated from the world in the own little community home with only staff and other residents as company.
On Friday, the rules became stricter in an effort to slow the progression of the virus. Social distancing was the new term added to Merriam Webster’s book of knowledge, as the edict handed down from the states included no communal dining or group activities allowed in nursing homes. Now, the isolation involved dining alone and playing alone. Provisions were soon made for the residents to be served meals in their rooms. The community gathering space was closed until further notice.
It tore Hannah apart to watch her friends being shuddered away. Her job would be more difficult just in the logistics of seeing to the needs of each patient, but it was nothing compared to what her patients would endure. She could read the fear in their eyes, but the sadness of being alone would take a toll on each of them. At the end of her shift, Hannah could step out into the world. She could visit with family, feel the sun on her face, pray in her church, and embrace her loved ones. The residents of Golden Pastures were denied the same freedoms for the sake of safety.
On Sunday, Hannah attended mass at her church just as she always had, but learned that it would be the last gathering of her parish until the crisis was over. All schools were being closed and activities cancelled. Work from home policies were enacted in major companies. It seemed as if the whole world were stepping behind an iron door in their plans to social distance themselves. March had certainly come in like the lion she was known to be.
Hannah couldn’t help but think about the residents and their needs, as she tromped to the podium determined to let the world know about the strictures being enforced. She had a plan but would need lots of help to make it work.
Her parish had always been a compassionate group, willing to help those in need. She had no doubt they would rally for this cause as well.
“Good Morning, my name is Hannah Miller and I work at Golden Pastures Nursing Home. First off, I want to acknowledge the trying times we are currently living in. All of us bear responsibility in adhering to the guidelines of this pandemic. It has added weight to the shoulders of us all, whether it is finding childcare, economic difficulties, working from home, caring for the ill, or putting ourselves at risk as we continue to bring needed services to society. I will not pretend to know what you are going through daily. I seek only to enlighten all of you about the current situation the residents of Golden Pastures are facing in these trying times. Society is well aware of the restrictions being enforced and it is well publicized, but unless you know someone living in a nursing home, little attention is paid to the news affecting the people inside our homes and others across the country. Our efforts to keep them safe and limit their outside exposure to the rest of the world have also served to isolate them from their families and the joys of living. I am here asking each of you to help make this month a little brighter for our residents. There are so many ways to do this and I know each of you has the capacity for greatness. Go home and tape yourselves reading a book out loud. The musicians in the room could record a song or two for the enjoyment of our guests. Take a moment to write a letter or send a card. Plan a bingo game to be played over the loud speaker. Send puzzles to fill their time. I ask this because we have a duty to help one another. For we know that the bible tells us, “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, so you do unto me.” Thank you.”
Word quickly spread beyond the doors of the church and into the community. The local newspaper wrote an article endorsing the outreach program. People began focusing not on their own troubles but the needs of others. By Tuesday, the front porch of Golden pastures was filled with packages of all sizes and shapes. Among them were personal care items, treats, and personal games. The mailman trudged up the stairs three times with bags filled with cards and letters. One generous donor delivered ipads for all sixty residents. But the very best part of it all was that good things happened at nursing homes all over the area. A news station picked up the story and our country reacted with compassion from California to New York City. Instead of fighting for toilet paper, people were taking to heart the needs of others.
Hannah’s gift, a simple token of love, had spread far and wide. Her heart was filled with joy.
Uri carried his honey-do list gripped tightly in the palm of his hand. The list contained all of the items his wife felt needed doing before they were confined to the indoors with the new social distancing rules in place. He had committed the tasks to memory, but the scrunched up paper gave him purpose in this new abnormal world. He felt the weight of responsibility for his little family of four. His wife Heather, a teacher in the public school system, was spending her days developing lesson plans for other kids while keeping their own kids focused on learning. Uri worked for a marketing firm that enabled him to work from home. The man knew they were some of the lucky ones but worried how the restrictions would affect his neighbors and people all over the country.
He understood that the ramifications of the current situation could be long term and his social conscience had him looking for ways to volunteer. All of these worries rattled through his brain as he entered the store.
He eyed the shopping cart suspiciously and cautiously spritzed it with hand sanitizer supplied by his wife. He couldn’t help but shake his head and giggle at the new precautions he was forced to take in the name of safety. As if in approval, the second set of sliding doors magically opened for the man at the end of his ritual. He pushed the cart onto the bumpy tiled entrance towards the paper products.
A large and bold sign screamed of limits and restrictions. He counted out his allotment and placed the items in the cart. He watched as one robust woman grabbed the last of the toilet paper off of the shelf pushing an elderly gentleman to the side in her urgency. Uri caught the man at the elbow in an effort to help keep him upright. The woman continued on her way shoving her cart forward without taking notice of the man. She remained oblivious, as Uri screamed out, “excuse yourself!”
Uri turned to the man questioning his well-being.
“I’m okay. Thank you.” the mask garbed senior citizen replied.
“Well, I apologize for her and all others like her. The pandemic seems to have many of us crazed. We should be better human beings than that”
“It’s just fear of the unknown. We’ll get better. I have faith in us. But until then I need to find a new toilet paper source, this is the third store I’ve been to. Thank you again,” the gray headed gentleman whispered while moving away with his empty cart.
Uri eyed his cart and pulled three rolls of paper from it. Gently he placed them in the man’s cart and gave him a quick wink.
“I have faith in us too!” Uri said, as he pushed his cart to the next aisle.
Marcus showed up for his nightshift on time as he always did. He stood lazily against the time-clock waiting for the minutes to pass. At just the correct time he slid his badge through the card reader and sauntered to the nurse’s station. He gathered his mask and goggles, grasped at the computer printouts waiting for him and took a seat at the desk. Sitting next to him was an energetic young nurse, a remnant of the day shift, eager to give report on the patients she would transfer to his care. Marcus tried to drown out the background noise of the floor’s activity by focusing on the papers in front of him. The constant beeping of call lights and monitors worked to distract the man in his tasks. He highlighted the critical elements of his patient history imprinted on the nursing kardex and turned to the girl sitting next to him. She smiled at him, but he could read the desire in her eyes to be anywhere but here. He knew the feeling well. Their shifts these days were excruciating, both mentally and physically. It started as soon as they walked in the building and lined up to have their temperature taken. There was a palpable feeling of stress that lingered in the air and the nervous twitter of tension from the crew that danced in halls waiting for the unexpected. Marcus was not immune.
He listened closely, as the blonde nurse named Macy, spewed out the facts, figures, numbers, and prognosis of each patient. Marcus was responsible for three patients. It was a smaller number of people than he used to care for, but now with the virus they were directed to provide primary care on all of their patients. Definition of primary care, in layman’s terms, means the care of an individual rests in the nurse’s hands from head to toe and everywhere in between. The nurse alone must meet the needs of the patient, providing respiratory treatments, lab work, bathing, feeding, counseling, and monitoring. There are others to do the outside running, but the nurse stands alone at the bedside.
He squared his shoulders and moved towards the first room. He donned his PPE and entered the room. He caught the glimmer of a smile from the woman in the bed. They had come to know each well over the last few nights. Grace, a woman in her fifties, had been hospitalized for the last six days with her symptoms worsening each day. Her mask was one of fatigue and worry. Marcus was quick to spot the fear in her eyes. He pulled the vitals machine closer to the bed and tried to return the half-hearted smile. Grace’s temperature had been persistent since admission and now registered at 102. 4. He popped out the ordered dose of Tylenol and placed the tablets in her mouth. He lightly lifted her head to give her a drink from the cup of water at her bedside. The blood pressure registered at 90/46 and the heart rate bounced to 124. Grace’s oxygen levels were low at 90% on 2l. Marcus cranked up the oxygen to 4l in a matter-of-fact motion. He pushed the call bell with his thumb, as he noted the woman struggling to breathe. Marcus held her hand to combat the fear he witnessed earlier. Her panic would not serve them well in the next few moments.
A voice sounded over the speaker in answer to the call light. “May I help you?”
“Yes, can you ask Doctor Vincent to step in here, please?” Marcus said, trying very hard to keep his voice and demeanor calm.
He could feel the sweat building up under the gown he wore. He blotted at the moisture on his goggles with his gloved and free hand. In his nervousness, he glanced around the room and noticed the framed picture of a girl in her teens. It was school picture of Grace’s daughter with her bright cheery smile that renewed his calm. Marcus grabbed at the photo and placed it in closer view of the woman.
“Grace, listen to me! For this little girl right here, you and I are going to get through this together. But I need you to fight hard! Do you understand?” Marcus said in a somewhat stern and confident tone.
There were tears in her eyes, but she nodded her assurance. The faint hint of relief touched Marcus in that moment. From his years of nursing, he recognized all of the signs and symptoms of someone who had given up. His Grace, the woman he had come to know and care about, was a fighter. God had given him the ability to remind her of the reason to fight.
After Doctor Vincent entered the room, things moved quickly. Grace was transported to ICU. Marcus gave her a garbed hug, as she left the floor. Later during his lunch, the nurse called to check on his patient. Her vital signs had stabilized and she had avoided being vented. Marcus was overjoyed to hear Grace in the background talking to her new nurse about her daughter. Quietly he replaced the phone to its cradle and heaved a sigh of relief.
He was suddenly moved to tears as he glanced over to find a very large jar of peanut butter labeled with his name. It was a gift from a co-worker who knew he had been having a hard time finding his favorite snack food on his day off. This was what it was all about, this crazy mixed up world they were living in, people helping people.
Andrea Gibbons was a math teacher at the small private school in town. She was responsible for teaching algebra to seventh and eighth graders. She had always compared the beginning journey into algebra to teaching a foreign language. The road started out new and somewhat frightening, but when each child found their path the adventure was wondrous. She loved teaching the kids and marveled at their progression. She took her job as a teacher very seriously, volunteering her time for the enrichment of the students and the school. For Andrea, her worth was found in the joy of teaching, not the numbers written on a paycheck.
With the closing of schools due to COVID-19, Andrea had to find new methods to engage her students. She had to teach in a virtual classroom, making her job more difficult. She spent her days of isolation planning the learning experiences she wanted for her students. There were many days she pushed her family concerns to the background in support of the children. There were no cheerleaders along the way, only her sense of obligation to the class. She refused to let them fall behind because of the virus. Teachers are strong and resilient, but because of the pandemic they have grown to be innovative leaders of this era.
Nathan could feel the ache in his back as he stooped pick up another load of his crops ready for market. The days had been grueling and the weather never seemed to cooperate, but that was the life of a farmer. He was used to hard work. .
Nathan filled his truck with fresh fruits and ripe vegetables, a veritable feast for any table. The goods could sell at a premium price in these times of
uncertainty The stores were clamoring for supplies to fill the shelves. The man would sell his excess to the chain stores, but he felt his first duty was to supply the local co-op. The food went to local families and food pantries. With so many people out of work, Nathan felt blessed to have a steady income. The least he could do, to his way of thinking, is give something back to the community he loved. It was a lesson that his Papa taught him so many years before. Nathan would always work hard, but in these challenging days of the pandemic he sat a little bit higher and a bit more proud in the seat of his bright red tractor knowing that he could help.
I sat alone in the darkened room of my isolation, wondering how the day would unfold. After many weeks of the same, never-changing schedule of solitary events, I still held close to my expectations. They were the expectations of cheer, of something, or anything to reduce the doldrums of my current life. I reminded myself that it was faith, a faith in God and a faith in humanity that had carried me through thus far. As I threw my feet out of bed and pushed my tootsies into the furry slippers on the floor, I knew the same sentiment would continue.
Making my way to the coffee pot was the way my day always started. I eyed the dwindling supply of coffee grounds and a faint flurry of worry touched my heart. I drew in a deep breath chastising myself, for my faltering faith. I allowed the momentary lapse because coffee is my one true passion. Having learned the art of conservation through the lean years, I carefully added one and a half scoops to the grounds from the previous day. It would be a weak brew but would fulfill my needs.
I popped a single slice of bread into the toaster and waited for it to char to the golden shade of the wheat it once was in the wavering fields of Kansas. I scraped at the sides of the jelly jar to retrieve a dab of purple delight to my toast. Such simple goodness gave me pleasure.
I donned my robe, gloves, and mask, moving towards the front porch to grab the daily paper. On this bright and sunny Sunday, I was thankful that deliveries were still being made. The front page news was always frightful but the crossword puzzle and the comics brightened my days. I turned on the television as I passed the square box of tubes and wires. The noise of the voices, any voice, soothed me and lessened the loneliness of quarantine. I pulled my chair up to the table and dined on my sweet toast and sipped at the invigorating brew while reading my paper. It was just as every other morning had been but the sun was a little warmer and the birds that tweeted by the window seemed cheerier in their song.
After breakfast, I made a list of my grocery needs. Coffee topped the list, but included milk, bread, jelly, and toilet paper. I checked my funds and assured myself that the items were within the budget. I smiled as I dialed the rotary phone, a remnant of another era, I had refused to replace. I believed the simple fixture spoke of who I was and where I came from, but the grand-kids teased me about it being obsolete. I wished once again that they didn't live so far away for I could take a bit of teasing these days. I placed my order and was assured of delivery in the afternoon. It was the same young man that always answered the phone with a courteous and exuberant voice. He wished me well and reminded me to stay safe. Having never seen his face, I began to count him as a friend within the trying days of my confinement.
As I continued to read my paper, I noted an announcement in the corner of the lifestyle page about local churches streaming the masses. It contained a list of the channels carrying the masses. Suddenly, my day was much brighter, for there among the listed churches providing access was my congregation. I could feel the wetness roll down my cheeks at my excitement. I tuned in the proper channel and eagerly awaited the broadcast.
I hadn't realized how badly I had missed going to church. I had been diligent in my prayer and rosary but it was the faces of the people I had come to love that I missed. It was the ornate beauty of our church that called to me. It was the gentle raising of voice in praise and song that I longed to hear. I was giddy in my excitement. God must have known I needed a bolstering of my spirits.
The picture on the screen was crisp and clear. It was just as I remembered, with the inspiring altar and chiseled statues of faith. The colorful stained glass windows graced by the sunlight cast mesmerizing shadows of hope. The lumbered pews, now void of believers, still welcomed with their warm and honey colored hue. As the solitary figure entered the sanctuary in his priestly garments, I couldn't help but feel the awe and serenity of the moment. One familiar voice rang out from the choir loft leading those of us at home in psalms of our praise. It was a somber but joyful expression of unity for a flock temporarily misplaced. From the comfort of my couch, I lifted my voice up in song and joined the choir in hymn. I no longer felt I was alone and my solitary mindset upon rising that morning, had dissipated. As the priest spoke with his soft and calming tone, I was filled with hope by his message. Listening to the scriptures renewed my soul. All at once, I was thankful for the gift of the technology that allowed me to witness the beautiful scene in front of me. I am reminded once again, that simple goodness gives me pleasure and that God is very good at listening to our needs.
When the service concluded, I felt the desire to do something for others. I pulled out my sewing machine and dusted off the cobwebs. I began sewing fabric masks to donate to the hospitals. By the afternoon, I had finished fifty colorful cotton shields. I began to plan and shape gowns to make as well. I had stored miles of fabric from unfinished projects that could now be put to good use. It felt good to spend my time giving back instead of worrying. I was on a mission to be of service. The term "isolation" was only a word of physicality, but not of spirit or mind.
Just as I finished for the day, the doorbell rang and I watched the retreating figure delivering my groceries. I put my gloves and mask on and retrieved the box of goodies. Among the ordered items was a hand written note and a carefully wrapped package of pink paper decorated with dainty rose petals. The note read," I thought you might enjoy a few treats during the days of isolation. I enjoy our conversations on the phone. Stay safe and God bless." It was signed by my newfound friend, Sam." In the package I found flavored coffees, cherry Danish, crossword puzzle books, and one wooden hand-carved cross inscribed with a powerful message, "through him all things are possible."
Toni had been one of the few female EMT’s in her department for the past five years. She had always loved the camaraderie of her team. The guys all treated her like a sister and always managed to give her the respect she was due for the job that she did. She worked hard and gave it her all by keeping up on the latest medical knowledge available. It gave her great pride to learn new techniques to treat her patients safely and efficiently.
With the onset of the pandemic, the CDC was issuing new guidelines daily. Toni took it upon herself to decipher the new rules for her crew to keep them all safe. They teased her often about being the PPE monster, but did as she asked. No one wanted to be the reason a member of the team got sick. Their jobs had always been risky, but never had the danger become so personal or involved risking the lives of their loved ones.
The call came out for an ambulance response to a nearby address. The only information provided was a forty year old female with shortness of breath. No previous medical data was supplied. As the team ran for their truck, Toni handed them each their stack of protective gear for the run. She took an extra second to toss their personal stash of clothing changes near the shower for their return. Within minutes, the team was rolling up on the address provided. They donned their gear quickly, knowing that with breathing difficulty, time was crucial.
They ran in the house to find a woman lying on the floor gasping for air. She was unable to speak, as only squeaky wisps of air passed through her lips. Toni spotted the rescue inhaler gripped tight in the woman’s fist and took it from her. The paramedic shook the inhaler and noted it was empty. An oxygen mask was placed on the woman’s face. The rest of her vital signs were recorded. Toni prepared a Albuterol nebulizer treatment for the patient. She noticed that the woman held tight to her gloved hand seeing Toni as her lifeline. It was nothing new for the EMT, she was used to seeing people in the scariest moments of their lives.
When the woman began breathing easier and her condition stabilized, she was transported to the local hospital for follow-up treatment and testing. Because of her symptoms, she would be tested for COVID-19. Toni had learned that the woman was an asthmatic, and tried to push the worry from her mind, but it would go into a long list of possible exposure for her team. It would be at least 48 hours before they knew the results. While still at the hospital, the crew cleaned the ambulance from bumper to stern. They returned to the fire house to shower and change. They would wait for the next call to do it all again.
You, me, and we are the soldiers of this pandemic. Whether essential worker or stay-at-home personnel our tasks are clear. Follow the guidelines, stay at home when possible, wash your hands often and well, wear masks in public, and quarantine for symptoms. But the broader obligation is to our fellow man by being an uplifting spirit throughout the pandemic. Reach out to those in need. Give back to the community. Be part of the united front to make other’s lives a bit easier. Write letters, drop off bottles of wine to your friends, share virtual laughs online with your buddies, check in often with the elderly, donate a meal to the family out of work, walk in the sunshine waving to everyone that you see, volunteer where you can, and spread cheer where needed. We will get through this together. The one common thread that binds us together, through these days of struggle, is our humanity. Willingness to help and a determined attitude has the power to make a difference. Just possibly, the sanity you save may be your own.