We Go Through It

Previously published in A New Normal: Voices From A Pandemic, Headline Books 2020'

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, my life has become increasingly reclusive over the years; so when COVID 19 decided to visit the USA, things didn’t change drastically for me.

Or, so I thought.

All of a sudden I missed a social life I hadn’t realized existed.

My COVID19 journey began in late February 2020. My parents and I planned to visit Dad’s sister in the state capital where she resided. Any time I have a book event there we always take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with her. Retired and alone, she usually welcomed us with open arms. I always enjoyed these visits. A self-proclaimed career gal, Aunt Sandra lived a rather lavish life of southern values. She had a SITTING room. Where people came to SIT!

The beauty of her home always soothed me and inspired me to perfect the aesthetics of my own home.

The day before our departure on the two-hour drive south, my aunt’s friend called to let us know that Aunt Sandra was in the hospital with pneumonia.

We stopped at the hospital enroot to Sandra’s house to find a shriveled version of my six foot one, 83-year-old aunt. Having suffered from rheumatoid arthritis all her life, she had always managed to camouflage the twisted body parts now prominent in the silhouette tangled in the sheets of the hospital bed. She was alert, though. She knew us and was fast to apologize for not greeting us with a cake, as all good Methodist women prepared for guests. This lapse in proper social etiquette seemed to disturb her more than her medical situation.

She didn’t particularly look well, but she also didn’t appear to be on death’s door. We left her two hours later in search of sustenance, promising to return the next day.

4 AM, Friday, February 21, 2020, the phone woke my parents and I. Sandra Lee Myers had passed in her sleep.

Two weeks later the first confirmed case of COVID19 was reported in Kanawha County, home of West Virginia’s state capital. I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have an answer.

By mid-March, college and university spring breaks were lengthened, followed by a state mandate that all classes would finish the semester with virtual instruction. My son’s much-anticipated freshman year at WVU was cut short.

Not long after the state-wide closing of all public schools, my husband lost his job, putting us in the unemployment system with thousands of fellow Mountaineers. School children either rejoiced at the unexpected retrieve from the classroom or suffered through days without the security of that safe environment.

Americans glued themselves to the growing news of a widespread contagion covering our country. Businesses felt the sting of a declined economic support. Hospitals were inundated with patients they didn’t know how to treat. The shortage of hand sanitizer, antibacterial cleaners, and toilet paper leads to consumer hoarding.

After the initial concern about my family’s future, my survival instinct kicked in and I got busy. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and negativity, I decided to take advantage of the government's request to stay home. I finished writing my next young adult novel. I worked diligently on my writing. I spent every morning with my diary, posted on my blog, or visited the lives of my fictional characters. Writing has always calmed me and there was no better time to seek solace.

When I wasn’t writing, I knitted three baby blankets and learned that I will probably never successfully knit a sock. By the first of May, I had exhausted my Netflix addiction and moved on to the Prime network. When I finally tired of the wastrel life, I decided to convert spare time into physical fitness. I began exercising daily starting with AM stretches, midday Body Groove sessions, and evening physical therapy moves learned from previous sessions in the gym. Unfortunately, all of this self-love usually turned into a junk food feeding frenzy, ’cause I “deserved it”.

Social media became my best friend. Face Book offered a community of like-minded folks: MS Warriors, book geeks, writer friends, fellow parents, free knitting patterns, FAMILY, church services…It was all there. When Face Book didn’t suffice, I learned about Instagram (My nieces have already pointed out how technically behind I am.), Twitter, and Zoom events.

Amazon on-line shopping gave me the instant gratification through the United States Postal Service that this Pandemic warrior needed. Who doesn’t like getting packages in the mail? For three+ months I enjoyed weekly deliveries right to my front door. At first, my charge card bill was a concern; then I discovered the advantages of having Amazon Prime. I am now an Amazon junky. With my Prime membership, I get free music downloads, access to movies, and purchase BONUSES that really add up.

The Pandemic (my very first and hopefully my last) also turned me into a 21st century Gladys Kravitz, the iconic neighborhood snoop on the old Bewitched sit-com. I spent hours a day in my rocking chair gazing out at my lovely little neighborhood. I had a first-row seat for rainstorms, suspicious foot travel, mail deliveries, and the Great 2020 Hydrangea Theft on McCue Avenue. My elderly neighbors across the street effortlessly cultivate seasonal flora. I love looking out at the assortment of colors from my non-green thumb existence.

One early evening I happened to glance outside the living room window to witness a young girl-child pull over on her bicycle, fling it to the ground, rush up to Ruth’s front garden and snatch a dark purple hydrangea before riding away with a glance over her shoulder. At first, I smiled at the prank. Then she came back and grabbed two more blooms without even looking around for witnesses.

The audacity! Once was cute. Twice was criminal.

At this point, I am befuddled. What do I do? Open the front door and confront her? Report the crime to the neighbors? Alert the town cop of the incident? Not certain of flower-theft protocol, I did nothing; but I did keep a vigilant eye on further activity across the street.

If I felt helpless prior to Corona 2020, the lesson in self-preservation I received during this event reinforced in me an uncomfortable dependence. Already aware of my MS reality, the equation of COVID 19 + Multiple Sclerosis left me paranoid, afraid, and anxious. For weeks I clipped disease- monitoring newspaper articles for my daily journal. Then the local newspaper stopped going to print every day, revealing another scary truth. A shortage of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, bottled water, and paper towels ravaged the area while grocery aisles became empty. Small business owners went bankrupt while alcohol consumption grew. I wasn’t totally convinced that this wasn’t the Biblically promised Apocalypse.

By July the fate of schools resuming in the fall was unresolved. Sporting events across the nation were canceled. Positive cases of Covid 19 spiked once again. The world as we once knew it had become a masked society.

What were we to do? In the words of children’s author Michael Rosen, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, 1989). That’s what we Americans do. We work through it. It looked like I had more time to work on that knitted sock.

Lisa A. McCombs

July 1, 2001, six months after the birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

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July 1, 2001, six months after the birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.