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  • Ann Louden

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HOW TO FIND YOUR POST-COVID FUTURE


I can’t even begin to guess all the ways you have been affected by the pandemic. Each of us is taking stock and gaining perspective as we move through this strange time in our lives.

For starters, we all look physically different! If ever there was a clear indicator that grooming matters, these last three months are the proof. I have never missed the highlights in my hair more, or the regular mani/pedis that made me presentable, or vainly enough, the daily wearing of bright lipstick.

Beyond the jolt to our images in the mirrors, our psyches have also taken a hit. The pre-pandemic challenges of work deadlines, meeting negotiations, demands for creativity, time management, and scheduled frenzy now give way to different concerns about health, financial resources, money, mental health, and emotional resilience.


And have you considered how different your conversations are today compared to three months ago? Never in my life, except perhaps when I had cancer, did I think about one topic for the majority of the day…the coronavirus.


What’s the latest number of virus cases? How do I respond to stories of people I know who are impacted? When will the city, state, country reopen? When will we have a vaccine? Is it safe for me to go to the doctor, the grocery, the pharmacy? And on and on…




HOW IT'S DIFFERENT IN NEW YORK CITY


As the rest of the country moves towards reopening, even while holding its collective breath about a second wave of Covid, New York City remains under lockdown. Iconic landmarks are empty, the tourists are gone, and heck, many of the residents are gone too. In mid-March, more than 420,000 people fled the boroughs. Their absence contributes to the eeriness of a City that emptied out. A City that never sleeps, now still. A City that roared, now quiet.





WHAT'S CHANGED FOR ME?


- My apartment building, which normally is home to 750 people, is only half occupied for now. When the postman is on site, a rope keeps residents from entering until all mail is locked in postal boxes, and staff departs. Elevators accommodate two riders max. Residents are urged to return to their apartments if anyone else is in their hallway. Mask wearing is mandatory. Maintenance is deferred unless your water doesn’t run, or you set fire to your dinner.

- I can drive to any part of Manhattan and find a place to park, any time of day. There are no tourists, and other than essential workers, no one is traveling. The streets -- usually crammed with people  -- are like a ghost town.

- My metro card for the subway and bus is in the top drawer of my dresser, unused since the end of February. I have no idea when I will descend into a subway station again. The subways normally move 5.5 million people a day. Now only essential workers are allowed to ride, reducing the daily ridership to under 500,000.

- Going for a walk means being constantly vigilant about who is around me and what they are doing. Yesterday, I walked out of a Staples in Manhattan and encountered a man on the sidewalk, not wearing a mask. He sneezed on me as I walked past. I have replayed that moment again and again, wishing it hadn’t happened.

- The interviews I am doing for my book on the power of connection are now conducted by phone, the ultimate irony for these super connectors who excel at building relationships in person.

- I have attempted cooking meals, especially fish, that would never have made it onto my “I can do this at home” list. If you want a recipe for salmon, tilapia, cod, or shrimp, I may just be your girl.

- My giant spray bottle of Purell is at the ready to disinfect everything that comes into my apartment. It’s a three step walk from the front door into my kitchen, so there’s not much space to hide from possible contaminants.

- Always a night owl, but never a TV watcher, I have given myself permission to stay up even later than 1:30 AM to binge Netflix and Showtime. Watching Ozark and Billions is addicting. Watching Tiger King less so.

- The richness and diversity of New York life isn’t evident without theater, museums, restaurants, tall buildings bustling with people, shoulder to shoulder crowds on every avenue, and the incessant sound of honking taxis. Restaurants discount takeout food in hopes of enticing customers. Ride share service staffs are decimated. The arts are shuttered. Everyone is indoors, cautious, on guard. Everyone is waiting.

- Each evening at 7 PM, for the last seventy-plus nights, I slide my balcony doors open to clap for essential workers. Twenty floors to the street below, the rallying cry begins with the downbeat of a serving spoon on a metal pot. The pot-carrier is a spirited young woman, always outfitted in a neon pink baseball cap. As if on cue, the neighbors wait to clap until she sounds the call, leading the way on the corner below the tall buildings as far as the eye can see. Through wind, rain, cold or more temperate climes, she is there, giving us all comfort in the dependability of her tribute.





TRIBUTES FOR REMARKABLE PEOPLE


There are countless celebrations of courage during this time. We especially recognize healthcare workers whose heroics are on display every day. I was lucky enough to be in the middle of a moving experience that started with a TCU connection. Shelby Ringdahl, TCU alum and talented NYC actress, now temporarily back home in Missouri, was asked by a friend there for the name of a NYC healthcare worker on the frontlines. He and his wife wanted to write a letter to the unknown worker and send a contribution. Shelby asked me for an idea of who they could honor. I was happy to make a suggestion.


I recommended Candace Kastner, a widely respected hospitalist medicine PA at Weill Cornell. Intimately familiar with end of life treatment and care of patients before the virus, Candace found the crush of Covid-19 illness and death more painful than any she has ever faced. “Even with all my preparation, “she says, “I could not have prepared for the experience I had with my first coronavirus death.”  Not only was she providing medical care, she was now witnessing and facilitating the final goodbyes of loved ones who had no one at their bedsides as they died. In one example, Candace described using her personal phone so that a wife could comfort her intubated husband as he died. The wife told him that he was handsome, even wearing all the tubes. She also beseeched him not to worry as “you will go straight to heaven. I have no doubt about that.” She told him she loved him and promised “I will never love anyone more than you. I will never want anyone more than you.” After being present for the heartbreaking exchange, Candace left the room and wept. Describing that intimate scene, she said: “It tore at my emotions. However, during these times, nothing seems ordinary. I look forward to the day that this horrifying pandemic ends.”


Candace's courage inspired the couple in Missouri to offer their support and encouragement across the miles. They mailed an envelope to me, enclosing a check made out to Candace, and asked that I deliver it and the letter which accompanied it. In part, they wrote:


“While you and your co-workers are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, we hope you have a few minutes every day to realize you are “winning the fight” against Covid-19 and have saved many, many lives, positively impacting the families and friends of those people. This is heroic! Please accept our gratitude for you and your co-workers from millions of Americans throughout the country who you do not know and will never meet… we will think of you as the ‘best of the American spirit’ in times of crisis.


The day I delivered the check and letter to Candace’s apartment she had come down with a fever and was not at work. I worried that it was the wrong time. Instead, it turned out to be an encouragement on exactly the right day. She tested negative for the virus, and a few days later, she went back to her seven day a week, fourteen hour a day workday at the hospital.



ANTICIPATING THE NEW NORMAL


When we think back on this time – and it will end – we will recall how the small things others did for us and we did for others mattered the most. I am touched every day with displays of human kindness and connection. Though we cannot predict exactly what the post-pandemic days will serve up, we have gained enough perspective to have takeaways.



THIS IS WHAT WE KNOW:


We will not take for granted people: healthcare workers, teachers, bus drivers, train conductors, restauranteurs, and everyone who makes the machinery of our lives work.


We will not take for granted experiences: travel, weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays, dining with friends, going to sporting events, theater, performances, and yes, probably also meetings, and maybe even a trip to the DMV.



THIS IS WHAT WE MUST BELIEVE:


In OURSELVES: Who we are before we encountered the coronavirus is who we STILL are. Our talents, dreams, ambitions, accomplishments and future plans are still ours. They may need to be shifted, but they belong to us.


In our CONNECTIONS: Those we knew before, we will continue to know. Those we loved before, we will likely love even more. And everyone is now likely on more even footing. And that’s a good thing.


In our ATTITUDES: We can still control how we react, if not hour to hour, or day to day, over the long term. Resilience means facing forward with the belief that we can figure it out, get it done, make it happen.


In our FUTURE: We are not diminished by this experience. We will certainly grow from it.


Change is always inevitable. This one was big. This one was a surprise. But maybe it took this one to help us carve out a new, better us.


We are in this together!


Hang in there,







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