Reflections on Pandemic, Wave 1

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We love to travel, and since we retired 11 years ago, my husband and I have been enjoying our good fortune by indulging our wanderlust. We’ve visited parts of the world we never imagined we’d see and we’ve otherwise lived the Canadian retirees’ dream of fleeing the cold every year. Delightful winters spent in the Deep South of Texas, surrounded by new friends and well away from the Ontario snow, filled our lazy days with sunshine and joy. Did we think it would never end? No….. but we were completely unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic that tore our lives out of control and destroyed everything we’d come to know as normal. .

Happily enjoying our winter haven, and barely even noticing the reports of mysterious deaths in a nursing home in Washington State, we were dumbfounded by emails and calls from our children in Canada urging us to come home. Why would we do that? But on the day in early March, 2020 when our daughter called to say Justin Trudeau had urged his fellow Canadians to come home, our attention was demanded: the Canadian border was to be closed at the end of the week.

“Bob! We have to get home” I cried, hearing no resistance from him. “This is scary! We CANNOT get trapped in the US.” It took two days for us to close down our house, store all the patio furniture in the shed, and pack our belongings. When we crossed back into Canada three days later, a day before the international border was closed, the relief we felt seeped out of our pores. That sense of urgency and panic we felt while getting home presaged the catastrophic damage that was to befall the US over the following months.

During fourteen days of self quarantine in Ontario, we felt like characters living in an alternate dimension. Everything we knew as truth in the world was flipped on its head. Over the next few weeks, as many of our fellow winter escapees also returned home, they all looked the way we felt: shell shocked. Daily newscasts brought only more horror and fear into our homes; ever increasing guidance from our Public Health officials and politicians to stay home, keep a social distance from others and to wear masks, heightened our fears. We were early adopters of masks and social distancing; we carefully avoided leaving home, even sacrificing contact with kids and grandkids. And still, the numbers of infections, especially among the elderly in nursing homes, continued to climb.

With no previous experience to draw on, we had no real assurance that these strategies would keep us safe. The naysayers who refused to return from the US til late April, mocked us for our fears. “It’s all a hoax, you know” said one of our neighbours. Completely out of our comfort zones, and totally unsure of who and what to believe, we sided with the scientists and public health officials. My response to the naysayers was “I hope you’re right, but just in case, I’m going to wear my mask and follow all the other recommendations.”

We couldn’t stop watching the US infection and death rates continue to surge. We didn’t know anyone in New York City, but we were horrified by the nightly news clips of refrigerated trucks parked outside the city’s hospitals to load the bodies that couldn’t be accommodated in their morgues. The despair and grim determination on the faces of ICU staff interviewed by news anchors about the conditions they worked in, made my stomach reel. Their heartbreaking appeals to the public to wear masks and stay home to control the spread of the virus were initially ignored by many. How could that be? Was it simply a knee-jerk reaction of denial? Was the American public completely overcome by disbelief and an inability to accept their new reality? Maybe the “hoax” theory, being promoted by certain of their political leaders, was more palatable.

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"Stay Home" in black letters on white background

Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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