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I can’t help but feel that there are two different experiences in the country with the coronavirus. There is the east coast experience and there is the rest of the country. When one looks at the state by state numbers, the two states of New York and New Jersey make up about a third of all the cases in the country and over 40% of the deaths. And the New York State numbers are incredibly skewed to New York City. I think it’s pretty much acknowledged that New York City and the surrounding suburbs have been the epicenter of the contagion. It does not surprise me then that we are reacting to the lockdown differently.
Here is my experience as a New Yorker, albeit one from Staten Island, which is subtly different than one from Manhattan. But Manhattan has actually been spared, relatively speaking. It’s the outer boroughs of the city that has absorbed the brunt of the pandemic.
First, let me thank God that no one in my family has contracted the virus. We are all healthy, both immediate and extended family. We are definitely stressed out being locked at home and forced to go out with masks and gloves. But our families are also intact, though I’ve heard some have been on edge. My immediate family—wife and ten-year-old son—have not come to any fistfights and in some ways it has brought us closer together. It’s been about 11 weeks since I’ve been teleworking, and my son started “teleschooling” the week prior.
Second, it’s a good thing that my work dispersed employees and enacted a work-from-home rule. Of the 3,500-ish employees, and we work in New Jersey, I have heard that some 40-something contracted the virus. That’s not even an up-to-date number. That’s around a month old. I don’t know how many were hospitalized or maybe even died, though I think it would have gotten out if anyone died. Still, if we were getting some 10% infected rate while dispersed, I think we would have had quite a large number of infections if we were enclosed our poorly ventilated buildings.
Third, I know of four people from the neighborhood who have contracted the virus and died, two of them friends. Of the two who were not friends, one was the mother of our pastor at our church, the other a retired member of my Lay Dominican chapter. Of the two friends who passed, one was a current member of my Lay Dominican chapter. Her name was Meg and was 85 years old. I think she was in the hospital about ten days or so, and midway in her stay this came from her brother:
She struggled at first. She was unconscious for two days. She is on oxygen, but she is not eating. She had trouble with her kidneys and her liver. They are giving her medicine and [she is] getting better. She still has a long way to go.
A few days later we got word she had passed away. Meg had survived pneumonia last year—she had been in intensive care—but she did not survive Corona. Meg was a sweet and devout lady. She had been a Lay Dominican at least some 50 years. She never actually said this, but it always felt that Meg thought of me as a son. Eternal rest grant onto her, O Lord.
The other friend who passed was Luigi. Luigi’s passing was even harder to take. In early March I think it was, Luigi fell from some stairs inside his home and broke some ribs and was in the hospital for about a week. This was before the virus lockdown had occurred but the virus had come to the US in some degree. In the hospital, it appears he caught the coronavirus, came home and after a couple of weeks it blossomed and he had a high fever. He was taken to the ER and placed in ICU and eventually on a ventilator. He was in ICU for at least a couple of weeks—I’ve lost track of the time span. No family was ever allowed to see him the whole time he was at the hospital. He spent the whole time alone, mostly in a coma and without any knowledge of his progress or lack thereof. He died a lonely death. The only thing they could do with the body was to have it cremated from what I understand. His family never got to see him again after he went to the hospital that second time.
My mother and Luigi were wall neighbors of semi-attached homes, so they saw each other every day. Whenever she had an emergency it was Luigi to the rescue. He spoke Italian with my mother, so it was a person she could communicate with. Actually, not just Italian. It so happened that his family and my family were from the same region of Italy, so they spoke the same dialect. He was like a family member. My mother was friends with his mother before his mother passed away. After his mother passed away, Luigi told me that he considered my mother his mother.
Luigi was always so kind and upbeat and jovial. I don’t remember him ever being down. He was very talkative, very much an extrovert, and would do anything for you. Italian men can be extroverts, and if you know that type of Italian, that was Luigi. I pass his house every day and I still see his car there. He was only 58 years old. I noticed from his funeral card, which included his birth date and printed without actually having a wake, we were six months apart. My mother reflecting on his death said something to the effect, “I’m not afraid of dying, but this is not how I want to die.”
Eternal rest grant unto Luigi, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May God have mercy on his soul and may he rest in eternal peace.
After Luigi passed away, I got to meet (virtually, not through in-person contact) one of the nurses who had taken care of him in ICU. Her name is Florence. This is what she wrote about being an ICU nurse during the height of the inflammation:
The coronavirus is an unforgiving entity. Most of what it ravages are the elderly, but it has also taken the lives of as young as healthy 21-year-olds that we’ve seen. These past few days, the disease had started to slow down, but midway March was hell I tell you. The number of cases and the severity of it was bad. Horrible. Our hospital was not ready and the workers were overwhelmed, turning about fifteen units into COVID ICUs and the rest into regular COVID units. I feel lucky that I got critical care experience which had been useful in this pandemic. I feel sympathetic to the nurses who turned into ICU nurses overnight, titrating medications and dealing with ventilators for the first time. Every night there are code blues after code blues overhead, and there was not a night where nobody died. It’s especially heartbreaking that visitations are restricted, so most of the patients die alone. We can’t even properly mourn for the patient–we would shed a tear, say a prayer, but then we have to get back to work because there are still the living to tend to.
That comment about the hell of mid-March reminded me of an observation I had at the time. On the hour I would be hearing sirens. More than on the hour. Several siren brays on the hour. How many fires could there possibly be, I told myself? And then I realized it wasn’t fire engines or police cars but ambulances. Ambulances were in a constant rush, and I realized that with each ambulance blare some poor soul was in a state of mortal crises. Every time I heard a siren, I would stop and say a prayer for that soul. I saw in the news at some point that at the height there were literally hundreds of ambulance calls per day.
That has been my experience when it comes to those infected. My personal experience has been significantly more pleasant. At least my commute is simpler. Instead of an hour each way, now it’s 30 seconds. I roll out of bed and stroll to my study!
Unfortunately, I have to report that I’m as efficient teleworking as I am physically in the office. Conference calls can be a bit of a struggle with people talking over each other, but things get done. The experience must be mirrored across the organization. Maybe even the nation. There is no rush to end the teleworking, and there has been a discussion on having cyclical teleworking groups, even after this is all over.
I’ve read in the news that kids are either doing poorly or behind in their schoolwork. Not my son. I can’t speak for the others in his class, but he has been doing super. His grades are way up. My son happens to be a very social and gregarious kid, so I think being away from his classmates reduces the distractions and makes him focus. He has classes on Zoom and gets email assignments. He submits through email and gets graded through email. Thank God his school was on top of this. They’ve done a great job.
Also, my son gets to see me work and interact on my conference calls. I think watching a professional work environment conditions his behavior since so much of what kids do is emulative. Plus he can take breaks and go out front and dribble his basketball in between the Zoom classes. This has been a blessing in disguise when it comes to my son’s education.
Thank God all my conference calls have been over the phone. I am not prepared for a visual conference. When I had a real commute, I would shower and shave every morning. Now I do it every few days and it’s not in the morning. Plus I don’t get out of sweat clothes until after work either. I’m not a sight to see. And I can really use a haircut. Please Lord, let the barbershops open soon.
I think my health has also improved from the lockdown. Without that commute, I get an extra hour of sleep and I take the dog for a 45-minute walk before dinner. I’ve actually lost a couple of pounds. It might even be more than that since I think the hair on my head now must be adding a pound or two to my weight…lol. How much does hair weigh anyway?
Being constantly home does get boring. We haven’t been out for dinner the whole time. Occasionally we order something in, but that’s been a way to give us a treat. My wife and I try to beat each other for a reason to go out to the store. Wearing mask and gloves of course. One day she’ll call dibs and another day I’ll box her out and call first. Anything to get a change of scenery. I don’t know if that’s what God intended when He created marriage, but that’s what it has come down to. “With this ring, I thee wed, in sickness and in health, in pandemic or in wealth, till corona do us part.”
The worst part of the lockdown I think has been not being able to go to church on Sunday. We watch Mass on TV but it’s not the same. Roman Catholics require the physical communion of the Blessed Sacrament. You can’t get that over a screen. Still, given the relative age of our parish congregation, I think it was the right thing to stop Mass. The virus would have spread like a wildfire throughout the parish.
Has this all been worth it? My experience would say yes. People from other parts of the country tell me they don’t know of anyone who has come down with the virus, let alone someone who has died from it. Here it’s quite different. Everyone knows of someone, and everyone knows of a death. Certainly with foreknown knowledge of everything we could have had a more optimized plan. Some claim it is no different than the flu. That’s was my opinion back in early March. My opinion evolved dramatically. We’ve more than exceeded the number of deaths of the worst flu season in less than three months, and while going through extreme preventative and lockdown procedures, and it’s not over yet. My guess at looking at the different curves of transmission and fatality rates, I would estimate we would have had three to four times the mortality if we had done nothing. Except for the horrendous decision to send virus-infected patients to nursing homes, I feel the process was as best as could be expected given the level of knowledge we had.
That’s my New York experience. I can understand how people in the open-air states in the west see it differently. But be aware, even in those western states when people in factories are placed in close proximity, the infection rates go up. Enclosed space seems to be one of the leading variables.Published in