Being in the rural Midwest during these COVIDeous times to care for an elderly man who is medically vulnerable is really wild.
Having weathered the initial lockdown in San Francisco--a city which easily could have been hit as hard as New York but rather opted to take early, impactful action--I have some very clear ideas about what works to mitigate the spread of this damned plague. It feels normal, considerate, even comfortable to wear a mask. I wash my hands a lot, I keep hand sanitizer in easy reach, and I stay home as much as possible. If I'm sick, I do not go anywhere.
Around me here in mid-Missouri, however, the picture is like a fever dream of a virus-free world. Bars and restaurants are open, and full. The radio advertises local happy hours and tryouts for the beach volleyball leagues, while the DJs discuss how live music events are back and the worst has passed. It's surreal.
For the most part, medical professionals seem to be acknowledging reality, but it's very uneven. The first time I took my Dad to his primary care clinic, no one but my Dad and I had masks on. When I took him to the podiatrist at the hospital, the doctor and his aged receptionist also skipped masks, even as the doctor inhaled my father's toenail dust during the most industrial pedicure I have ever witnessed.
The people that do seem to understand the severity of this are the nurses, social workers, and administrators who serve the elderly. These women--and they are all women--have taken it as their solemn duty to maintain a science-informed bubble around themselves, even as the society around them pretends nothing is happening.
They amaze me, in the best way. I can speak from experience when I say that it is much, much easier to maintain rigorous protocols when your friends and neighbors are doing the same. Having moved from one context to another, I can testify to the temptation to engage with the rest of the world normally when that option is freely available (if very ill-advised).
These women go to and from work, masked and aware of their surroundings, passing by the happy hour crowds and the invitations to socialize with friends. They have been doing it since March, and they are committed to serving vulnerable people who need them now more than ever. They do it in isolation and with great resolve.
They are mothers, worrying about how their kids can go to school safely. They have their own elderly parents to care for. They are desperately needed, every hour of the day. When we talk, they lift my spirits, and we relate to each other as people fighting an uphill battle together against this pandemic.
The local ballots are full-up with conservative men pushing for bars to open before schools have coherent plans, but I can see where the brains are. These women are pragmatic and tough, truly essential workers who stand as the last defense between life and death. If their hands were a little less full, they might be able to run against the anti-science crowd that keeps them busier than ever before.
Today, one of them told me that she encouraged a young biracial couple to register to vote. She saw the inequalities they face, and urged them to take their concerns to the ballot box. We decried the lack of national leadership that prolongs the suffering of our country. For a little while, we held each other up in conversation, and the exchange made me feel hopeful.
It is trite to call our healthcare workers heroes, but so many of them truly are. Blessed are the nurses, resolute on the front lines. They deserve for their work to be valued, uplifted, and made safer.