Three years ago I felt the seriousness of the worldwide pandemic with full force. I accompanied by husband to Methodist Hospital for a procedure on his heart. It was an eerie experience. The valet parking was closed so we had to scurry to find a place to leave our car while he was undergoing his surgery. As we walked into the Walter Tower we were greeted by masked nurses who took our vital signs and asked a series of questions before we were allowed to proceed to the floor where my husband would get two stents placed in the arteries of his heart.
There was a ghostlike feeling to the usually bustling place. Guards directed us so that we would not wander into restricted areas. When we finally arrived to the cavernous waiting area to check in we were stunned by how few people were actually there. Couples huddled next to each other far away from contact with other humans. Everyone wore masks and interactions were brief. The floors reeked with the smell of disinfectants applied regularly by the cleaning crew.
My husband was quickly taken to a private waiting room and I sat alone in the quiet of the cavernous hall. The coffee machines were dismantled. All signs of hospitality were missing. Nobody spoke to one another. Not even their eyes smiled. There was a kind of suspicion of strangers that made the long wait much more difficult to endure. It was the beginning of a three year journey with uncertainty. At that point in time death was lurking in hospitals across the world and nobody knew exactly how to deal with the novel virus that would soon sweep to every corner of life.
Normally my husband would have spent the night in the hospital after his surgery, but on that day he would be monitored until he was deemed ready to go home. It took until almost midnight before the doctors released him. I had sat alone in the huge room for hours. I was hungry and exhausted and more frightened about Covid than I had previously been. The precautions of the hospital personnel had convinced me that this was a serious moment not to be ignored.
Only hours before midnight a nurse came to accompany me to the parking garage to retrieve my car. It took us a great deal of time to find an outlet because many of the exists and entrances to the hospital were securely locked. Eventually we found our way out of the maze of hallways. I exited the garage and drove to the front of the Walter Tower where my husband was waiting in a wheelchair. The nurses helped him into the car and with expressions combining both fear and concern wished us both well in the coming weeks.
Of course we all know the rest of the three year saga that affected each of us. There were so many losses of people, jobs, learning, goodwill. We were so ready to return to what felt normal that we hardly acknowledged the passing of time. We have tended to pretend that the whole thing is over and that we probably overreacted. In truth people are still contracting Covid and some of them are dying. The ravages of that virus has changed us. We are less open, less certain, less willing to sacrifice than we once were. We just seem to want to get on with life even as some among us worry that we are celebrating too soon.
I personally feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. It feels as though I have been in a deep sleep while the world continued on its pace. I still can’t quite feel the same lightheartedness that once defined me. I have witnessed too much hurt and anger to just pretend that all is well. I grieve for those who lost loved ones and had to endure seemingly unsympathetic attitudes of people who were angry at being forced to be cautious. I know how sick some people became and I have watched them struggle to become healthy again. There should have been some kind of remembrance of our neighbors and friends who died, but somehow we are not in the mood to even speak of the long nightmare.
Ironically my husband is returning to Methodist Hospital in the coming days for one more procedure. Only one person may accompany him. We all must wear masks. The medical community is still proceeding with caution. There are still people dying from Covid. They must be careful. We are reminded once again.
This time I know the drill. I’ll bring my laptop and my cords to charge my phone and computer. I’ll have drinks and food in a bag in case I have to stay in place for a long time. I’ll think of the brave and dedicated medical people who cared for my husband three years ago and so compassionately wished us well even as they feared what might come. I will remember the beloved departed members of families that will never quite be the same. I’ll hold my own private memorial to honor all of them. I’ll hope that we have learned the right lessons from all of this. Mostly, I will remember how important it is to love. In some ways love and compassion have suffered during the past three years. It’s time we brought those things back so that we all may heal.