Skip to main content

The new normal

I'm writing this from Santa Rosa, where my parents live. I've just sequestered myself in my bedroom / home office here, ready to start the workday. But this is an unprecedented period, and I wanted to record what life is actually like under this particular quarantine. We should be blogging now more than ever, to create a historican record beyond the politicians and the numbers reported in the newspapers. Those records are important, too, both in the moment and afterwards, but they miss the intimacies of everyday life. Here are some of the details from mine; I'd love to read yours.

I always spend Sundays, at the very least, with my parents. My mother had a double lung transplant in 2013 to escape the effects of pulmonary fibrosis, a set of symptoms that progressively scar up your lungs, that were caused by dyskeratosis congenita, a genetic condition. I moved to California two years prior. It took me five seconds to make the decision: all I needed to hear was that she had to use supplementary oxygen. I'm grateful that we've had all this extra time, although the side effects of the transplant have made this a difficult seven years for her. (The median post-transplant survival rate, by the way, is 5.8 years.)

My dad spent the first years of his life in a concentration camp in Indonesia, run by the Japanese. He moved to America as a teenager, built a life up completely from scratch, was drafted into the US Army, and discovered higher education through the GI Bill. He has a PhD in Economics and advanced law degrees.

They're both fighters, obviously. But because of my dad's age and my mother's condition, they are both considered high risk individuals. Yesterday, while we were discussing how we might adjust our lifestyles to cope with the current situation, over glasses of wine for me and my dad, Governor Newsom announced that everyone aged 65+ and with a sensitive condition should stay inside. My parents have still been largely self-sufficient, mostly because my dad's full-time job is taking care of my mother. This is the first formal indication that this dynamic needs to change.

My mother took herself off for a nap, which she does every afternoon, and I begrudgingly accommpanied my dad to Home Depot for bags of concrete (a retaining wall needs some support). The roads are relatively clear, and we didn't encounter another soul in the aisles of the store. I lifted the concrete, of course, and lifted it into the garage. I was glad for the workman's gloves that my dad keeps in the back of his car.

Driving up here on Sunday morning was easy. I keep a container of Clorox bleach wipes in the car with me. I wiped down the steering wheel and the controls, and then the handles on each of the doors. When I get gas, I wipe down the pump and its buttons. If I need to go to a store, I wipe myself down with Purell first, then get the groceries or whatever it is I need, and wipe myself down afterwards. I wash my hands for 20+ seconds as soon as I enter the house (and as soon as I got here, I wiped down the front door handle). I wash my hands regularly. They feel really clean, so at least there's that. Because my mother also uses the downstairs bathroom, we wipe it down with alcohol when we're finished with it. And then more hand-washing.

She hasn't been feeling well. It's nothing to do with Covid-19 - just a part of the rollercoaster of drug interactions and microbiome changes that affect her life - but I worry about the availability of ICU beds in the months ahead. Last year, she spent over a fifth of the year in hospital, some of it in intensive care. In Italy, nurses have needed to make decisions about who receives care and who doesn't. I don't want to think too hard about it.

I have cousins who still believe that all this is overblown, and that it's some kind of media conspiracy. I worry about their safety, but I also worry about the people who think like that around us. It's not just about the virus itself; it's about idiots. I don't want somebody to kill my parents because they were cavalier. I don't want someone to accidentally make me a vector, complicit in something terrible happening to them.

It's beautiful here. The sky is clear, and the air is peaceful. If I look to my right, I see deer grazing in a field across the road from the house. I'm eating well. The company is good, and we've been keeping ourselves entertained. But I haven't been sleeping well at all.