January 2021

Living on the Edge

“How are you adapting to your diagnosis?” the specialist asked. “What changes have you made in your daily life?”

“I take the phone with me to the barn,” I told her. “That way if I need help I can call.”

She looked at me gently, as one might regard a confused child. Even then, I didn’t expect the heavy blade of her answer:

“There wouldn’t be time.”

Perspectives on COVID-19: Bonds of Marriage, Part 2

Editor’s note: This two-part series presents the stories of Wim and Jo, a husband and wife whose lives were profoundly impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Jo’s Story

My name is Jo Ann, and everybody calls me Jo. I’m seventy-four years old. I’ve enjoyed teaching grade school for forty-two years and plan to return after COVID-19–if they let me.

Perspectives on COVID-19: Bonds of Marriage, Part 1

Editor’s note: This two-part series presents the stories of Wim and Jo, a husband and wife whose lives were profoundly impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Wim’s Story

My name is Willem, and I go by Wim. I’m seventy-five years old. I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a young man with plans to go into seminary. That’s where I met Jo, my wife. We didn’t go together too long before getting married. She supported me while I redirected my studies towards a master’s in education. Since then, I’ve taught grade school, worked in school politics and had jobs in sales before retiring a year ago.

False Spring

We are on the cusp of something. The weather outside says so with its mellow almost-warmth, the green grass coaxed out of latency, buds starting to form on trees that should be dormant. At an hour that should be frosty, birds are already singing to the just-risen sun, and the sky reveals a careless blue. This could be March, that month of dramatic change, time to think of planting things, of growing. 

I am outside in a sweatshirt, repairing a fence, snuggling our animals, letting my lungs fill with this peaceful morning. I putter and delay, finding projects to occupy my attention, holding tight to this moment.

When I return indoors, the newspaper screams of painful reality: sedition, pandemic, security, racism. It reminds me of the fortune I woke to: I am vaccinated but the world is not. I have space around me but the world does not. I have freedoms that much of the world does not. 

We talk instead of things to do: roses to cut back, mowing to be done, painting, cleaning. Thinking. I have found myself more introvert than not, these last ten months of pandemic. Helpless to change the political pageantry, the degradation of national …

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Please Try Your Call Again Later

“All of our service representatives are busy. Please try your call again later.”

On the first day that our local health system allowed medical staff to call in to schedule vaccine appointments, the demand quickly overwhelmed the phone lines. The plan was to open up scheduling by phone starting at 8:00 a.m., and I called as soon I could, only to be greeted by the message above after a few rings. I continued calling the rest of that morning, and eventually the line didn’t even ring before going straight to the recording. We later learned that the call center received over 5,000 calls in the first hour—no wonder I couldn’t get through! 

A Real Family?

A few years ago, a Chicago-area fertility clinic ran a series of radio ads at the same early hour each morning. For weeks, I woke to a woman’s energetic voice cutting through the fog of my semiconsciousness, announcing her gratitude to the center’s reproductive specialists. “Without them,” she proclaimed brightly, “my baby wouldn’t have my blue eyes and my husband’s wide smile.”

Vials of Hope

Is it my imagination, or is everyone talking about silver linings these days? By now I’ve heard the phrase spoken so many times in so many different contexts that I’ve begun to expect it as an explanation whenever people mention a COVID-related restriction in their lives. In the midst of despair, misfortune, or even just plain frustration, they find something positive that offers them comfort. I truly admire such vision. Where they see soft, white clouds floating overhead, I see grey ones, spiked with danger—a herd of elephants stampeding across a leaden sky.

But now the vaccine has come along, and even I am beginning to feel optimistic. Reading the eligibility requirements in my state’s plan for phased distribution last month, I saw right away that I did not fall into Phase 1A. Next would be Phase 1B, including (among others) those at increased risk for serious illness. Fortunately, I thought, I suffer from none of the underlying health conditions described in that category.

Or at least I didn’t think I did.

“The Worst Mistake of My Life”

Before stepping into Jasmin’s room, I slathered my hands with cold Purell and began the mundane ritual of donning my PPE. The smell of alcohol filled my nostrils as I grabbed a gown and the paper bag containing my N-95 mask and face shield. Like a seasoned soldier preparing for battle, I put on my gear with ease. With my gloves glued to my skin by sanitizer, I rapped on Jasmin’s door, asking permission to enter.

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