Isolate means to be alone or apart from others. Technically, I’m not isolated. I’m around other people when I go shopping, but it’s been exactly one month since I’ve seen or talked to anyone I actually know in person.
I’m depressed. I’m grateful to have a job that allows me to work from home right now. Still, it’s difficult to be alone so much.
This past Wednesday, one of my co-workers sent our department an email, in which she explained her current situation and how she was dealing with social distancing. Then our boss sent an email “to encourage everyone on the staff to share your experiences during this difficult time.”
Out of the ten of us in our little department, I was the only one who didn’t respond. I couldn’t. I was depressed and extremely irritable. I knew anything I wrote would’ve been snarky, so I didn’t say anything.
I live alone, and I have no family nearby. I’m the only one in my office in this situation. What could I have said that wouldn’t bring them down or seem bitchy?
A lot of them talked about how great it was to go outside and listen to birds. It might’ve just been my irritability, but I couldn’t relate. All I could think to say was this:
I had a lot of tree branches, junk, and trash in my backyard, so I spent a lot of time cleaning, organizing, and throwing stuff out. It was difficult, sweaty work, and I hated every minute of it. My only interaction with wildlife was the snake I had to kill in the back yard and the dead crow I saw in the front yard.
The snake slithered out from under a pile of wood I was moving. I tried shooing it away, but it wouldn’t budge. The little guy kept rearing up into attack mode, so I cut it in half with a shovel. It’s two halves slithered and twitched separately for what seemed like hours. It was more like minutes, but I was impatient. Just to make sure it would actually die, I sliced it again with the edge of my shovel, this time closer to its head. Then I went about my business. When I came back about an hour later, it had finally stopped moving. I shoveled the pieces into a trash can, put the top on, and left the can in the outside heat while I finished cleaning up the yard. A couple of hours later when I took the top off the can, the smell of death slapped me in the face.
I didn’t kill the crow. The crow killed itself. It landed on the power line in front of my house, screeched, and dropped to the ground. Its crow friends screamed and flew away. They didn’t even check on their friend. When the screaming stopped, I walked over to check out the dead guy. It was big and black and looked like it had no head. I crouched down a little, stood back up, and then walked to its other side. Yep, no head. There wasn’t any blood, so I assumed its head was bent back underneath its body. Technically, it had landed in the neighbor’s part of our shared front yards. Otherwise, I would’ve shoveled it into the trash can with the dead snake. But since it wasn’t in my yard, I left it. A few days later, I saw two construction workers who had been working on the gas lines in my neighborhood with a shovel and a plastic bag. They shoveled the crow into the bag and drop the bag into a trash can my across the street neighbor had left by the curb.
Can you imagine if I had emailed this story to my co-workers? I don’t think their delicate natures could have handled it, which is why I posted it here instead.
I’m afraid of the coronavirus. I have elderly relatives, some in good health, some in poor health. I worry about their safety during this unprecedented time. I have friends and relatives who smoke cigarettes now or smoked them in the past. I’m worried for them. I know people who are generally in poor health or who have recently been sick. I worry about them.
I also worry about myself even though I’m in relatively good health. Sometimes, I can’t help but panic. The reason I worry – my left lung has spontaneously collapsed twice in my lifetime.
The first time it happened, I was sixteen and a nervous wreck. I hated high school and was desperate to figure out where to go to college. Plus, I was very petite, weighing less than 100 pounds. I was not healthy.
One night, I was lying on the couch watching tv when a pain began stabbing the left side of my chest. The pain radiated to my left arm and was so intense that I couldn’t sit still. My mom thought I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. The paramedics were calm and professional, but I could tell they were concerned. After they loaded me into the ambulance and hooked me up to their machines, I moved suddenly and disrupted one of the monitors. I remember one of the paramedics saying “What happened?” in a panicked tone. The other paramedic reassured him, and me, that nothing was wrong, I had only moved.
The stabbing pain didn’t ease until I got to the hospital. In its place was a weird, aching pressure, but I could finally breathe deeply without feeling like I would pass out. The chest x-ray revealed a pneumothorax. The upper portion of my left lung was shriveled. The doctor didn’t think a chest tube was necessary, assuring me the collapse would re-inflate on its own. After two days in the hospital, I was back home.
I returned to school and was looking forward to going to New York in a few weeks to look at colleges. Then I started coughing. Fever and exhaustion followed. I had another chest x-ray, which showed pneumonia. The doctor gave me medicine and told me to rest, but I didn’t cancel my travel plans.
My dad was staying with his cousin on Long Island while he attended work-related training in New York for two weeks. One weekend, my mom, my grandmother, and I took the Amtrak from Washington, D.C. to New York City and then boarded the Long Island Railroad so we could visit my dad and see some colleges. I don’t know if it was because I was so sick, but New York felt like another planet to me. Everyone was so loud. Everything moved so fast. The buildings in the city were so tall that I could hardly see the sky when I looked up.
I eventually recovered from the pneumonia, and my life went on. Instead of New York, I ended up moving to the New Orleans areas, which is where I lived when I suffered my second pneumothorax.
I was twenty-four, working a full-time job as a legal secretary, and going to school four nights a week to learn how to deal blackjack at a casino. I was still underweight, and stress and exhaustion consumed my life.
One morning, I was getting ready to walk out the door to go to work when I slung my backpack onto my left shoulder and happened to sneeze at the same time. That’s all it took. The pain from eight years before struck again. I knew immediately what was happening. I went to work anyway, hoping the pain would ease as it had the first time. I sat at my desk, and my boss asked how I was. I said I was okay. Then a moment later, I told her I wasn’t okay and that I thought my lung had collapsed. I went home and called my mom, crying and sweating from the intensity of the pain. She told me to go to the hospital. The pain made me so impatient that I drove myself instead of calling an ambulance.
At the hospital, I told the triage nurse what I thought had happened. She listened to my chest, didn’t hear anything weird, and thought I was being ridiculous. But the emergency room admitted me anyway. By the time the x-ray technician came to pick me up, the pain had eased to the same achy pressure I had experience the last time. Again, the x-ray revealed a pneumothorax, same location, same percentage of my lung.
I only stayed in the hospital a few hours, and I didn’t get pneumonia. I went back to work and my classes. I graduated from casino school. Then I got a full-time job at one of the riverboat casinos. I dealt blackjack for about a month (which is a whole other blog post) before I came down with a cold because of all the smoke in the casino. The next morning, I called in sick and went back to sleep. When I woke up later, my eyeballs felt like they were steaming. My glasses actually fogged up when I put them on. I checked my temperature and took a cold shower to try to reduce my fever. Then I went to the doctor. This time it was bronchitis.
Right now, I’m in self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The stress of constantly being alone has my mind playing the what-if game. What if my lung collapses again and I get sick with COVID-19? What if I don’t recover? I could actually die. I’m healthier now than I was in the past, which means the odds are in my favor that this scenario won’t occur. I worry, though, even as I try my best to be safe.