We’re well into August, a full five months into the not-so-brave new world of COVID-19. Much of the world has settled into a new routine, coping with the pandemic sweeping the planet. A few countries, notably the U.S., Brazil, and India, are in various states of denial, while the disease and its economic consequences rage on. The outcome is not yet clear, but it will take doing something different than the current course.
In our personal lives, we’re holding our own. The government hasn’t stopped our monthly retirement stipend yet, and most of our medical bills are still being paid. We found out in July that our trips to the chiropractor for early treatment of my sciatica symptoms were denied: our provider was no longer on the preferred list. We did, in July, finally get our semi-annual dental checkup. The new rules apply: arrive at the appointed time, phone from the parking lot, after which the hygienist comes to the car, takes the patient’s temperature and asks the usual screening questions about travel, contacts, and health, after which the patient is led through the empty waiting room to the treatment room, removes the mask, gargles with disinfectant (a dilute H2O2 solution), and the exam proceeds more or less normally, with extra precautions, and the financial arrangements are handled in the exam room. Mask back on, and out the door.
My physical therapy treatments are progressing, and should conclude soon. The homework exercises are very much like our yoga practice had been, though much more intense, with 40 repetitions instead of two or three. We have resumed or normal practice, on the porch or in the living room, with the added moves. The weekly visits to the clinic add new tortures every week, but most now proceed without pain, except for the strain of using muscles correctly and strengthening neglected ones. I’ve progressed from hobbling along with my second (third, fourth?) hand walker on the paved pathways between the college and the high school to jaunts around the neighborhood, and, lately, to using our trekking poles to tackle the steep hills of the neighborhood. Which, of course, tempts us to wander off-road into the steep and loose forest trails. And, we did. Judy puts up with me, to an extent. So far, we’ve managed to not get injured a long way from the road, but I’ve come to an understanding that some of these adventures are not wise. The walks started out 1 km, 2 km, progressing to 4 km, and up to 7 km.
I’ve even progressed to driving again, though grateful for cruise control, as my throttle foot is the one that’s damaged, and this period of infirmity has affected range of motion on my ankle, the legacy of an old (1955) leg injury that healed while my bones were still growing. Ten years of stretching in yoga gained back a few millimeters of motion, which are now lost again. There is some residual pins-and-needles numbness that is persistent, but getting better week by week. We’ve been cautiously visiting with our son and his family every few weeks during this period: they’ve come to us, and we sit on the porch. This last time, we went to them, visiting on their patio. Having the opportunity to go to “the big city,” we decided to try shopping in person at our warehouse chain (Costco), to pick up some items not offered through the on-line shipping service. We’re not used to crowds, anymore, so it wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience. Unlike the local grocery, the aisles have not been make one-way, so dodging for distance is a chore. Everyone is required to wear a mask, but many pull them off immediately on exiting the store. We stopped at a Starbucks for the first time in five months, using the drive-through, a new experience also, as we prefer to go into the store with our own reusable travel mugs. The touch-less transaction with a phone app makes it seem a bit more sanitary and safe.
Nearing the end of my physical therapy, I had a followup visit with my primary physician. New rules as the pandemic surges in our state, and–alarmingly–particularly in our rural county, brought back more stringent rules on family accompaniment, so I got dropped off at the doctor’s office and called for pickup at the end: I would have driven myself, had we known. The rules change day to day, depending on the statistics. Same with the physical therapy. We’ve been used to having the person not being treated take notes so medical visits have always been a family affair: no longer, again.
But, with the medical ordeals nearing an end, I’ve gotten permission for light bicycling. Judy insists I do some test runs on the stationary bicycle before breaking out the tandem, so I’ve set up my old 1979 Fuji on the porch. It’s the only one that fits on the wind-trainer stand, but it’s fine for that purpose. Workouts are normal, without the traffic or hills of actual road work, but boring.
Having had limited excursions before my unfortunate confinement, and two months of very limited movement, other than trips to medical services and our recent walks, Judy decided we needed a road trip, which took us to our resort club facility in Birch Bay, near the Canadian border, where we spent two nights, taking advantage of the greatly-reduced tourist season to walk to the nearby state park on the bay, and, later, an excursion by car to the border, where we saw the impact of the border closing: the International Peace Park divided in half, with the Canadian side closed entirely and the Iconic Peace Arch, with its inscriptions of “Children of a Common Mother,” “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity” and “May These Gates Never Be Closed” covered up, the entire 20-meter-high monument shrouded in construction plastic and fenced in [ostensibly for “normal maintenance”], and the common area between the approaches to the border checkpoints surrounded by construction zone tape. The border is closed, for the first time in over 200 years since the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812. The U.S. Border Patrol kept a close eye on us through the darkened glass of their patrol vehicle as we retreated through the State Park parking lot back to our car, parked on the street outside the park. On the other side of the parking lot, an electronic surveillance truck continually scans the fence-less section of the border, six meters across the grass from the curb on ”0“ Street in Surrey, BC.
On Saturday morning, before checking out, we drove up to the Semiahmoo Spit and hiked the trails through the county park, out to the resort and marina and back. Other than three drive-through trips to coffee shops, and the seemingly obligatory review of our ownership status with the resort staff, we had no contact with others. On our walks, mask-wearing appeared to be a political statement, though we didn’t linger to ask the affiliations of those we steered clear of, masked or not: most people crossed the street or stepped off the trail to maintain the required distance. We had a properly-distanced conversation with a woman from Florida who, with her remote-working husband, are thinking of relocating permanently to western Washington, as a “safer” option to Florida. Most shops and some restaurants remained closed even in the height of the summer vacation season. Birch Bay, close to the border, normally enjoys visitors from both countries, so the lack of our Canadian cousins in residence was certainly a large part of the slowdown, in addition to the reluctance to travel among a large segment of the American population.
At home, we settled in, glad to be back, and probably won’t venture out again beyond our county until the meager tourist season comes to an end in cooler, wetter weather. We continue to go on our walks, which have been averaging 5-7 km (3-4.5 miles). We thought we would hike the Goldsborough Creek Trail near the Senior Center, and explore further up the old Simpson Railway, but the trailhead lot was full and there were a lot of people visible at the trail entrance, so we drove west up the highway, turning off on a side road to the rail line, then hiked down the rails back toward town. We were surprised by a group of pedal rail cars from Vance Creek Railcars that passed us. We hadn’t known they were back in business this year. The four-passenger pedal cars were spaced apart, with family groups sharing cars. We continued on, stepping off the tracks again as they returned later. We turned around at the railcar turn-around point, as the weeds weren’t mowed past that point, for a total of 6 km. Now that we know the pedal cars are running, we may take in that outing before the end of summer. It’s a 13-mile (22 km) round trip, should be OK within the guidelines for easing back into bicycling–I’ve been cleared for walking as much as I can, but restricted to short bicycle trips until completely healed up.
So it goes. The organizations to which we belong are adapting to the no-meeting, no-contact rules, planning video-conferencing meetings and programs to keep the spirit going. On a trip to the hospital laboratory for a blood draw last week, the receptionist, typing with gloves and enunciating through a mask, expressed exasperation, wishing for an end to the precautions. My response was, “We’re not going back, at least not for a long time. Things will be different in the future, but probably never the way they were. Meanwhile, we need to live the life we have.”
Chapter 11 of this journal series struck me as an analogue of the bankruptcy rules for reorganization. That’s where we are now: restructuring how we live our lives and interact with others. The season for hunkering down in isolation is over, an unsustainable situation. We need to restructure and reorganize, decide what parts of our lives and our economy we can do without and what parts need to be done differently. We’re in both a medical and an economic crisis. The country needs to pull together to reinvent ourselves, with a new “New Deal” to put people back to work, safely. It’s a chance to rebuild our infrastructure, with real public works, not a giveaway to keep people in place, and, despite popular opinion, it’s not socialism, either. Our current administration isn’t being realistic about what is necessary or possible: it’s time everyone realizes we are at the beginning of a long recovery that will take hard work and cooperation, not just an inconvenient temporary disruption.