Everything Seemed to Just… Stop

Illustration: Jim Cooke/Gizmodo
Illustration: Jim Cooke/Gizmodo

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Anonymous, nurse, Missouri

All things told, my family has been really lucky so far. I was pregnant when the virus started popping up in the US, but talking to my obstetrician and friends who work in maternal-fetal medicine I was hearing the virus wouldn’t be a big deal; I was even advised to try and get it so I could clear the infection and know I wouldn’t need to be separated from the baby at or immediately after birth. Then in the third week of March everything turned on a dime. My friends started seeing some scary shit in pregnant woman, like problems with placentas, and the infection rate in health care workers spiked. All of a sudden I was advised to go home, to quarantine immediately, and to stay there until the baby was six weeks old.

I thank my lucky stars every day that both my work and my husband’s were understanding. His boss was pregnant too and got the same advice the same day, so I think that helped. I went from having six weeks to prepare for maternity leave and train another nurse to work my clinic to six hours. I worked on adrenaline to clean out my inbox, get a semblance of order in place, do a little documentation, and walked out not knowing what I would come back to: if my clinic would make it through the changes I saw coming; if I would have a job to come back to in three months. I picked up my daughter from day care shaking and crying from nerves and stress.

And then everything seemed to just… stop. My husband picked up the next day working from home. I turned a corner of our living room into a school, started lesson planning, tried to give our daughter structure and consistency, keep her entertained, and make sure she stayed on track for kindergarten readiness. I have always loved teachers, but I have a newfound appreciation for pre-K teachers after those few weeks. The rest of March and all of April were interminable, a blur of boredom and isolation and stress: waiting for the baby, arranging grocery pick-ups, pandemic schooling, the same walk twice a day every day up and down our road. My obstetrician visits were absolute high points. My husband and daughter were both jealous that I got to go somewhere, talk to people face-to-face outside our little family unit.

We went into the hospital for a planned induction and my daughter went to stay with my parents. Delivery went smoothly. I was lucky to be able to have my husband with me, and my doctor was happy to discharge me the next day. By then, early May, my area had been really successful in flattening the curve through an aggressive shut down, and we felt fairly confident leaving the hospital that our risk of having been exposed was low. We anticipated a quiet few weeks at home, a continuing downward trend of infection rates, and a return to normalcy as we were ready to reenter the world once the baby hit six weeks.

That was extremely naive. My husband’s mother, who is retired and lives very close to us and enjoys spending a lot of time with our older daughter, was essentially tired of lockdown and had resumed her life as usual. My husband had to do a lot of hard work with his family establishing boundaries. His mother and grandmother met the baby for the first time through our storm door, and it took a while for them to take quarantine seriously enough to be able to come in and hold her and see our older daughter. We had all the stress and exhaustion of having a newborn without any help, without the fun parts of showing off the new baby. It was extra hard on our older daughter having no contact with her friends and then going from at least having me doing our version of homeschooling to basically being on her own to entertain herself during the work day for several weeks.

By the time the baby was six weeks old, my husband’s employer was recalling the people they had allowed to work from home and he returned to the office. Cases were still very low in our area, so at the same time our daughter started back to day care while I spent the last two weeks of my FMLA [ed note: Family Medical Leave Act] home with the baby. I’ve been back at work now for three weeks; the baby is in an in-home day care with two other babies, and our daughter is attending a kindergarten jumpstart summer program through our school district.

As of now, cases are increasing exponentially in our county and surrounding areas. We live in a GOP-controlled state that never implemented any kind of meaningful statewide policies to control disease spread or to support residents as the economy tanked. My husband’s company had its first positive case today; the owner’s response was to gather all the employees together and tell them if they feel unsafe coming into work that he understands and to notify HR you won’t be returning. Who knows how many exposures I have had from my patients, coworkers, people in the building, or the surgeons who use our back stairwell and never wear masks. Our city has finally implemented a masking order but compliance is mediocre and surrounding communities have voted similar ordinances down. The hospital I work in is one of two major hospitals in the area that serve people from multiple states; there is not another significant hospital for 161 km in any direction.

Having been back in the clinic and the hospital I’ve seen firsthand now what covid can do to people. It’s been really difficult returning to work. I feel like I went through the trauma of the pandemic, of isolation and fear of the unknown, for the first time in March as a civilian and now I’m experiencing it for the first time all over again as a health care worker. All my coworkers are already a bit jaded, almost desensitised to it. Conversations about how to prevent pressure sores on the faces of prone patients are commonplace for them, and a new shock for me.

I know from experience that there’s no way to know who will be affected and how badly, but getting the virus isn’t my primary fear any more. We’re controlling all the risks that we can. What keeps me up at night are all the things we can’t control. As our daughter transitions into kindergarten at the end of August, we go from relying on day care provided through my employer to the school district.

Our school district’s current plan is full steam ahead, full-time in-person learning beginning before Labour Day. They’re masking “as possible” and distancing “as possible” and cleaning more, but I am not at all confident in the school’s ability to control and minimise the spread of infection. It’s a great district with excellent educators, but it’s a mixed rural/suburban district with little available guidance from the public health department and facing some really significant budget cuts from the state at a time when they need more funding, not less. The plan is to move to “blended learning” if there are “extenuating circumstances”. They don’t have a definition (at least that they are providing to the public) for what either of those are. The more urban school district next door is assigning kids to two days of in-person learning, three days of virtual per week. I’m terrified of my daughter’s school shutting down or going part-time like this, but if they were to announce a start to the semester that way or at least what the threshold is for closing down I could plan for it.

We are among the lucky in this part of the country that we both have been able to work through this entire thing without furlough and with me receiving only small reductions in my benefits. I am extraordinarily privileged in that I was able to take so much time off both before and after the birth, almost all paid through a combination of emergency covid leave, maternal leave, and accrued PTO. But now I’ve exhausted my FMLA leave for the year and am out of PTO. I make very little money for a nurse; I chose my field for passion, and though I get a generous amount of PTO and great insurance and other perks that in ordinary times help make up for it, after deductions and daycare I bring home less than $US600 ($837) a month. We’re absolutely dependent on my husband’s check for expenses. If schools close, I am pretty immediately in a position where I have to leave my job to take care of our kindergartener.

If I stop working, we then have to figure out insurance coverage for the girls. There’s no way of knowing how long I would be out of work, and then there’s no way to know how long it might take me to find work again. My husband and I have long joked that I should go work at Costco because it would almost double my salary but that seems less and less like a joke. I worry about what time off could mean for my long-term earning potential. What will time out of kindergarten mean for the socialisation of our daughter? What kind of trauma is she accruing through all of this uncertainty? Her comfort with the terms “quarantine” and “social distancing” and “contagion” bothers me. We bought a rattle for the baby shaped like a dandelion head and I caught her playing with it and her Barbies; she had cast the rattle as the bad guy and named it Coronavirus.

Taking care of one of us if we get sick, I feel totally confident about. Rest, hydration, symptom management, and I know when to seek more aggressive care. What’s terrifying are all the unknowns and how angry I feel all the time. It didn’t have to go like this. Our government has failed us and continues to fail us every day. I don’t know what to do except to keep working, to save what we can, and to keep doing what we’re doing. I guess the only way out is through.

Anonymous, library multimedia technician, New York

For the first three months we were working from home. I spent most of my time collaborating with a co-worker on a bi-weekly newsletter. Most of that info was about how patrons could access our library offerings online and the ways that our local social services were still progressing — if at all.

Recently, that has all changed. First, it started with offering patrons the option to pick up books in our parking lot. The problem is that while we tell them they have to wear a mask, we were never really given any real direction. Even if they don’t wear a mask we were told we could just throw it in their back window or in their trunk.

Our building was a hangout for much of the local population. We spent a lot of time running people out who were doing drugs or had brought their tobacco in to roll it during the cold winters of New York. We aren’t seeing those folks anymore. We don’t know where they went.

Now the building is supposed to be open for half-hour computer sessions. The problem is that the ones who want to come into the building for computers simply want to do it to be near people and to order things. Instead of using the computers for job applications or to look for some sort of support, people are coming in to look for movies to order or to print things out. We have arrows on the floor and our shelves are marked off but no one is paying any attention. People will walk in even though the signs say “we are closed” and “you need an appointment.” We are afraid of what will happen to us when the spike happens again in New York.

The talk has already begun that we are going to open shelves in two weeks. We don’t want that. As it is people don’t wear masks on the street. The governor is threatening to shut down restaurants and we can’t even test people coming in to see if they have a high temperature. While we are behind Plexiglas at the counter it will do little if the virus gets into our vents and spreads around the building. What then? What will the masks do? I know it’s rough for people on the front line and I appreciate what they do. Is browsing a library shelf or using a computer for half an hour to look up something to order from another library an essential service? I don’t think so and many of my colleagues agree.

Honestly I Just Want to Get Off This Ride

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and...

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Rev. Kimberly Rapczak, palliative care chaplain, Pennsylvania

Financially I’m fine, though I worry about the hit my retirement investments have taken. I’m only a few years away from retirement and now may have to put it off.

I’ve been working from home for four and a half months, which is a challenge for a chaplain. I sit at my kitchen table all day and call the family members of seriously ill patients to offer spiritual and emotional support. I have several spiritual care volunteers working with me from their homes, making the same types of calls. I set up a call list for them every day, and then enter their call summaries into the patients’ charts. I also chart my own calls. Electronic health records make this possible. Family members are grateful for the supportive calls, especially when they can’t visit their loved ones in the hospital. It is especially traumatic for families whose loved ones are hospitalized with covid.

It’s very difficult emotionally because I am used to interacting with patients and coworkers. I live alone and don’t go out much because of my age and pre-existing conditions. I’m getting depressed. I’d like to go back to the hospital on a daily basis, but I am afraid of being infected with the virus. The work I do is emotionally draining and it is hard not having the camaraderie of the palliative care team.

Chad, UPS journeyman mechanic, location not provided

Financially I am better than some. Emotionally I am more affected by my 9-year-old son who is having random breakdowns and anxiety. We do what we can to provide an enriching environment but my social butterfly doesn’t have his wings.

I was quarantined back in April with no test or offer of a test after running a fever. I had no fever after a couple days and was released back to work. Then on June 16 my dad called confirming he and my mother were positive. So we were quarantined by the [Redacted] County health department. This time we all were tested twice and both times came back negative. The only real issue I had was the handling of my “covid pay” through UPS. I submitted the same form and application the day I was quarantined. I have yet to see my pay and it forced me to use my only existing vacation week. I was informed last week Friday July 3rd that I was approved but still have not seen my pay.

My son’s mother works for the state and that is a whole other issue as she has been unpaid or not fully paid, and unemployment keeps rejecting her requests for assistance even though half her coworkers have received benefits. Calls to the unemployment office have been useless and unhelpful as she keeps hitting walls with no explanation.

We are a running peak Christmas numbers everyday. Every. Single. Day.

We are all worn out.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.