Caregiving During Covid

Dear Caregivers,

I’ve seen your eyes widen as people in crowded spaces coughed into the air, long before this.
I see them wider now.

I’ve seen you distribute dollops of hand sanitizer to your family members at church after passing the peace and the offering plate,
years before the shelves of Purell were bare.

I’ve seen you use your elbow to open doors and push elevator buttons,
way before COVID-19 was in our lexicon.

I’ve seen you practice social distancing during flu seasons,
well before that term was mainstream.

The fear, concern, vigilance, and practices that the world is currently struggling to adopt
have been part of your daily life and mine for years.
It only took a global pandemic for everyone else to catch up.

But just when the world is getting a glimpse of what your life is like on any given Tuesday,
you have moved on
to a new heightened level,
the current situation turning up the dial on your already challenging role
of keeping your person alive.

I see you watching your person even more closely than before, noting the way he breathes, questioning if it seems more shallow than normal.
I see you reading between the lines of every article, trying to discern just how bad this could be for your loved one.
I see you trying to stay well-informed so that you can keep your person safe, but not so informed that the panic takes over.
I see you sending messages to your medical team, trying to get wisdom from someone who knows your situation, and is also a reliable source.
I see you writing impassioned posts on social media, trying to put a face, your person’s face, in the minds of people who aren’t taking this seriously.
I see you feel the punch when someone in your life declares that they are perfectly healthy, so no virus will keep them from living their best life.
I see you imperceptibly shake your head when someone says, “Well, if I die, I die!” knowing full well that it’s not their life, but the one you’ve been doing everything to preserve, that is at risk.
I see your pulse quicken when you hear a cough from the other room where your person rests.
I see you making tough decisions about family trips, play dates for your children, visits to the store.
I see your relief that people are finally washing their hands and talking about staying home when they are sick.
I see your frustration that it’s taken them this long to get on board.
I see the tears spring to your eyes when the thermometer in your person’s ear reads a number even slightly higher than normal.
I see the wheels in your head spinning so quickly that the smoke is almost visible as you calculate a plan of attack if this fever remains.
I see you picturing your person in the photos that accompany the articles and yourself right next to that bed, an image you can easily conjure since you’ve been there so many times before.
I see the nausea rise within you as you read that the ICU beds that your person has needed many times over the years may soon be full, leaving patients – with COVID-19 or otherwise – without a place to receive care.
I see you watching the world catch up to the life you’ve been living for a long long time. Finally they, like you, can almost see the germs in the air. They, too, pay attention.
I see the hurt you feel when things like working remotely, which you had always been told was not possible, is suddenly an option for all.
I see you weighing the pros and cons of taking your person to their scheduled appointments, realizing that the risks of being in the waiting room may outweigh the benefits of being seen.
I see how fiercely you love your person and how you would throw yourself between them and an incoming sneeze without hesitation.
I see you taking vitamins, scrubbing your hands, drinking EmergenC, knowing that you Must Not Get Sick.
I see you smirk when people come to you for hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, knowing that your closet has never been without them.
I see you cringe when someone near you coughs and then, with rolling eyes says, “It’s NOT the coronavirus.”
I see you take in every soggy tissue that is left on a surface, every eye that is touched, every nose that is scratched.
I see you connect those actions to the well-being of your person.
I see you wishing that everyone else saw it too.
I see you picturing your person as the next diagnosis, their age and county being reported in the news.
I see you questioning your own health, fearful that you, of all people, would be the one to infect them.
I see you touching her forehead gently in the night, checking for a fever you’re terrified of.

In you I see:
Relief that people have finally caught up to the germ-prevention standards you’ve been using for years,
Solidarity that in those practices you’re a little less alone,
Anger that it’s taken this for people to wash their hands,
Hurt that people don’t see your beloved as reason enough to not go to the bar or to one more meeting,
Panic, just beneath the surface, that your person will be next.

Your life before this pandemic was already hard. Too hard. Ridiculously hard.
For years you have been doing the hardest and most important thing on earth:
keeping your person alive –
a job that just got exponentially harder.

I am in this with you.
I, too, am scared.
Terrified really.
Know that even as we isolate in our homes,
You are not alone.
I am here.
I see you.
We are in this together.

This piece was originally published on The Negative Space Blog as “Caregivers, I See You” on March 16, 2020.

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