In the beginning i didn’t make any preparations for the arrival of Covid-19. I remember telling a friend, “If the apocalypse comes, i trust that God will just take me when he’s ready, because the thing is…at some point, i’m going to need a dentist, and a dentist i am not. I don’t want to live in a world where i have to pull my own teeth with pliers at home.” I would think about this statement, originally said in jest, many times over the next few months. I wouldn’t have said it had i known the state we were to end up in. I wouldn’t have been in a mood to jest at all. At that time i was still following all the industry rules like a good employee. One of the rules was that we were not to wear masks in the building without a doctor’s order saying we had cancer or some kind of infectious respiratory illness. I remembered, the previous year, i had begun wearing a mask all the time noting that it prevented us from getting flu during flu season and kept us from spreading illnesses that would normally sweep through the facility like wild fire. I was called into the office and told that i had to stop wearing the mask because i was scaring people; making them think i had something communicable. I was told wearing a mask was only for people like cancer pts who had a doctor’s order allowing them to wear it because of a compromised immune system. I took the mask off and threw the rest of my self-bought masks in the company trash. They were satisfied the problem had been resolved. I knew this policy had not changed so i didn’t originally try to invest in n95 masks. I knew they wouldn’t let me wear them so what was the point in spending money to buy them? So i could wear them in the living room at home? At some point my coworker, a dedicated prepper, pulled me aside and told me i needed to go to home depot and buy myself a couple n95 masks because this thing was coming and the company was not going to have supplies for us. I didn’t think much of it but the guy was usually right when he spoke. His predictions usually came to fruition, so when he took the time to mention something, i usually went ahead and did it, cuz it usually turned out to be a good idea. Knowing he had already hit home depot, i tried lowes. I bought the last 2 packages of n95 masks in town. There were 4 masks total. I hid them in my car under a towel and jackets. This coworker would begin wearing his n95 masks before the facility allowed mask wearing and he would take a lot of flack for it. He still wore them. Better to be disobedient and alive than obedient and dead. At that point, i was already infected but his mindset taught me something. There were rules in place to keep order. But when order descended into chaos, the rules that applied to normal situations were no longer relevant. I began listening to the instinctual voice inside my head more than i did the guidelines, rules, and handbooks that were supposed to govern my behavior.
The patients began dying. They were coming down with pneumonia. They’d get this distinctive cough. And then hours to a day later they’d code. Each patient was tested for Covid-19 and each test returned negative. and yet they were dying. I began to entertain the idea that the test might not be all that accurate, or the progression of symptoms and the timing of the sample taken might be a factor. Something was giving many of our patients pneumonia and something was killing them. I’ll never know for sure what each pt died of but knowing that they were dying, and we were having little to no success reviving those who did code, i began doing room treatments long before we were supposed to. I refused to take people to the common areas, treated each person in their rooms, and whatever materials i brought into the rooms, i left there. I had patients lifting packages of wipes during bicep curls or bottles of mouthwash and lotion. I refused to take their cups to the ice machine and instead brought ice to their rooms in new plastic cups obtained from the nurses cart. I had a handful of patients who were what i considered medically fragile. I decided not to visit them at all, to stay away from them until this was over. I couldn’t risk being the one who carried something to them that resulted in them coding. I regret this decision deeply in the case of my favorite patient. She was in her 90s. She was the definition of medically fragile. She had endured a difficult life full of misfortune and heartbreak. She let me interview her once. We scheduled a date and after i had clocked out she sat with me and told me about her life. Her childhood, her young hopes and dreams, her fears, her hard learned lessons, and the wisdom she walked away with after all those years of trying. She never stopped trying. Not when war, weather, poverty, family circumstance, and a pervasive thread of young life ended too soon sought to weaken her. With nerves of steel she kept her faith in God and stood up again every time life knocked her down. She kept her bible near her chair and when the aids had helped her into it i would sometimes find her thumbing through the passages, just reading along. She was a graceful woman in every sense of the word. She carried herself with a certain poise, even with the oxygen tubes and the rollator out in front of her. She never got involved in any of the disputes or tangles between patients on her hall. Even when she had cause to complain she mostly kept her words to herself unless anyone asked for them. She had perfectly curled very fine white hair. Even on the days when she was having the worst time with her breathing she still managed to maintain her soft white curls. She always had a smile for me, regardless of what was going on in her life. That was the grace about her. She saw the lighter side of things whenever possible and tried to still be there for others when she couldn’t. She was selfless, caring, and endlessly positive. She was insightful and wise. She was my favorite. A gentle soul. I arrived one morning to find my favorite nurse crying. Her face was swollen and red. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and neck. She ran past me and through the maintenance doors where she doubled over next to the vending machine outside. The CNA informed me my favorite patient was dead. Only hours after symptoms arose she was gone. In her chair next to her bible. Now the tears stung my face. How many weeks had i been telling myself that i knew i was neglecting her but it was for the purpose of keeping her safe, that i would pop in and give her a hug when this was all over? I would never get the chance. I tried to tell myself she was with God. I tried to tell myself that was the best place for her to be; that she wouldn’t have to worry about fitting her nasal canula inside the face mask and knowing that her daughter couldn’t come see her due to the “no visitor” policy at this time. I tried to tell myself she was with God, the almighty, and she was okay. But the fact that she had died alone without any of us that loved her so, because we were potential hazards and trying to keep her safe; it weighed on me and i cried for days. As a healthcare professional i dealt with death on a daily basis but that one weighed on me, on everyone who knew her. My favorite nurse pulled herself together to finish her shift but she still cries at the mention of this patient’s name. It was hard to work in healthcare at this time. The thing that was hard about it was that they were all dying at once. We were used to losing a patient once in a while and there were always ten to twelve around christmas each year, but not multiple pts per week. Sometimes per day. I became accustomed to the site of the morgue van. I watched the velvet bags on gurneys roll through the doors time and time again. I watched frustrated and exhausted nurses give their all to fruitless cpr. We tried. But they continued dying. I began to notice that every patient that developed a specific type of cough died shortly after. Nobody believed me so i stopped talking about it and drew my conclusions to myself. I knew when i heard this cough that the pt was doomed. It broke my heart. The nurses were testing the pts for covid, treating the symptoms that arose…they were doing everything they could for them. All the tests returned negative. There was nothing i could think to do that would save these patients we were somehow losing. But when i heard that cough, i knew, i had better make my last words to them meaningful. My favorite male patient was from my little town. He was recovering from a hospital procedure and had a very involved and loving wife. She visited him every day and really only went home to sleep and shower. They’d been together forever and she had sort of always been the one that organized his scattered creativity. They were good together, like peanut butter and jelly. When Covid-19 began to spread we enacted a “no visitor” policy to keep the residents safe and all of a sudden he was without his wife. He was sort of lost without her. He spent a lot of his time staring at the wall or wandering aimlessly throughout the room. I tried to open his window blinds, get him books from our library, or get him interested in any of the channels on tv, but he only asked for one thing, “i want to see my wife”. He had this vest that he was supposed to wear at all times. It was supposed to monitor his heart and if it detected that he was having a heart attack it would give him a shock. Since the “no visitor” policy went into effect he had stopped keeping up with the vest. He frequently let the batteries run down and either i or the nurse would find the charged ones sitting in the dock and give him heck about not changing them. I was doing just that; nagging him about watching over himself and keeping up with the batteries, for his and his wife’s sake when i heard him cough. My heart sank and i froze. He coughed again. There it was; the distinct cough i had come to know in all my patients that had died. Dramatic and a little airy with no productive sounds and a tiny crackly after-noise at the end. I fought back tears. In that moment i knew, he wasn’t going to see his wife again. I couldn’t say things like “when this is over” and “you will, just not right now” to him. I finished putting the batteries into their pockets and helped thread his arms through the vest. I wasn’t sure what to do. If he had the cough, then he was sick. Possibly dangerous to his wife. There was nothing i could do to get them together one last time. He coughed again. As i turned towards the door he grabbed my hand and said, “i want to see my wife.” I squeezed his hand, “i know buddy.” I blinked, trying to hide the tears soaking into my mask. I wanted to tell him he was one of my favorites, partly because of his stubborn nature and partly because of the love he and his wife had fostered for each other over the years. They had clearly been through good times and bad, thick and thin, and they had stuck with each other and never stopped caring about each other whether they were in a good place or a difficult one. They had ridden the rollercoaster of life together and never let go of each other’s hands and for that i was proud of them. I wanted to tell him it would be okay. Instead, i turned on the television and told him i needed him to watch a couple of those house-flipping shows and tell me if he saw any interesting looking wall shelves because i was thinking about putting some in the living room in my tiny house but didn’t want anything too bulky. He said he’d keep an eye out for something that might look nice in a small space and i left the room. I took my break, sat in the car, and cried. The following morning the morgue came with the gurney to pick him up. I watched them take him and i cried again. I didn’t know why. It was our job to be healthcare professionals. It was our job to follow protocol, observe rules. It wasn’t our job to be invested in the outcome, but with some of them it was hard not to. They were each people; humans with lives and families that loved them. It was hard to see them go in these new and strange circumstances as family was not able to have the closure of saying goodbye.
By now i had realized that life as i knew it was changing and i needed to make some preparations in response. Firstly; supplies. I had not ordered any. I needed to get on that. I ordered six months of my medication and both dogs’ medications. I bought 9 bags of dog food over the course of a month (as the coupons kept arriving in the mail), a couple bags of chicken feed, immune support supplements, a couple buffs, and masks. The masks, as it turned out, were on back order until september. I would receive 200 n95 masks in september of 2020. Better late than never, i thought. It was a decision i took 4 days to come to. I couldn’t see the point as i had no plan for what to do between march and september but, something told me if i was going to obtain masks, i had better do it before i had to wait until 2021 to receive a mask. So i clicked “purchase”. I began sterilizing my 4 used n95 masks on the steam setting in the instant pot i had in the kitchen. I would haul it into the yard, plug it in, and steam my masks outside, then hang them up to dry. Once the weather became hot i switched to placing them in the car in bags and parking in direct sunlight with all the windows rolled up. I sterilized my jacket, head scarf, and 2 buffs in the same way. I bought 8 large prepper supply buckets of brown rice; also on back order, this time until november. My thought was that rice was something humans, dogs, and chickens could all eat, so if i wanted to prepare my little fur and feathered family for the worst and hope for the best, rice was the way to go.
Then I realized i probably should try to secure some way to grow vegetables to feed myself on the property. I knew, with biblical proportions of grasshoppers, jack rabbits, and deer as well, just fencing off an area was not an option. So i ordered a green house. I had been saving for a $4,000 green house with solar power controlled vents and fans. It required a semi truck to deliver and a crew of professionals to assemble. I had neither the money nor the circumstances (social distancing rules) to get a crew out to the property to assemble such a thing. So i bought a small $500 one from walmart. The instructions said 2 to 4 people were required for assembly. I figured i could make that work with one person better than a structure that was supposed to require 8 to 10. I decided i would drill holes in toy boxes, fill them with dirt, and place them in the greenhouse, as i had a thousand billion termites living on the 2 acres and needed to find some way to exclude wood completely from the project. i bought what was left of the seed packets in the dollar general, one of each kind of vegetable available, and ordered a few others online. They were on back order but arrived right before may.
Right before i fell ill i had ordered a chicken coop and kennel with a canvas roof from tractor supply. It became ready for pickup when i was in the thick of it and i had to call and ask them to hold onto it for me until i was out of quarantine. Once i was fever free and back at work i knew i would need to go get, haul, and erect the structures because the chickens were already way too big for the bathroom and i wasn’t sure how long tractor supply would hold it for me. None of my friends with trucks were available and sitting in the car together wouldn’t have been social distancing compliant anyway. So, i drove to enterprise, traded my suv for a f-150, drove to tractor supply, had the employees load the shipment into the bed of the truck with a fork lift, they helped me strap it down, and i drove it back to the property. There i unloaded the bed of the truck piece by piece, put all the items in the extension shed, drove the f-150 back to town, and swapped it out for my suv again. Mission accomplished.
Erecting structures that called for multiple people to assemble was difficult enough. On top of that i was doing it with extreme fatigue and severe muscle/joint pain. I am not proud of my behavior during the time i had covid symptoms and was trying to build things. There were a lot of tears. There were a lot of expletives. There were times when i was crawling through the dirt mumbling about mf’s and f’ing picture instructions or g’d warped screws. There were many times when i turned my face to the sky in frustration and made a guttural animalistic noise while trying to do something that normally would have been so simple with a screw driver or a drill, but i lacked the strength to get it done. While dealing with covid-19 symptoms i erected a green house, a chicken coop, a roofed chicken pen, dug a 6 inch trench around the chicken pen, and erected a mosquito net tent. Tasks that would normally have taken eight hours took 20. It was not graceful. My words were not kind, and i behaved more like an animal than a lady, but i got it done. I moved the chickens into their new space outside and i planted the seedlings i had sprouted in the house.
I bought an avocado tree, an orange tree, a pecan tree, a mulberry tree, and a pear tree. I also bought a grape vine and a blackberry plant. I hauled them back to the property with the idea that i was going to dig holes and plant them. I would end up waiting until may to dig the holes for the trees. I didn’t have the strength to lift the metal stick with enough force to break the rock beneath.
The stores were out of water and when there was bottled water to be had, each person could only purchase one. I needed water for myself, two dogs, and 6 birds. I was in trouble. On the property there was a sulfur well. The sulfur content was so far off the charts that they couldn’t even tell me how much sulfur was present because the device wouldn’t measure it. If we drank the water raw severe diarrhea and dehydration could result. If we drank the water after the softener it was salt water. My grandmother ended up saving me. She sent me a half gallon water filter. I suddenly had a method to render our well water drinkable.
My neighbor left me some aloe vera plants hanging on the fence. I planted those.
I became good at scavenging. I found every grasshopper, worm, caterpillar, junebug, pill bug, scorpion, walking stick, and cricket that moved within 4 feet of me. I pulled the legs off a couple grasshoppers and fried them in oil for a bit of protein but for the most part i fed the bugs to the chickens. I also dug up wild onions and picked dandelion greens for myself. I was hungry. See, i worked all day so by the time i made it to the grocery store everything was gone. The shelves were empty. Also, i had run up a tab on the credit card buying all this stuff and forbid myself to buy anything new until i had paid it off. so, i ate plain rice, oats, rice gruel, beans, and lentils out of the pantry. I longed for a different taste/texture. Whatever food i could find on the property, i gathered.
Eventually i would order a yogurt maker and a bread maker (on back order) so i could be making food and working at the same time. I would begin making yogurt in my home out of oat milk.
There will be pictures and stories about each preparation in the following posts. Truthfully, all these preparations were made while i was still recovering and the memories run together in a blur. I felt i had to get them down on paper and i will describe them with more detail soon.