Notes from My Bunker

Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Because I am not a healthcare worker, I am at home, safe. Because I am retired, I do not have to spend time in public settings, possibly exposing myself to the coronavirus. I am appreciative though worried about every person who is working at grocery stores, drug stores and other places that provide us the necessities of life. And as for those who go to work at any of our mid-Missouri hospitals, I am inspired by your courage and compassion. Thank you.


I am hiding from the coronavirus, waiting for the day when it becomes less of a threat. In March, I was on the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a vacation with my family. Now, I seldom leave home. I wish I could step into a time machine and go back to those days on the beach, when everything normal was good and safe.

Yesterday, a young woman — I think her name was Angela — dropped off four bags of groceries, leaving them at the front door. She stood about 10 feet away and asked me to read her the expiration date on my driver’s license. I had ordered a couple bottles of wine with my groceries, and even though all it takes is one glance to see that I passed 21, maybe a lifetime or two ago, she still needed verification of my age. Angela works for Instacart (www.instacart.com), a service that allows you to shop from home, then delivers the food you select for a reasonably small price. I had never used it before. This sheltering in place is introducing all of us to new ways of doing things.

I was grateful for Angela’s service, and I hope she stays healthy. Like millions of others, I am social distancing, avoiding physical contact with friends, neighbors and the rest of the community. I am doing whatever I can to stay healthy and cheerful. So far, I’ve been lucky. Although confined indoors for most of the day, I’ve settled into a routine to help me ride out this pandemic. Usually, the idea of a pandemic is just that — an idea. Then the reality of what’s going on in the world breaks through, and I become anxious, scared about the future, worried about my family or saddened to think of all the people who are sick or who have lost friends and relatives they love. Checking to make sure my will and financial papers are in order puts me in a somber mood. But I remind myself that I am well for the time being and in the bubble of my home and family.

I’m here with my wife, Kay, and my oldest son, Mark, who had stopped in for what was supposed to be a short stay on his way to work in Colorado and New Mexico. Kay spends a lot of time in her sewing room, finishing some quilts. I spend time in my office, a small space with my computer, some books and my electronic piano. I’ve started practicing piano again, not so much because I need to improve (which I desperately do), but because it helps me to focus and to concentrate. Out of common decency and in order to keep the peace, I plug in my headphones and silence my “music” when Kay is sewing. There was nothing in our wedding vows about her enduring my efforts at piano.

My son, Mark, has had his future put on hold, and he is living in our guest bedroom, in a loft about 50 yards from our house. He works remotely on his computer most of the day, coming over to eat with us and to check up on us, making sure we don’t do anything risky. I had planned to do some work on a vacant rental property, ripping out some studs in the basement. It’s a moldy place, and my allergy and sinus problems almost always flare up in damp environments. He talked me out of it. OK, let me be more honest. We argued about it. Actually, we yelled a bit at each other. The stress we are all under is just beneath the surface of our daily activities. Eventually, I admitted that he was right and I was being stupid. It’s hard to take advice from your child, but even during a pandemic, it’s possible to learn new ways of relating to each other. Especially in a pandemic.

Before the shelter-in-place order, I had started taking spring semester classes at Osher@Mizzou Lifelong Learning Institute. I volunteer there, and as soon as in-person classes were cancelled, volunteers started meeting online. Everyone had to use Zoom, a software similar to Facetime. I now use Zoom to attend Osher’s online classes and to connect with relatives in other cities. Learning new ways to cope with the challenges of being home, day in, day out, can make the difference between merely being inconvenienced and becoming despondent.

This social isolation is tough on grandparents. Some of our friends and relatives haven’t seen their grandchildren for weeks. Although Zoom or Facetime are fairly good ways to see grandchildren screen-to-screen, some have started porch visits. They stay on the porch while talking to their grandchildren who are on the other side of storm doors or picture windows. It gives both generations a change of pace for the day.

Because it’s spring, and because I will have plenty of time around the house, I’ve started vegetable seeds indoors. I have three 3-foot planters filled with dirt and seeds, soaking up sunlight in our living room. I usually garden, but this year I am more appreciative of being able to take part in the natural process of planting and growing. It’s good to see that nature can be benevolent. I have plans to buy some chickens as well. I’ve raised chickens before, and I recommend chicken therapy to anyone needing entertainment. There is something infectiously pleasant about taking care of chickens and watching them be chickens.

I have modified my daily routine in the hopes of boosting my immune system. I exercise almost every day, walking, riding a bike or doing yardwork. The best defense against any virus – other than avoiding it or washing it off your hands – is to have a strong immune system. I find myself going to bed a little earlier than usual, and if I don’t have a good night’s sleep, I make time the next afternoon for a short nap. It’s difficult to eat healthy when you spend 24 hours a day within a few feet of your kitchen, but I try. I know some people who are good at reducing the time they spend reading or watching the news. I’m working on that. There’s only so much news a person can stand before stressing out completely.

As soon as I am assured that it’s safe to pop my head out of this comfortable foxhole, I will. When I do rejoin the world, I plan on searching for organizations that will be helping others get back on their feet. There are sure to be many new ways to help put the world back together.

As I write this, my grandniece is sheltering in place with her parents and younger brother in Charlottesville, Virginia. A few days ago, she sent us an email copy of the homework assignment her parents had given her. It was a note to an imagined older version of herself from the 6-year-old she is today. Just a few lines long, it said that she has to stay inside because there’s a virus outside. In a way, all of us who are sheltered in place are completing the same homework. We are imagining a time when life returns to normal, when we aren’t worried about a virus that can hurt us and those we love. In the meantime, we just have to hold on to that image of a future version of ourselves, enjoying a better world.

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