The historically painful year of 2020 finally came to an end. The ball dropped in Times Square with no revelers allowed. At that point 342,000 Americans had lost their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic and the numbers were growing. Donald Trump’s administration was becoming more and more chaotic. For my part, I helped vote him out of office, published a book, and learned how to cure a wart. Also, due to painfully arthritic knees, I went from being socially active to being homebound and bedridden.
Our country was very polarized and at times seemed near civil war between Trump lovers and Never Trumpers. Whether to wear face masks to curb spread of the virus became a stupidly politicized issue. There was turmoil as the president was impeached. Angry crowds took to the streets to protest police brutality toward blacks. The economy was falling apart and there were long food lines. Did the good things outweigh the bad? I don’t think so, but I continued to search for a bright side.
My year began with the decision to publish the collection of life stories posted to my blog. A fellow member of Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG) agreed to help me. We worked on it through January and part of February. Also in January, our Life History group was still meeting in person to read our stories aloud. I was enjoying those meetings and lunches out with friends. A few of us writer friends were meeting monthly at Blue Highway for lunch, then coming to my house to read our stories to each other.
Because I was ninety, and quite disabled by osteoarthritis, I had stopped driving. A WAG member would come to my house and drive me to meetings in my car. My friends’ cars were either too high or too low for me to get into. With a friend driving me, I was still attending WAG meetings in person and enjoying frequent visits with WAG members. I was using a walker, or holding onto a person for support, but life was very good. This was back in the good old days before the coronavirus pandemic completely disrupted and shut down our way of living.
In spite of many unexpected glitches and frustrations, my friend, Susie, kept overcoming all difficulties and got my book SUNSETS AND BUZZARDS published and available through Amazon on February 22nd. Susie had worked her artistry on the book cover, adding pictures of buzzards where appropriate, and making me quite happy with the end result. She had chosen the right font, paper color, line spacing and made other good choices. I had chosen the larger print. We were both pleased.
Talk of the coronavirus danger was dominating the news, along with reports of Trump’s erratic behavior. The virus started with one case in California, then quickly spread across the country as we watched the growing number of daily deaths. By spring, many people had started wearing masks and practicing social distancing to prevent spread of the deadly disease. Writers meetings were no longer in person, but on-line. We all learned to participate from home using Zoom. Up through May, I could have friends visit on my back porch where we wore masks and sat six feet apart to avoid infecting each other. By June it was too hot to be outside, so we stopped meeting in person.
I was beginning to think about end of life issues. I believed all states should pass laws that allow an ailing elderly patient to choose when to end his or her life. We do nicely planned comfortable deaths for pets. Why not for humans? During visits with my doctor, I started to ask questions about Hospice. He was not pleased. Rather than plan a death with Hospice, he wanted to be allowed to practice his pharmaceutical methods for keeping me alive as long as possible. He prescribed an opioid for the pain in my knees. It made me act spacey, so I quickly stopped it.
In July, I could no longer stand alone and suddenly became bedridden. The adjustment to that drastic change in my life was a shock. Four willing caregivers were found to take turns coming here to bathe, dress, toilet, and medicate me. They brought me food in bed. I did not like the intrusion into my privacy, but I needed the help and learned to appreciate them. I worked hard at not yelling at them or treating them like the enemy. They were kind-hearted women willing to deal with cleaning my snap-in dentures and other bodily messes. Plus, there was no social life except for them and a monthly visit from the Hospice Palliative doctor.
Meanwhile, there was extreme polarization and unrest in the country. Fox news and other right-wing social media spread misinformation promoting Trump and calling the pandemic a hoax. Many Trump supporters believed it. I got my news from the more reasonable CNN and left-leaning MSNBC. I trusted the scientists who were wearing masks and working on a vaccine to stop the massive killing. Americans were dying at the rate of more than a thousand a day. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Bodies of victims were stacking up. Crowds took to the streets in protest of police brutality against blacks. There seemed to be a racial and immigration ground-swell demanding equality, acceptance, and diversity. The movement was fueled by police shootings of unarmed black people. Trump’s obvious racism didn’t help.
Each day I spent some time in my motorized chair. Someone had to lift me, or use a sliding board to move me from bed to chair and back. The power chair got me to different rooms in the house. I sometimes sat by the kitchen window watching birds at the feeders or talking on the phone. Other times I sat in the den with my iPad, enjoying a lighted scented gift candle, an online crossword puzzle, and music from my playlist of five hundred favorite songs. One successful purchase was an electric-arc candle lighter as my hands were too arthritic and unreliable to safely use matches. When inspired to write, I positioned my power chair in front of the computer in my bedroom and worked on a story.
The Matheson museum in Gainesville, in cooperation with WAG, was publishing a collection of stories by local authors about how each of us had made it through the Covid-19 crisis. I submitted a story and it was accepted. Also, wanting to participate in WAG’s digital Sunshine State Book Festival, I asked for grandson Stephen’s help in creating a required video of myself promoting my book. On Stephen’s next visit from Philadelphia, he arrived with all his recording equipment and excelled at making the video which can be seen online during the book festival beginning January 30th.
In the meantime, I was giving away autographed copies of SUNSETS AND BUZZARDS, and watching modest book sales through Amazon. Each $3.61 cent royalty deposited in my bank account brought me great pleasure, but not as much as the words of praise for my writing. One complete stranger from Connecticut discovered my blog, contacted me, and bought a hard-cover copy of the book.
Not so nice was the worrisome wart that sprang up on my forearm. I was confined to bed and could not get in the car to go see my dermatologist. The very helpful Hospice palliative care doctor suggested covering it with duct tape, which I did. After a few weeks, the wart was gone! This same doctor visited me once a month with other helpful advice and prescriptions. After trying me first on a lower dose of opioids and various hemp products, she put me on steroids and “Voila!” It was like night and day. I no longer cried out from knee pain when being moved, and I was even-tempered and reasonable with my caregivers.
I gave up the last trace of my modesty and dignity as kind-hearted women took care of my snap-in dentures and constant need for clean sheets. They monitored my bowel action, bladder, and urinary tract infections. They examined my body for bed sores. I was shampooed weekly, with a disposable, hospital type shampoo shower cap. Unable to get in the shower, I was bathed with a warm washcloth in crevasses like between my toes and behind my ears. I was accepting all this care, waiting for something to end my life. I couldn’t go to the dentist or stand at the sink, so my teeth were not properly cared for and my mouth was sore. I couldn’t go to the eye doctor so my trifocals no longer fit my needs. I couldn’t get in the car so I wasn’t able to go get a flu shot. I couldn’t wear my hearing aids because they were uncomfortable in bed. I was quite deaf and hardly understood a word anybody said, even on TV or in a movie.
I didn’t see an end to this. I was under Hospice palliative care where I wanted to be, but I was too healthy to die any time soon. With such excellent care I could live a long time. The problem was I didn’t want to live a long time under these rather demeaning and isolating circumstances. I asked would I “off” myself if I knew how? I was not sure. It was costing thousands of dollars a month to live this rather useless life that I was not enjoying. Did the good things outweigh the bad? I couldn’t decide. In October I passed my ninety-first birthday and felt like I should be through living. I had lived a long life and summed it up in writing. What else was expected of me? Ironically, while I preached “death with dignity” I was a perfect example of the opposite practice which I disdained.
My Spotify playlist of five hundred favorite songs, mostly jazz, brought me great pleasure, but was that worth staying alive for? I didn’t know. Then came some new reasons for being hopeful. Covid-19 vaccines were about to be available to all people and we would no longer lose three to four thousand Americans a day to this horrific virus. Though Donald Trump refused to accept it, he did lose the November election and would soon be officially out of power. There might be some normalcy again. But we couldn’t relax. The pandemic continued to worsen and in December we learned of a massive and disturbing cyber-hack by Russia.
I was well aware of being blessed with supportive family and friends. My very helpful daughter drove from Maryland to spend Christmas week with me. My caregivers seemed to enjoy caring for me. One of them gifted me a tiny live Christmas tree. It was adorable and had tiny red blinking lights. One of my creative grandchildren sent me homemade Jewish apricot rugelach for Christmas. Some sent warm socks. Others wrote me Haikus.
So, there was some cause for hope, but I didn’t have a plan or goal or reason for moving ahead. I had thought I was through with life, but apparently, ready or not, there was more to come. At ninety-one, I had to find a new purpose, a goal, a new reason for living. It was not my nature to lie in bed much of the day, useless and unproductive. The dreadful year of 2020 ended with me in a mental quandary regarding my future. My next year’s calendar was a big blank with a question mark. I did not feel mentally or emotionally prepared for 2021. To spend another year, disabled and confined to bed, was not part of my plan. Without a purpose, I began the new year befuddled, unsure, and looking for answers.
I do plan to document whatever lies ahead.