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Fear, panic, the president, and the COVID-19 pandemic

Cindy La Ferle

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” ~Bob Marley

This week it’s been hard to shake the feeling that I’m living in an episode of The Walking Dead. The entire first floor of our home looks like a disaster relief center, with boxes of kitchen equipment, dinnerware, and canned goods piled on every available surface. 

As you might guess, we’re in the middle of a kitchen remodeling — a lousy project to have in process while the nation is battling the coronavirus pandemic

Is anything, anywhere, not in a state of turmoil or upheaval?

Adding to the drama of our national emergency last week, my husband had a gruesome accident with a table saw (too complicated to explain here) that required an ambulance ride to Beaumont Hospital’s ER, then orthopedic hand surgery early Thursday morning. 

Thankfully, Doug’s left hand will recover from the damages in time. He’s in good spirits, and is following the surgeon’s instructions for optimal healing between office appointments. Surprisingly, to me, he’s able to function well enough with his right hand — and I’m doing my best to clean the wounds and change the dressings daily.

Cindy La Ferle

Helping Doug heal successfully is now my top priority, along with taking preventative measures to fend off the coronavirus. We’re both considered at higher risk along with the rest of the senior population. We are avoiding unnecessary shopping trips and limiting social contact — which is a challenge with a parade of workmen coming in and out of our home for the kitchen project. 

I never imagined I’d be spending so much time wielding a bottle of spray bleach or wishing I’d bought stock in hand-sanitizers. 

Feeling grateful for “the helpers” 

Admittedly, the upheaval in my kitchen now feels like a mild annoyance compared to my growing anxiety over the coronavirus. 

Having spent a fair amount of time talking with the medical community recently — in the ER, surgical prep stations, and doctors’ offices — I’m uneasy about what’s to come, and how long this period of social isolation will last. As Doug’s surgeon reminded us, we were “lucky” that Doug’s accident occurred last week instead of this week. In a matter of days, the entire healthcare system has been tested in ways we never imagined. 

The medical community — local and nationwide — saw this pandemic coming long before radio talk show hosts and the president of our country finally stopped referring to the virus as “a hoax.” And now these healthcare professionals are putting their own lives at risk to care for us with dwindling medical supplies. 

Fred Rogers once advised that we should “look for the helpers” in times of crisis — an adage that still moves me to tears. I’ve always admired the medical profession above all others, to the point where I regret that I didn’t consider going to medical school when I was young. Good doctors have come to my rescue more times than I can begin to list here — and my admiration for them has increased tenfold in recent weeks. 

Dividing, blaming, and scapegoating  

In times of deep crisis, most of us rise to the occasion, often surprising ourselves with newfound resilience. Then again, when we’re feeling especially vulnerable or out of control, our first impulse might be to blame someone else for the mess — like a small child who’s mastered the art of finger-pointing: It’s his fault, Mom, not mine.”

But blaming others only cheats us out of an opportunity to improve our own situation. Scapegoating divides and aggravates. When we refuse to take responsibility, or to own our part of the mess, we also forfeit our power. Worse yet, every time we dump the blame on someone else, we breed contempt and mistrust at exactly the moment we need to work together. 

I am guilty as charged.

While some blamed “the left-wing media” for stirring fear and panic over the coronavirus, for instance, my immediate response was to fire back and blame “the right-wing media” for dismissing the virus as a hoax until its vicious spread across the U.S. was undeniable. Most of all, I blamed Trump for failing to be proactive and commandeering — for not taking action sooner. I blamed him for being incoherent and misleading when I needed truth and reassurance. As another friend joked recently: “It’s to the point where I blame Trump for everything that’s wrong in my life, just as Trump blames Obama for everything that’s wrong in his.” 

And then I had a small epiphany. I turned on the TV just in time to catch Trump doing exactly what I’d been doing all along. Blaming. Big-time blaming. This time he was blaming China for the coronavirus, right there on national television — just as I’ve been blaming him for my misery every time I see him on the news in my home. 

But something else struck me profoundly as I watched: Trump is just as terrified as I am. And I realized, in my moment of awakening, that it’s time for me to grow up, practice compassion, curb my resentment, and get a better grip on my attitude. It’s time for me to stop stressing myself to pieces over a situation I simply cannot control. 

All said and done, everyone is scared. You’d have to be living under a rock to be cavalier about any of this. The helpers are scared. Doctors and nurses, despite their years of education and training, are scared. Government leaders, despite all their bluster and posturing, are scared. 

Cindy La Ferle

Who can say, after all, what tomorrow will bring?   

In the meantime, I believe that the unselfish satisfaction of helping others, in whatever ways we can, will get us through the weeks and months ahead. Given our self-regulated isolation, we will get creative and find ways to lift each other up while we keep our distance and try to remain healthy. We will try to calm our primal fears and instincts, and learn to rely instead on our higher selves.

I will help my husband heal his injury while we put our chaotic kitchen back together with our three good hands. We will work slowly — one set of dishes, one box of canned goods — at a time. We will make the best of where we are right now, grateful to have each other in such a crisis. 

I will continue to stay in touch (online or by phone) with my family and friends, knowing they are worried, too, as they attempt to keep it all together. I will try new recipes, take long walks, support the economy online, read new books, focus only on the absolute facts, and try to find pleasure in the simple things close at hand. ###

Wishing you all good health. Please stay safe. ~Cindy La Ferle

To read more posts from my “Quarantine Journal,” please click here.

And for the best opinion piece I’ve read so far, here’s Mitch Albom’s view on what we’ve learned from the pandemic.

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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