2020 was a year of incredible loss and suffering. Duh. Friends and neighbors suffered symptoms of COVID 19, many dealt with the loss of several family members at once, and to make matters worse, there are still patients in hospitals who are not allowed visitors, even when nearing end-of-life. Others have suffered incredible financial hardship through job loss, and for some, the loneliness brought on by stay-at-home orders is intense.
As a Speech-Language Pathologist in the medical field, I was working with elderly individuals in their own apartments in NYC when the pandemic hit in March. Like most people, I felt thrown into a dangerous situation without any real information or support. I was given a painter's mask that didn't fully cover my mouth and was told that my services were too essential to stop working. But as I talked to my colleagues, I learned that they all felt how I felt– therapy could wait a week until we learned more about this disease and the necessary precautions needed to prevent its spread. I insisted on staying home that first week while my company pushed us to keep working, so I cancelled all my cleints who hadn't already cancelled on me, and watched Cuomo's daily 11am briefings, which were initially quite realistic and goal-oriented. They gave me some hope. The term "Cuomosexual" circulated and made me laugh. My coworkers who were still bravely treating waited for my daily texts summarizing the briefings.
It would be about 6 weeks before I returned to work, and only part-time. As it turns out, most of my patients agreed that therapy could wait until the containment of this deadly pandemic, which would likely be most deadly to them- adults over 75 with underlying conditions.
This time I had access to good PPE that was shown to work effectively, but between shouting through sweaty N95 masks and listening to constant terrible news displayed on a TV somewhere in the background of a pateint's home, therapy downright sucked. I started to long for the comfort of my home, where I could make a homemade lunch and eat it at my table rather than on a street corner. Traveling therapists don't have offices, we go to Starbucks for a quick recharge between clients, and their tables (and bathrooms) were suddenly off limits. They were also off limits once again to homeless New Yorkers, who only recently were given permission to use them without purchase of goods.
The pandemic hit communities of color the hardest, amplifying the call for vast systemic changes in healthcare. Most of my patients' Home Health Aides (HHA) are BIPOC and are wildly underpaid, especially for the amount of responsibility unloaded onto them. Many HHAs I know lost several family members to the virus both here in NYC and in their home countries. Asking them to help with carry over of word-finidng skills in a time like this seemed especially hard to justify. Our sessions grew shorter with the number of pleasurable topics to discuss, and I often left sessions feeling totally useless.
My work life suffered, but I am incredibly lucky to say that my home life was booming. My 6 weeks of unemployment somehow motivated me to get in shape. I took up YouTube yoga and virtual PilatEase led by my close friend Emily. It was affordable, and I looked forward to her familiar voice reminding me, "it's gonna be OK, it's just Pilates" as my abs felt like they were going to crumble off my body. When I wasn't doing that, I was cooking a lot. I bought my fiancé, Andrew, a pasta maker for his birthday, and pasta we did make! My family and friends were safe at home, so I was thankful.
Andrew and I purchased our first home in August, an apartment we have big plans for, so now my focus is shifting to home improvement, more cooking, writing, and making a difference in new ways.
We can't afford to forget the lessons we learned in 2020, but I have hope that 2021 has wonderful things in store for all of us.
Thank you so much for reading.