A Family Affair: Am I ready for a Pandemic?

By Patricia Stuart

A Family Affair: Am I ready for a Pandemic?

"When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters -- one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity." 

                                         ~John F. Kennedy

On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Chinese COVID-19 a pandemic. It was followed with President Donald Trump declaring a National State of Emergency on March 13. Things have been different ever since.

Concern, fear, stress. It all blurred together mid-March. Being locked up with the same people day after day had transitioned to something undesirable. We were physically well; we were mentally beginning to struggle. I’d like to share our tips to survive not just as family but as friends. I began with a goal:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The above saying implied action, resilience, and contemplation. After two plus weeks of togetherness while we followed COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, we could hardly bear to stay in the same room with each other. People were petty and snarky.

In the spirit of action vs reaction, I had prepared lists of “What do I have?”, “What do I need?”, “What would be nice to have?” I put these lists on a flip chart hung in the laundry room. Categories included food, water, medicine, and protection.

Food and water was a priority; assess the pantry. The pantry was a wreck. As I removed things from the pantry I sorted like items together. What did “like items” mean? As a seasoned diabetes educator like items looked like low carbohydrates, high carbohydrates and proteins. Carbohydrate groups were each sorted by key micronutrients. Without much effort, pantry organization looked a lot like the “diabetes plate method” with proteins on the counter, low carbohydrates on the bar and high carbohydrates on the table. Spices and condiments landed in another room.

When items were returned to the pantry they were similarly organized by where they would sit on a diabetes plate with staples (flour, oils, sweetners) and snack foods separated into their own section. After the pantry, I did a similar thing in the refrigerator and freezer.

Bathroom closets and cabinets were organized. Prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) medications were centralized and grouped by ownership or purpose: Each individual had an area for prescriptions; glucose monitoring supplies; pain and fever; etc.

A check in the “hardware store” of our house — cleaning products, tools, nails, paint storage area — revealed multiple opened boxes of latex and plastic gloves  plus several N95 certified and procedure masks. These had been purchased to protect me from having an asthma attack during routine house projects.

As all these items were pulled out for inspection, it caught the attention of other household members. The food “discoveries” brought happiness to the faces who were missing dining out. Creative ideas of what we “could” have became volunteers for future meal preparations (this was an unexpected perk).

Additionally family members volunteered to go through their closets, book bags, etc. for needed supplies.

Discoveries:

  • Taking an inventory was a good starting place to “change the things you can”. Before you can change you should know where you are starting.
  • Family members performing inventories was a great idea. Like the pantry, other areas had been neglected too long. Afterwards we knew what we had and what we needed — and we actually had a fair inventory of germicidal wipes and hand gels.
  • We had a lot of products and medications that were wa-a-ay beyond their expiration date . . . we’re talking years here (. . . and we’ve only been in this house since December 2015!)
  • Confession: we seemed to have a lot of snack foods. Most were low carbohydrate snacks but there were a lot of snacks. As we surveyed the mass of bags and boxes of snack foods, we tried to determine “why”. We realized that most of what we were looking at had been impulse buys and usually when the shopper was hungry. Going forward we would work to change this.
  • Restocking the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer also resembled the plate method when complete with short shelf-life items positioned center-focus. This has actually worked well for us when planning meals.
  • A quick look at the calendar revealed multiple medical appointments that would surely be impacted by the stay-at-home orders. Over the next few days those appointments would be rescheduled.
  • As the stay-at-home orders were extended and extended and extended, concern over prescriptions became an issue that was easily reconciled with a phone call. Yes, the age of telemedicine was upon us ready or not. Similarly impacted was the orthodontist who would be rescheduled twice before deciding “we’ll call you when we reopen.” We’re still waiting.

For my husband flashbacks of the Muppets singing “We’ve got Cabin Fever” were beginning to take their toll. I reminded him that there was a long list of things he had wanted to do. What was stopping him? Lowes and Home Depot were considered essential. Although he didn’t think all those tasks were essential, he did determine he could do many of them without leaving the house or yard. Cabin fever was replaced by a myriad of odd jobs around the house.

Remember those lists of What do I have? What do I need? Aquiring these needed items meant asking someone to leave the house. It felt more like asking someone to take point on a military charge than to drive WalMart or Kroger to go shopping. Number 1: there was the unknown. What would I see? What would I find? Number 2: Who was the most vulnerable? (everyone) Who was the most able? (everyone) Who could be sacrificed? (no one) This took the “wisdom to know the difference”.

Operation “Need List” began at 6:00 am. Draped in a series of layers of jackets and clothing (that could be peeled off before entering the car and house) including N95 mask and cotton gloves over germicide soaked hands, I left in pursuit of essential and “wouldn’t it be great” items. WalMart, the grocery store, Home Depot and four hours later revealed some much needed items. Two things were interesting about this trip: (1) low carbohydrate items were not the things most people seemed to be shopping for — good for people like me; (2) I found toilet paper at a slightly higher than normal price at the Home Depot . . . I’m sure there’s a reason for this but I don’t know what it is.

Reentry into the house was similar to the decontamination sequence from “The Andromeda Strain”. Everything purchased was wiped down before coming into the house. Layers of clothing had been shed from place to place and put into a reusable (and washable!) grocery bag. All clothes went into the prepared washer. I went to the shower.

This routine has been repeated several times over the last eleven weeks. Stay-at-home orders are being lifted with restrictions in my state. The big question is do we just act like nothing’s happened?

Over the last three months my house has never been cleaner or better organized. Due to the last three months some things will be different — some temporarily and some forever.

I’ve had hours of thought and contemplation since mid-March. Finding peace in the midst of a storm is sometimes difficult. I found hope remembering:

  1. In 2019 there was a shortage of vaccine for the H1N1 (swine flu). Despite the fact that this US epidemic became a worldwide pandemic the world returned to a near normal state. How? The absence of vaccine made people practice preventive strategies. The number one thing anyone can do to avoid contracting a disease is wash your hands. Additional tips for staying well include: keep your hands away from your face, stay home if you’re sick, and stay away from people who may be sick. It’s still true today.
  2. Early during the stay-at-home orders we discovered a mother Killdeer bird and four eggs. Early April those eggs hatched. A little more than a week later another mother Killdeer took up residence with her eggs under a tree not far from the first. Those eggs hatched also. Even as things change, life goes on.
  3. No doubt we will be changed forever by the last three months. Don’t lose yourself. Try to focus on something else besides your heart aches. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone if you’re struggling. If you need help, every state has a resource center; your local health department is a good place to start.

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Orignially published on June 26, 2020, updated on June 26, 2020

Topic: Diabetes Management

About Patricia Stuart