Tomorrow afternoon, my husband and I will attend a “ Zoom funeral” for one of his close friends who died of COVID-19 at Georgetown hospital last weekend. He caught the virus from his wife, a healthcare provider who caught it herself from an asymptomatic patient at the hospital where she worked. We also joined a “Zoom Shiva” service for a friend’s mother a few days ago. From my laptop, we saw faces of attendees, a photo slide show of her mother and other family members over the years. We prayed out loud with the gentle rabbi by “un-muting” ourselves. Once everyone un-muted themselves, the echo made the prayers more muffled, but the words were shown on screen, for us to follow, and were meaningful.
For Zoom memorial services during COVID time, there is no viewing, no handshaking or hugging, little time for tears because we have to focus on the family members or the religious leader’s instructions of what to do with our screen. People can leave and come back to the services on and off, as the Zoom function tells us who just joined and who just left, either by names or phone numbers.
I had my first Zoom bookclub at the end of April. We read and discussed “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. My lady docs friends and I were supposed to hold this book club in Chesapeake Beach where we planned to take walks along the marsh to observe the wildlife, smell the salty air similar to that the protagonist Kia described. We were supposed to eat Southern dishes while discussing the book! Instead, I was sitting in my family room with a cup of coffee, looking at my friends’ surroundings from wherever they lived.
Our ObGyn department meeting was even more surreal, with a former partner’s face popping up from his home in Argentina to say “hello” to everyone, and another member joining from Jamaica. I was chopping some vegetables to prepare for dinner while listening to all the agendas and discussions in the meeting. Every time someone wanted to present certain data, I would see them on screen. The meeting went smoothly for the most part, unless someone forgot to mute himself and we heard echoes instead of clear voices from the speakers, children screaming in the background, or conversations in the room from other family members. Fortunately, nobody was flushing toilets or coughing loudly. Some of us showed ourselves through video at the end to say goodbye to each other.
So that is our new normal. We don’t know how long it will go on, but we all are in our survival modes. We are trying to protect ourselves and each other by seeing each other’s images on a screen, blowing kisses over our cell phones or laptops.
Nowadays, it is like a knee jerk reflex for me to leave the house wearing a mask and my L.L. Bean fanny bag with pockets for hand wipes and alcohol pads. I am paranoid enough about masks that I even keep a Ziplock bag in the passenger compartment of my car with a few clean cloth and surgical masks, in case my family members or I forget our masks.
I know these masks, unlike N-95s, do not protect me much from a COVID carrier who happens to cough on me, but they protect others around me in case I become a carrier. After all, studies from Iceland, where most people in the country were tested for COVID-19, showed that as many as 50% of carriers were asymptomatic! We can be those silent carriers whose viruses can kill someone around us. I know the act of wearing a mask is to show solidarity, beside providing a little safety to me. Wearing masks might not be as altruistic as volunteering to take the new COVID vaccine once it comes out, not knowing if it can carry significant side effects, but to refuse to do so would be an act of selfishness besides ignorance if we happen to be in areas where the COVID curves have not flattened.
Memorial Day is almost here. Years ago, this holiday was created to salute those fallen heroes who had fought wars to protect our country. COVID-19 is one of the most horrendous wars America has faced. Within two months, more than 90,000 of us have died, including my husband’s friend. The enemy is invisible and vicious. The enemy has no goal to achieve other than destroying the body it entered. It has no philosophy to teach us beside the lesson of caring for ourselves in sensible manners, and caring for vulnerable people in our society, namely the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the elderly populations. The enemy shows us how the (soon to be) 100,000+ deaths in America were not in vain. Scientists have learned new facts using data collected from the dead, to teach the living how to avoid and how to fight back this invisible enemy. The dead are teaching us it is important to live with the new normal, so that our lives will hopefully last longer than theirs.
We should adjust to our new normal, including following scientists’ studies and advice, paying attention to what helps keep us alive, not what makes us more economically wealthy. After all, wouldn’t you want to live with less money, than die from this COVID-19 but leave behind a larger bank account? Not all of us, of course, can live for a long time without working to pay our bills, feed our families, send our kids to schools. Society cannot shut down forever, but it has to be reopened with wisdom and common sense. Keep your physical distance, put your mask on as I am doing so for you. We might be each other’s saviors.