I remember my friend Nancy S. in New York called me in late February 2020 to tell me she had a really bad cold and was struggling to breathe. Should she go to the ER, she asked. I told her to leave right then and there and not take any chances.
Later that night, she sent me a text saying that the doctor wanted a scan of her lungs and was going to admit her to the hospital. But it took the hospital so long to do the scan that by the time the results were back some 16 hours later, the doctor told her that her lungs were OK and advised her to go home because the ER was crawling with people coughing and wheezing. It was probably best not to be around them.
Although I knew about what was happening in China, it never occurred to me that Nancy could have COVID-19 (we don’t know if she did). She had all the symptoms, but we still thought of the virus as something happening in China. We did not know that it had already made its way to other places and was killing people in the U.S., Brazil, and other countries around the world while masquerading as acute respiratory syndrome, a very bad cold, or the flu.
The announcement by the WHO that we had a pandemic and the subsequent lock down jolted me into understanding that things were serious, but I still did not grasp the extent of it. Two weeks later, a great friend of my mother-in-law, an ER technician in Detroit who was only 49, was admitted with COVID-19. She died within two weeks. Then my sister’s uncle Steve was in the ICU, and his son told us several times that doctors expected him to die at any moment and that we should prepare ourselves. Steve made it, and I cried copiously when I saw the video of him leaving the hospital and the staff, nurses, and doctors all lined up clapping as someone pushed his wheelchair toward the exit — miraculous news amid fear and confusion.
The most difficult part of the pandemic for me has been knowing that things would not be so bad if the Trump administration had taken the virus seriously from the beginning. It is heartbreaking that as many as 40 percent of the over half a million dead in the U.S. could be alive today, living their lives, being with their loved ones.
Still, there have been positive things, too. We have made time to talk to dear friends and family much more often than we used to. I spend time regularly with friends and family spread all over the globe: We are in Miami, Ann Arbor, the D.C. metro area, São Paulo, New York, Rio, Brasilia, La Paz, and Sidney! To me, the biggest gift will be for us to keep this up from now on, to remember that we have much more time than we thought we did to be with the people we love, even if only remotely.