The Closeness of COVID-19

As a resident of the greater New York City metropolitan area, I have had the undesirable experience of being only a few miles removed from the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, we are only just now beginning to slowly relax some of the precautions that we have been following for going on three months now. In addition to the inconveniences attendant to these measures – for example, because my wife is a doctor, I have become accustomed to seeing only the upper half of her face for long periods and that is only during the daytime hours as I have logged the night ones generally on the couch – I have also witnessed the harshest consequences of this disease. I have multiple friends who have lost parents to this pandemic, people who otherwise would still be with us.

Yet, as terrible as all of this has been – and to a degree continues to be – there have been the unanticipated silver linings. Some of these are rather trivial – I now realize that our guest bathroom is quite functional and, frankly, better designed than that of the master suite and, even better, my attendance at any type of in-laws’ family function is of course now out of the question – but others are more profound. None more so than the opportunity to spend so much time – admittedly, at points, too much time – with my children. But I think this is particularly important as someone who lives with cancer all of the time.

My already isolated life

Prior to ever hearing of such a thing as COVID-19, I already was living a semi-hermitic existence. Part of this was a result of my poorly chosen profession – i.e., that of an attorney. I am a so-called corporate attorney, which basically means that most of my interactions are with paper and not with people. In fact, these days, even the paper is not real, as most of what I spend my time looking at and thinking about is merely on the computer screen. (I could, in theory, print out these documents but the cost of printer ink is really expensive. Plus, environmentally it seems inconsiderate to be making more trash for the world, particularly since a great portion of the population thinks lawyers are themselves largely refuse.) 

I do have my time with the computer screen occasionally interrupted by a phone call or, now, the much more intrusive version of the conference call: a Zoom meeting. (Does anyone really feel a strong need to see their attorney? I guess if one had a particularly attractive attorney I could understand it, but that of course is not me. In fact, most lawyers would not be such if we were that attractive.)

Finding the silver lining

Fortunately, a largely solitary existence is good training for having cancer. Whether it is the need to avoid large groups or even a sole sick person, a psychological isolation to allow me to try to get myself into a place where I can deal with the reality of my disease or even just the basic necessity of getting some bodily rest, being alone is often quite important to my existence. Thus, even before the arrival of this virus, most days, other than a trip to the gym or stopping into the grocery store, I would have very little social interaction. This generally suits me just fine.

Or so I thought. Now, after spending all of this time at home with my sons – who are ages 7 and 10 – I have somewhat changed my views. It is nice to have someone to sit at the kitchen table with while eating my lunch, even if it means having to prepare three times as many lunches and, because kids are kids, three different meals. Plus I am fairly involved in their schooling, in part because my wife and I think it is of great importance to be so involved but also because with the pandemic-induced home-schooling/virtual learning, I have become their personal administrator, professional assistant, and Help Desk every time there is an Adobe flash player hiccup, a strangely vanishing log-in link or the inability to look at the entire class in “grid view.” These administrative functions are particularly necessary given that their respective teachers are roughly contemporaries of mine so there is a need for someone to bridge the gap in real-time between Generation X behaviors (like scanning a document) and those of today’s youth who barely understand that a pencil must be sharpened to work at its optimal level.

Quarantine increased my socialization

Yet, as the restrictions on businesses and other activities are slowly being lifted here, the reality has dawned on me that sooner rather than later, I will be back to being alone for most of the day most every day. And while such serenity might create both a better environment for me to work and rest – along with creating fewer dishes to be done – I am uneasy about returning to the world of living alone. What most people see as a return to “normal” life is not the same for me, as I do not think that living with cancer allows one to live a “normal” life. Although there are tragically so many of us out there with cancer, the world is understandably not designed for us. It is meant for – and run by – those who are not ill. That is probably how it should be, but it makes it hard at times for those of us who cannot fully, truly be participants in it.

It is somewhat ironic, I think, that the quarantine actually produced an increase in my socialization. Leaving aside what that may or may not reveal about the desirability of my company, it strikes me as quite perverse that an uncontrollable illness has actually provided me some degree of comfort from one of the most difficult effects of my own uncontrollable illness. But, that’s cancer. It plays by its own rules and nothing with it really makes much sense. Nevertheless, while it will of course be best for everyone when life resumes some degree of normalcy, I will miss that which this most abnormal of times has given me.

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