brenda anderson

COLUMN: Perhaps caring for one another will be a long-term effect of COVID-19 pandemic

Physical and emotional isolation won’t disappear with the coronavirus

Goodnight

Good night

Goodnight

Good night

Goodnight

Good night

This actual conversation, which, in fact, stretched on for several days, is typical of the riveting repartee you can only find in an exchange of texts between my mom and me.

Its purpose, a nightly check-in that basically says, “I’m home, I’m safe, I’m going to bed.”

Of course, this started back when there was actually someplace else either of us could be.

I thought about it not long ago while reading the story of a Princeton senior who fell inside his home, where he lived alone.

He ended up lying on the floor for three or four days until a concerned family member in Burnaby called police because they hadn’t been able to get a hold of him. A police officer broke a window and called for an ambulance. The senior was taken to hospital and was expected to recover.

It was a similar story that prompted my mom to buy her first smartphone for the sole purpose of having the brief exchanges noted above. In that case, a Dawson Creek man who lived on his own suffered a massive stroke and was not found for a week. Because he fell in his washroom, he was able to scoop water out of the toilet, which kept him alive until a neighbour finally heard his cries for help.

If the mere idea of this doesn’t terrify you, you’ve probably never lived alone.

When the coronavirus reared its ugly head and left people staring at the same four walls for months, with no opportunity to have friends over or get together at a restaurant, pub or movie theatre, it offered a glimpse, for those of us without co-habitating family members or roommates, of what it might feel like to be truly isolated.

Luckily, we live in a world where we can be connected in an instant to our loved ones, even if they’re on the opposite side of the planet. This presupposes that we have people to connect with, which is not the case for everyone.

As we all stocked up on supplies and hunkered down with our tablets and televisions last spring, we certainly didn’t anticipate that there would still be people stuck at home in virtual solitude nearly a year later.

Whether these are our elderly neighbours, or people with disabilities or health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, physical security is certainly a concern, but not the only one.

We know the isolation is taking its toll on people’s mental and emotional well-being – and not just the most vulnerable. The winter rain and long hours of darkness aren’t helping. And on Feb. 5, we learned that gathering restrictions set to expire that day were instead extended again, this time until at least the end of the month.

People’s growing frustration is evident in phone calls and emails I receive. Increasingly, people are expressing their anger, usually at some level of government, for something it is or isn’t doing in its efforts to bring this unpleasant chapter in history to a close.

News that vaccines had been developed offered a mid-winter morale boost, only to have a slow and inconsistent roll-out process put a damper on that collective sense of optimism.

The good news is that spring is just a few weeks away and while we can’t let our guards down entirely, it’s likely that we’ll see the rules relaxed enough that we can once again get together in person with at least a few of the friends we’ve been missing. By the time winter sends us all indoors again, we’re assured, enough of us will have been vaccinated to begin to send this virus into the history books.

Until then, and even afterward, it seems to me that if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we could all stand to keep a better eye on one another.

Whether it’s a regular ‘I’m OK-you’re OK’ text exchange or a few minutes on the phone once a week, it’s a small, simple thing that any single one of us can do.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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