I’ve always prided myself on being a keen observer of human behavior. In pre-pandemic times, if you described a stressful situation, I believed I’d accurately predict how my friends will react. As we battle the gut wrenching COVID infection rates upending our world, I’ve been doing a deep dive into how those I know best are coping with its aftermath of anxiety and depression. Who would arrange all their hangers to go the same way. Who would read 20 books. Who would have the hardest time adjusting. How arrogant I was. Behavior during COVID times is hardly rational.
I learned to fully respect that each of us have a different thermostat to measure our virus discomfort. And it’s non-negotiable. Sort of like if your political party affiliation differs from mine, my opinions sound didactic and are pretty much unwelcome. Everyone I knew shored up the moat around them those first few months. Everyone wore masks, washed down their groceries and had knuckles raw from not-gentle-enough hand sanitizers. Then the overriding fear subsided and surprising side effects appeared. Gratification…or delayed gratification…that was the question. Slowly people who put maintaining their health a much higher priority than I ever did, started eating inside restaurants, having their teeth cleaned, and getting on planes. Their “pods” included two or three different groups of people…family, friends, neighbors…those they missed the most. The unlikeliest people, without a shred of guilt, hoarded 72 rolls of toilet paper. It reminds me of when I was taught to turn away from the window in elementary school during bomb drills so the glass wouldn’t get into my eyes. That was the only thing they could control to prepare for the worst. My daughter who lived happily in Manhattan without a working oven…forever…has shopped and prepared enviable, yummy, healthy meals three times a day for months. She’s a poster child for the pandemic “minus 15.” Her side effect.
After ten months that left us disempowered and feeling helpless, along comes the miraculous vaccine, our savior on the white horse galloping within sight…almost here. Suddenly maybe we, especially those of us over 65 who are 90% more likely to die than young adults, can be free of the fear that the plague will come knocking. Not so fast. Following a year of obstacle after obstacle, I yearned for that shot like a week in Paris. I wished I was older. I felt impatient, greedy and needy. After a lifetime of harshly judging those who cut the line, I tried like hell to work the system, call in favors, maybe drive upstate three hours. I was envious of those more on the case who got an appointment. I didn’t want theirs…. I just wanted my jab of hope too. I got it. And the relief washed over me like no other I can remember.
So this is me doing my small part to rehabilitate the overwhelmingly pejorative connotation of the term, “side effects.” I have been incredibly lucky when it comes to the negative leftovers of my cancer treatment. As a person who spends hours researching all kinds of information, I have not once looked up the possible reactions to any of the wild and woolly drugs coursing through my veins. If I can’t quite say I’m sailing through, I can say my boat is pretty smoothly navigating at a decent clip with an embarrassment of loved ones rowing me to safe ground. At a time bereft of satins and velvets and cocktails and canapes, and those never-ever-going-to-be-taken-for granted tight hugs, there are bluer skies and less car crashes and examples of awesome resilience and people looking after each other and technological breakthroughs and the appreciation of genuine relationships like never before.
My last positive side effect of this devastatingly difficult time? It has bought back the indescribably delicious excitement of anticipation. Squint. It’s just up ahead.