Storm clouds

Wednesday, 13 March 2020

6:27 am / my urban corner of NJ

Anthony Fauci. I trust him. He’s no-nonsense. No-sugar-coating anything. Makes me feel he knows what he’s talking about and won’t hide anything from me. I trust him because I went to Catholic elementary school, and those Vatican 2-resistant nuns spoke with non-sugar-coated certainty of our prospects for avoiding eternal damnation.

“You’re all sinners with blackened souls,” Sister Grace had told us second graders as we prepared for first Holy Communion. “The devil has a place for each of you in hell.”

When Dr. Fauci stated recently that the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. will get worse and deaths are inevitable, I felt comforted because that’s what authority sounds like to me: dire and damning.

I’m not one to question Dr. Fauci’s authority (another result of Catholic elementary school), but when he and other medical experts talk about the pre-existing issues that make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19, my underlying health conditions aren’t listed, and I fear—a lot of things—but in this case, I fear I may be overlooked and made more vulnerable.

I look healthy, but I’ve invested a lot of time and money to manage PTSD. It’s an insidious condition. It attacks silently from within, sometimes not presenting any or just mild symptoms, only to grip me suddenly and leave me with tightness in my chest and short of breath. A lot like COVID-19. And this pandemic panic is tailor made to set off my PTSD triggers, so I’m panting all day like a dog that senses thunder.

My Dr. Berger has treated me for more than a decade. She is very direct, but not dire, which is why I feel comforted and not damned when she assures me that when I am in the grip of a PTSD panic attack, “Yes, you have lost touch with reality, but you’re learning how to talk yourself down.”

So Tuesday morning, when I felt that tightness in my chest and began panting when the news announced confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hudson County, I took a deep breath, exhaled and took my temperature—because, you know, warning signs. My temperature was normal, which calmed me enough to talk myself down. I said to myself, “Nancy, you’re not infected. You’re panicking. What’s one rational thing you can do that will actually protect you against COVID-19 and make you feel like you have agency in this situation?”

I had enough food and supplies to shelter in place for four weeks. My hands were too cracked to wash again. Aha! I could clean the high-touch, high-traffic areas in my home. Rational and reassuring.

I got my gloves, Lysol aerosol spray can, tub of Lysol wipes, paper towels, vacuum cleaner, and my secret weapon: the spray bottle with my homemade solution of bleach diluted in water with a few drops of invigorating mint essential oil. I was ready.

My home cleaning protocol is based on scientifically backed guidelines. I employ a top-down approach: I attack higher surfaces first so the doomed microbes fall to the floor where I do the final cleanup. My first targets: cabinet surfaces and pulls, door knobs, and light switches and plates. I got my gloves on and got to work. I sprayed my targets with my minty diluted bleach solution and wiped using a Lysol antibacterial wipe. (I’m not a scientist nor mathematician, but if Lysol kills 99.9% of viruses and the bleach solution is close to that percentage, the two combined must have a virus killing power that goes to infinity.)

I listened to the BBC News Hour as I cleaned. Razia Iqbal’s no-nonsense directness comforts me. (Remember: I’m Catholic.) I moved on to countertops and felt lightheaded, but thought I was invigorated because of the drops of mint oil in my homemade spray solution. Within 30 minutes, all surfaces were clean, viruses were surely dying across the landscape of my floor and it was time for the final clean-up.

I began in the bedroom. I sprayed Lysol in the air, then fanned the room with a hand towel taut between my hands to disperse the virus killing agent throughout the space to settle on surfaces and the carpet. I turned on the vacuum and smelled the clean as I vacuumed with and against the grain of the carpet. I felt lightheaded, like my brain was floating outside and above my head. The vacuum sounded like it was simultaneously coming from my body and from the space around and above my head. None of this felt good. I felt a damp chill, which happens when I’m feverish, but my temperature had been normal. COVID-19 doesn’t incubate that fast.

Breathe, I said, and inhaled deeper. My brain floated higher. Floaty brain is not a warning sign of infection, I thought, but chest tightness is. I began to get tunnel vision. I reached down for the vacuum switch, felt the floor tilt below my feet and banged my head against the wall. I leaned against it to keep from falling onto the carpet littered with angry dying viruses that would invade my eyes, nose and mouth if I fell. I gasped as I struggled to stay standing and wondered if I was over, experiencing cytokine storm, my immune system overreacting to a virus and attacking me. I slid down the wall a bit and thought at least I would die in battle, the smell of clean in my home evidence that I’d done my part to attack the killer virus.

The smell.

Lysol aerosol spray. Minty diluted bleach combined with the cleaner in the antibacterial wipes. I felt shitty not because of my immune system’s reaction but my overreaction to the virus threat. I lost touch with reality and created a toxic storm cloud in my home that would overcome me if I didn’t get the windows open. I staggered from room to room, opening the windows wide to the mild March air.

In the living room, I stood by the open window for the cool air to revive me. I looked at the playground in the courtyard below, empty even though the kids in my building and their parents were home on a beautiful weekday. There was no traffic in the traffic circle that’s in view of my window, nor on the connecting roadways that lead to the Holland Tunnel, Newark, Hoboken. Normally, I relish the delicious solitude of emptied spaces, glad to be rid of bothersome people. I thought of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I felt vulnerable in a way that I never have. Fumigating myself proved I wasn’t managing well. I had tried to control something unseen and unknown, and in the attempt yes, I lost touch with reality. I don’t know what to say to talk myself down. The authorities, experts and leaders whose direct styles would normally appeal to me say things that scare me. I’m not comforted. I wonder if even they know what to say to talk themselves down.

Don’t forget to share this via , , Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Buffer, , Tumblr, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *