Late to the Party

I am a librarian. I’ve been a librarian for nearly 23 years, with over 14 of those years at the Pittsfield Public Library. This library was one of the libraries I used as a kid (although I didn’t like it then). It’s close to where I grew up and it’s my second home–as it is to many people in the community. I used to be the Circulation Librarian, until a year ago when I was hired to become the director. It wasn’t a job I always wanted, but it’s a job I have become to love more than I thought possible.

On March 16th we had to close our doors to the public due to the health and safety concerns of COVID-19. Some of my staff and I cried that day because it was surreal and sad and our patrons are the lifeblood of the library. It’s not the building nor the books or films or programs. It’s the people. For a while we were still able to leave books for people in a secure location where we never saw each other (except by camera), then we did that by appointment only, and then we stopped it completely. Now tomorrow, April Fools’ Day no less, will be the last day the staff and I can go into the building. We will still be answering emails and conducting online programming and we’ll still be able to “see” and assist some of our patrons. But not all of them. So many of these folks we won’t be able to help again until we can re-open.

I’ve read a lot about grief over the past 3 years, and even in the past 2 weeks the articles about grieving what our normal once was. But I didn’t grieve quite as much because I was still going to the building where I worked. I couldn’t help as many people, but there was still a smidge of normalcy there. But tonight? Tonight I feel like I felt the evening before I went to say goodbye to my brother. Or that morning at 2am when I called my sister to tell her to come to the hospital because our father was dying. Or the morning when I was at work and the nurse called to say Mom was actively dying. Strangely enough, this really does feel like all of those awful moments. Those moments when you know your life is forever changed.

I know we’ll come out the other side. I am confident of that. What I don’t know is who will be there with us. Or who will be there with you.

But we’re here now, right? Let’s try to keep moving forward together. Reach out to those you think about, even if they just cross your mind. Those little moments of acknowledgement matter.

You matter.

So let’s be alone together. Just know that when this is over, I may be hugging you a whole heck of a lot.

This Sucks

For just a moment, I want to take a break from COVID-19 and tell you what my life has been like since my last blog post. If we’re friends on Facebook, more than likely you know much of this story.

On Groundhog Day, I took my husband to the ER where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and Influenza A. By the next night, Monday night, he could no longer breathe on his own. He didn’t want to have a breathing tube put in and put on a ventilator (he’s severely claustrophobic) but his only other choice was to die. I sat with him, holding his hand, and he said to me, “It’s so hard to breathe. I can’t do this much longer.” As scared as he was, I was afraid he would choose to die. But at only 52, and having me and our 12-year-old boy, there was too much life to live still. So he chose to live.

The next 2 weeks were hell. Once they intubated my husband, they nearly lost him several times that night. As the doctor said, “We gave him all our ‘Hail Marys’ at the beginning.” That was the only way to keep him alive. I spent much of that Wednesday in the hospital, holding his hand and crying. He was in a medically induced coma at this time. My son and I went to get tested that day and surprise! I had the flu, too. (My son got it the next week.) I was no longer allowed to visit my husband in the ICU until the following Tuesday. I was so angry at the universe and I sobbed and I just couldn’t believe all of this was happening.

Then each day his numbers got a little better. By that Saturday, they thought they might be able to take the tubes out and get him breathing on his own. But they couldn’t wake him up. They ended up doing a cat scan of his brain because he was just flailing and eyes rolling and he couldn’t respond in any way at all. Fortunately his brain was fine, he just couldn’t wake up.

The first day I was allowed to visit him, I stayed the entire day and played music to him and read and talked with him, held his hand, massaged his legs. I kissed him and got mad at him and loved him. It was a really long day. The next morning our son woke up crying. He just wanted to sleep and not go to school and not deal with this fucking nightmare anymore. And I completely understood, but explained we both had a job to do that day. He go to school, I go to work, Papa gets better. And you know what? That day my husband did wake up. Only for a moment, but enough to answer the nurse’s questions. (I called my boy’s school and the principal told him in person that his father had finally woken up. I truly love his school.)

Friday, Valentine’s Day, my husband’s breathing tube was removed and he was able to speak for the first time in 11 days. We had never gone more than two days without speaking to each other in nearly 25 years, so this was a pretty special day.

The next week and a half in the hospital was tough–he was really loopy for a few days and didn’t make much sense. But as he slowly started to get better, it was just difficult to see him so fragile and weak. He lost 40 pounds in four weeks, so his body was just ravaged. But then on February 24th, he finally came home. Those first 2 weeks home were a bit rough, too. He needed more help getting around than I realized and seeing my husband use a walker was really hard for all of us to see.

But now, three weeks later, he can walk for at least 3 minutes at a time with no assistance, can walk a flight of stairs, showers and dresses by himself–these are all huge accomplishments compared to last month. So he’s finally coming back to us.

And then COVID-19 happened. I know we’re all dealing with it–people are sick or dying, schools closed, some folks working from home, our area still in flux. My library is still open but that could change this week. My husband had planned to go to the store this week with our brother-in-law but I have told him he will no longer be allowed out except to the doctor’s office. He laughed out loud but then looked at my face. “Ok. I get it.” His immune system has been compromised and after the nightmare we just went through, I’m not losing the big lug now.

Oh, and did I tell you I have pancreatitis? I’m on Day 9 with no real food–water, jello, chicken broth and bullion and the occasional sip of Gatorade. I just need to keep out of the hospital because my husband still can’t drive and I need to be here. But my numbers are slowly getting better (my doctor is aware and I’m having blood drawn every few days to track this). The pound a day weight loss is nice but I am really freakin’ hungry. But if I can’t yet eat by Friday, the 2-week mark, then I may just have to go to the hospital. Here’s hoping I can beat this on my own!

So now for just a minute, I want to talk about COVID-19 and the effect it’s having on myself and my family. Besides being scared and desperately wanting to escape this dystopian novel, are you angry? I have been so, so angry at the whole situation. Not any person in particular–yes there were plenty of fuck-ups along the way but I’m not mad at a person. I am just feeling so battered and bruised and oh jesus what will happen next?!? We already cancelled our cruise with the help of doctor’s notes and a load of paperwork (I am so thankful for travel insurance and will never go without it again) and who the heck knows about our trip to Florida in April–yet I’m ok with that. If we can’t go, we’ll try again later.

I just want there to be a later. Right?

My family out to see Jim Gaffigan a few years ago.

That picture? That event? To be able to go to a large stadium or arena and listen to music or a comedian or see a play—that is what I want again. I am sure that someday we’ll be there, but I’m also sure our lives have changed forever. I know that after my husband’s hospitalization, my family’s life has changed forever. We have really enjoyed our time together since hubby has been home. He can still drive me crazy, but we no longer take each other for granted. And maybe this virus will do something similar. Maybe we’ll appreciate what we have a little bit more.

Or maybe we’ll go back to our old ways and be jerks to each other.

But I hope not. I hope we can get through this together–but 6 feet apart.

Stay healthy, y’all.