April 13, 2020
Grieving For a City? Impossibly, Yes.
What it's been like to live in New York City, the epicenter of the world's coronavirus.
By Riva Greenberg
This article was originally published on Thrive Global. Diabetes Voice is grateful to the author for granting permission to publish it here.
New York state now has more coronavirus cases than any country in the world. The state’s confirmed caseload of infected people jumped on April 13 to 195,031. This places New York ahead of Spain’s 169,628 and Italy’s 159,516 cases.
Today’s briefing by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, told us the number of deaths in NY state is over 10,000. The good news is hospitalizations are lessening. The bad news is frankly incalculable, and there may be a second, and even third, wave.
My husband and I have been “sheltering in place” or “on pause” as Cuomo calls it for four weeks. We began March 12 when we learned someone in our small building had the virus.
Just the night before my husband, who is Dutch, suggested, “Maybe we should leave for Holland. I think we’ll be safer there.” I couldn’t imagine what was coming. I couldn’t imagine packing, getting on a flight, leaving my 90-year-old mother – so here we are. Here, in the epicenter of the storm. My husband, an international consultant and leadership trainer has, like so many of us, found his work reduced and virtual.
We’ve been short on everything that health professionals need to keep us, and them, safe: masks, gloves, ventilators. My friend’s daughter, an anesthesiologist in a major hospital, was wearing her swimming goggles and a bandana at work for some time before they got protective equipment. Supermarket shelves went empty quickly from the early hoarders grabbing food and toilet paper.
Now with spring on our doorstep, Cuomo’s hardest job may not be moving ventilators from hospital to hospital but keeping people inside, staying home and away from each other. Who would have thought NY Tough would look like the opposite of how we consider ourselves as New Yorkers, particularly those of us in New York City? It would look quiet and steady rather than boisterous, fast, loud, exuberant and racing everywhere.
I live in Brooklyn, one of “the city‘s” as we call its five boroughs. My neighborhood is mostly charming small brownstones on tree-lined streets. Our shops have been closed for weeks, many have ‘going out of business’ signs up. Restaurants and cafes are closed except for pick up and delivery.
The streets are almost empty of people, but we step over far too many discarded masks and gloves on our daily walk.
It’s an extra burden to manage type 1 diabetes now. I have to trust that I’ll still be able to get insulin in a few months. Without it I’ll die.
A beautiful magnolia tree outside my window has been blooming for five weeks. Almost two weeks longer than usual. I suspect it knows I need it to keep blooming. It reminds me to breathe, and smile.
These days I open my eyes from sleep thinking, “ah, my beautiful tree, a new day…” Then like someone who has cancer or has lost a limb, I remember that the world is dangerous, my neighbors are suffering, going food shopping may kill me.
We take precautions, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. We’ve cut down on our food runs but you can only fit, and carry home, so many groceries in a backpack. We don’t have a car and we daren’t get on the subway. All the online ordering companies I’ve recently signed up for have two to four weeks delivery delays.
My husband and I are both at risk. I am 66 years old and have type 1 diabetes. My husband had asthmatic bronchitis as a child. The first time he had an allergic reaction to a food, his lips blew up and he struggled to breathe.
I am scared now if he gets the virus he will need a ventilator. Whether there will be one for him is uncertain. Whether he comes off of it I’ve just learned, after too much reading, is unlikely. If he does, he may have severe new health issues including brain damage. We are still contemplating whether to write a “Do Not Ventilate” order.
This morning as I walked out of our bedroom into the living room I got a chill. A vision of our living room empty overwhelmed me. Empty of my husband who sits in our blue chair when he wakes every morning. I breathed again when I saw he was just where he was supposed to be. But will I be able to say that in a week? Two weeks?
This pandemic is not of my making, nor is it mine. It will pass.
Yes, it’s an extra burden to manage type 1 diabetes now. Checking blood sugar, taking multiple daily injections, refilling supplies on top of washing everything that comes into the apartment, remembering how long cardboard boxes have to air out for and donning gloves and masks for a simple daily walk. I have to trust that I’ll still be able to get insulin in a few months. Without it I’ll die.
Governor Cuomo’s daily press briefing centers our “new normal.” Getting the facts and seeing his pain we feel safer and cared for. He says other states will follow us. If you think what you’re reading here sounds inflated, just wait. In fact, don’t wait. Take all the staying safe measures you’re being told to take – now.
I normally work from home, but now I’m home not working. Friends say, “I can’t use this time productively even though I have more time than ever.” Neither can I. We are grieving. We are disoriented. We all ask, “What day is it?” Free lectures, meditations, and coaching classes fill my inbox and that’s a beautiful thing. Yet I find it hard to sit still and meditate.
Instead I am answering emails, sending texts and jokes, doing qigong, baking, cooking, having video calls with friends, we even attended a zoom memorial service for a friend’s mother. I watch videos about North Korea (a secret fascination) and I FaceTime almost daily with my friend who has a brain injury to make sure she understands she can’t go into the stores now.
Twice a day I answer desperate calls from my mother who is fighting with her iPad. A friend revealed the same about her mother this morning. I said no doubt there will soon be a pharmaceutical for baby boomers who have increased tension due to elderly parents learning how to use an ipad. Then each evening I have a date with the cutest South Korean couple that can’t seem to get together, on Netflix.
I ground myself every morning with a spiritual reading. This morning I was reminded that nothing in life is permanent. Nor is anything in the end about me, nor is it mine. This pandemic is not of my making, nor is it mine. It will pass. I am merely floating through this world, as impermanent as everything else. Of course I hoped I would have more time here but I don’t know if I will.
I can’t see the way forward. But I can look back over my life and feel lucky. Lucky to have the friends and family I have, to have loved and been loved. Lucky to have lived an adventurous life, traveled the world and used the talents and gifts I’ve been given. Blessed that my work has rewarded me with an enormous sense of purpose and contribution.
I share with people who have chronic illness how to flourish, not merely cope. I share with health professionals a way of working that inspires flourishing in their patients. One that is humanistic – not mechanistic – focuses on what’s working, builds connection, relationship, safety and trust, and stimulates emergent solutions.
The world has certainly given us an incredible opportunity to reshape our behavior and societal policies to reflect these qualities. I am happy to say while I grieve for my city, I see these qualities, ever stronger, in all of us who live here.
From one New Yorker
Riva Greenberg is a leading global expert in flourishing with diabetes and has had type 1 diabetes for 47 years. She is a member of the IDF Blue Circle Voices network.
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