My Pandemic Year (Plus)-January 2020-June 2021

It began on March 12, 2020. Not that the concerns of life began then, because there were presidential primaries, the coronavirus was in the news, my right leg was aching and having trouble post–back surgery in January, and I was trying to set up ministering interviews for the sisters in my Relief Society district. But on that day, according to my journal for March 15, “This has been a crazy week with the world changing. Everything has been shut down as of Thursday because of the coronavirus pandemic. I am trying to ‘self-isolate.’” And so began our experience with the coronavirus pandemic that changed the world. We had it a lot easier than many, many people did, but it was still a memorable and distinctive, and sometimes terrible, experience.

My life didn’t change that much: I work from home; I don’t socialize often. Some things that we looked forward to (a show in Salt Lake City of the “Dancing with the Stars” troupe; the NCAA basketball tournament; several BYU arts and music events) were cancelled. I moved some aspects of life online—contact with the other members of the Relief Society presidency, the sisters in my district, and the sisters I minister to became matters of email, text, and Zoom. I began ordering groceries online from Smith’s and picking them up in their parking lot—a great, free service that I appreciated (although I wished I could select my own fruits and vegetables). Alan and I had our own sacrament meetings at home, with hymns and Come, Follow Me readings and him kneeling to bless the bread and then the water and passing them to me. No one knew how long we would be locked down; certainly the thought that all these precautions would last for a year or more was, well, unthinkable.

But things kept changing—increasing cases and deaths related to COVID-19, with many people in Italy dying and some cases and deaths even in Utah. People over age 50 were considered especially vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization, and death, so we tried to be very careful, although Alan still went to work at his office at BYU. The stock market fell by a lot. On Wednesday, March 17, we were awakened by a 5.7 earthquake, centered in Magna, that destroyed or damaged some buildings and shook the trumpet off the Angel Moroni on top of the Salt Lake Temple—it all felt very apocalyptic.

There was no toilet paper (which I stock up on anyway, as part of our emergency storage) or hand sanitizer in the stores, and a lot of other things were out of stock—cleaning supplies were rare, meat was not as plentiful, and then occasionally there would be something inexplicable missing, like Knorr instant rice packets or cans of creamed corn. I think sometimes the packaging elements were needed elsewhere so the food item wasn’t available; shipping was also affected—but we never faced the empty shelves that were common in some parts of the United States, or the severe deprivations that people suffered elsewhere. Every three or four weeks we would go to the 7:00 a.m. “senior hour” and fill our basket, as the shelves seemed better stocked then. We never really went without anything; it changed the way we managed the shopping, though. And no eating out. I drove through Kneaders about every other week and we had Brick Oven pizza delivered a few times.

Meanwhile, my back and leg were giving me all sorts of trouble and I wasn’t able to exercise; it felt like there was an extra layer of anxiety over everything. Our daughter Caiti had been coming to dinner some Sundays before the shutdown, but said that she was around so many people and germy money at her work as a manager at Barnes & Noble that she didn’t feel good coming over to see us. So we lost some contact with her. Her employer never did shut down the store and was, in my opinion, somewhat lax concerning masking and distancing—they had the rules, but the employees could not enforce them with customers. We would take stuff to her house, leave it at her door, ring the doorbell, and then retreat down her stairs to talk to her from a distance. Our son Brian and his family invited us to join their “Zoom Church” two or three times, asking me to tell the story of my conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 17, asking Alan to tell about his mission to Japan in 1974–1976, and asking us how we met during our BYU freshman year in 1973–1974. I think Elliot and Michael were interested, although Michael spent much of the time hanging upside down off the couch. I had hoped we could have regular Zoom calls with them, but they were very busy, as were we, and we never managed to arrange it. We did start having monthly Zoom calls with Alan’s siblings and their spouses, which we enjoyed very much.

Meanwhile, life went on in some respects. I had an MRI for my back, kept working on my Zion book (how the principles of Zion can/should affect our social and political choices), the plumber and HVAC guys came to do needed repairs and checks, and the Relief Society was scrambling to keep people connected by virtual means. Alan still had high council meetings on Zoom at 7 a.m. on two Sundays of the month. He continued to go to work but was being very careful about masking and social distancing.

Masks! In March I started making cloth masks, at first the ones that look like paper hospital masks. I used leftover bias tape and piping to tie them on, and then some shoelaces I ordered. I made two each for us and two for Caiti. Then I made eight for Brian and his family. I used leftover “lamb quilt” material, which may not have gone over big with Elliot and Michael. I ordered a big roll of elastic, which took ages to get here from Amazon, and dipped into my quilt fabric and made better masks from the Relief Society’s pattern, four for Alan, two for me, four for Caiti, and I think 16 for Brian and his family. Angela doesn’t have a sewing machine so I felt that was a very important grandmotherly duty. Alan started getting more comfortable masks at work, and since I hardly ever go out, I was fine with my little supply.

One great oasis in the desert of the pandemic was General Conference on the weekend before Easter Week. We truly received living water from the prophets and apostles and others who spoke. They announced a new proclamation on the Restoration of the gospel, also a new symbol for the Church with the Christus statue as a central focus—very beautiful. (The meme on Facebook was a picture of the Angel Moroni next to the new symbol and says of Moroni: “He drops his trumpet one time [in the recent earthquake] and he gets replaced!”) We participated in the Hosanna Shout on Sunday morning. President Nelson announced a worldwide fast for help with the pandemic on that coming Friday, which was Good Friday. He announced eight new temples, including ones in Dubai (first in the Middle East), Shanghai (first in mainland China), and Pittsburgh (closer to our friends Jean and Dan). Even with everything closed, the work hastened on. Oh, and there were some great talks, too! Sister Bingham had me ready to stand and applaud (I settled for a hearty “Amen!”). I watched the first session with Alan, did mending and sewing during the Saturday afternoon session, watched the Saturday evening session while we ate dinner, hemmed up my temple dress (it was always too long and I am ¾ inch shorter since the first back surgery) during the Sunday morning session, and quilted during the Sunday afternoon session—if I just sit there and try to listen, I fall asleep!

The Holy Week preceding Easter felt more meaningful than it ever has—the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His willingness to create the path by which we can come to Earth—even with all its sorrows and sicknesses and death—and work with Him to become the covenant-keeping, spiritually mature, compassionate, patient (oh dear!), eventually exalted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Parents resonated so deeply in this time of death, illness, and anxiety. He is indeed the shadow of a great rock in a weary land (see Isaiah 32:1–2).

 I finally got to see my neurosurgeon via telehealth and he said the MRI showed the nerves had been released from their prison at L2-3 and L3-4, and there was some trouble still at L4-5 but that was “not a target of the surgery.” This would come back to haunt me. I got another cortisone shot and it helped until about January 2021.

We watched a 60 Minutes episode on a Sunday night in May and two of the three segments were about how people are suffering financially and otherwise during the pandemic. I ended up crying. Our family is so lucky compared to almost everyone else. Landlords were still evicting people for not paying rent until Congress passed a law against it—I think that is so cruel. I know landlords have expenses too but if everyone would just back off on enforcing their “rights” and stop thinking about what’s legal and start thinking about what’s moral the world would be so much better.

Although we didn’t lose anyone to COVID, we still had plenty of anxiety and grief—it was worrisome that people were not following the rules to wear masks and avoid going out. I was proud of the Church for being extra cautious. I worried about my kids and grandkids catching the virus and about all the people who were suffering in places like New York City, where the hospitals were overrun, and elsewhere. I worried about the people who were having to go to work as essential workers—some appreciated more than others—and risking their and their families’ lives in doing so. When George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, the problems of racism in the United States were emphasized again, and there were peaceful demonstrations everywhere and even riots in a few big cities, although things don’t seem to have changed much for the better. The Trump administration never said a credible comforting word about the pandemic, which was left to the states to scramble to alleviate as best they could, or the killings of Black people by the police. Children of some of our close friends were having severe health problems, and two friends died unexpectedly of other causes—a close colleague of Alan’s and a good friend who lived in Boston. We attended their funerals via Zoom, which was a true blessing for many reasons during the pandemic, and also a pain sometimes for people who were trying to get used to meetings online. It was a strange and anxious time, and that only got us through the spring of 2020.

That summer, we cancelled all our travel and vacation plans. They started having Zoom church meetings again. As the pandemic continued into autumn, the “pandemic fatigue” seemed to get worse, as did some of the illness and death statistics as colder weather came. Once again, General Conference was reassuring and like an oasis in a desert of bad news and troubles for so many people.

I decided to give up make-up for life, and thought I was going to give up pierced earrings (I assumed the holes had grown back together) but changed my mind on the latter. My previously very short hair grew to my shoulders. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and the Republicans took her seat two weeks before the Presidential election (after saying they couldn’t approve an Obama appointee months before an election). Finally the Presidential election came and finally Trump lost, but he and his supporters immediately started saying the election had been “stolen” while unsuccessfully fighting it in the courts. It was such a relief that he lost and so bizarre that he and his followers wouldn’t accept it.

Covid cases started surging in Utah—it seemed that family gatherings and bars and restaurants were the main culprits, so of course they had closed the schools—and made life harder for a lot of parents, some of whom (mostly mothers) had to quit their jobs for lack of child care. The online school that took the place of in-person school was not as good an educational or social experience for the kids. I felt so bad for seniors in high school who missed all the fun things that are supposed to be part of that year, and for those entering universities with online classes and so many social restrictions (though some ignored them and spread COVID as a result). And for young adults who were graduating from college or graduate school, only to have their plans significantly affected or put on hold as a result of the pandemic, and their decisions undermined. And for the young men and women who were trying to decide whether to serve a mission at their planned time or to wait—the pandemic affected missionary work and sent much of it online, where it was headed anyway. But the missionaries in our area did not have enough to do, and some young people called on missions abroad were sent to missions in their home countries instead, and so missed that opportunity, but no doubt gained others. It will all sort out, but it was a hard time to be anything other than a well-established, older couple with resources and time to wait things out, as we are.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas we made our usual foods, but it was hard to take them to Caiti’s front porch instead of having the usual family dinner. I posted on Facebook as part of President Nelson’s invitation to #givethanks. I told Jack Welch that I would help with editing the BYU New Testament Commentary project, but got bait-and-switched to edit a book by Brent Schmidt, Relational Faith, which needed a lot of editing and took till June to finish.

January brought a needed surgery for Alan and worries about that, but he did fine. Also, Trump’s supporters of the false “stolen election” idea—after he urged them to do so—attacked the U.S. Capitol and would have harmed or killed some of the Senators and Representatives if they could have and stopped the electoral vote count. I watched it all in horror on TV, remembering other horrible things we watched on TV through the years, like President Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination, the 9/11 attacks, and the Challenger explosion. The insurrectionists didn’t succeed except they committed federal crimes and injured many members of the Capitol police. I was astonished that law enforcement was not more prepared, because the call to attack the Capitol was all over social media and many people were posting about their plans. I couldn’t help but think that if a Black Lives Matter demonstration had been planned for that day at the Capitol, the National Guard would have been out in force. But a bunch of crazed white supremacist Trump supporters didn’t rate the attention, and so tragedy ensued—a domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. And still there were Republicans in Congress who supported the idea of the stolen election. It will linger on and do damage, something like the whole “lost cause” myth after the Civil War continues to do damage.

The House of Representatives impeached Trump (again) but it couldn’t go anywhere in the Senate. At the time of this writing (June 2021), I am reading The Abandonment of the Jews (by the United States and other Allies, during the Second World War) by David Wyman, and just read a biography of Lady Bird Johnson, and am living through the early part of the Biden administration. And I see that at during World War II, and during the 1960s, and now in 2021, the Republicans in Congress are obstructing every initiative they can to have the government properly involved in improving American lives, fighting racism and white supremacy, and trying to help people out of poverty and into minimally decent lives—the same problem, at all three times and at other times, too. People who are in trouble need help, and what’s the government (actually our fellow citizens) for, if not to help?

My left shoulder got inflamed and I had to have a cortisone shot. Meanwhile, the second surgery on Caiti’s hip was deteriorating and they scheduled her to have a hip replacement on February 4. She was having a hard time, in pain and sometimes having to use a crutch to get around. They changed the stake boundaries and we got a new bishop and 26 new Relief Society sisters in one fell swoop, so that made life interesting. As the first counselor in the Relief Society presidency, I had a lot of Zoom meetings all year, plus trying to somehow encourage ministering sisters without impinging on their agency, doing interviews by email and text, and creating the “Thursday Night News” each week. President Joe Biden’s inauguration put an end (sort of—lots of damage to try to undo) to a four-year nightmare. I spent a lot of time watching the news during the pandemic year. It is so good to have a decent, honest man as President.

On Saturday, January 23, Alan woke up with swollen lymph nodes and a little fever, and based on exposures at BYU, suspected he might have COVID. We put on masks and went to get a new (to us) car and tried to be in denial. On Sunday night, he started feeling worse and moved into the basement, so I delivered his meals and left them at the bottom of the stairs. He took his temperature and it went up to 105 degrees, and he felt pretty bad, but his fever broke in the night, he said. I called our doctor’s office and got busy ordering an oximeter and zinc tablets and other recommended things from Amazon (yay, 2-day delivery!). By Wednesday night, I knew that I was getting sick, too. Alan got a COVID test on Wednesday and got the positive result on Thursday. I called the doctor on Thursday and she ordered a COVID test for me, so we went to Springville—the test felt like an attempted lobotomy with a giant Q-tip. At 6 a.m. Friday I got the positive test results and when the doctor’s office opened I called and started lobbying for monoclonal antibodies, which they said I was probably too young to get. My friend Karen Lewis, knowing about my kidney disease and that every virus I get heads straight to my lungs, had given me her best doctorly advice to get them. By Saturday morning my throat hurt so much I could barely swallow, but a man from Intermountain Healthcare called and asked me questions and said I was eligible (I may have told him that I weigh more than I do). So by late Saturday morning I was at the Urgent Care, getting IV monoclonal antibodies, which I mostly slept through. And just like that—my COVID symptoms went away. I was still tired and a bit brain-foggy, but I didn’t get really sick (and the insurance didn’t pay for them—$500+ dollars; you’d think they’d rather pay for that than for me to be in the hospital, but it was worth it, anyway).

Unfortunately, Caiti was going in for surgery. Alan was just barely out of quarantine and so could take her up to the University of Utah for the operation (at 5:45 a.m.)—she had some cracks in her bone where screws from previous surgeries had been and so was ordered to keep her weight off her leg for two months, when most people who have hip replacements are up and walking the same day. Then her blood pressure dropped terribly and she was at the hospital for two nights, but she could tell right away that this time the surgery was going to work. As I was still in quarantine, she couldn’t come to our house to recover, so somehow she and Alan got her up the stairs to her apartment and since I didn’t have COVID anymore, once I was out of quarantine, I was able to bring her groceries and do her laundry and take out her trash and just visit. I took her to her first post-surgery appointment in a near-blizzard and that was a scary drive for us both.

On February 18 Alan and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. On February 21, we attended our first (masked and distanced) in-person church meeting—no hymns and precautions around the administration of the sacrament and everyone masked, but still so good to (sort of) see people, and we felt confident in our natural immunity, for that time being. I got another cortisone shot, this time in my left hip—I have calcifications on the bones that are causing tendons to rub, or maybe the rubbing tendons are causing the calcifications. Whatever that problem was, I kept having trouble with it, and going back to the doctor, and getting an MRI, which showed that my January 2020 surgery did not cover as much as I thought it did. Meanwhile, I was in pain and it was hard to get things done. I scheduled surgery for May 24, hoping to resolve the pain situation and the back situation forever.

We spent some of our tax refund on a new laptop computer for me, as mine was out of warranty, at least a reasonably priced warranty. I lost some of my email contacts and it was generally a hassle to get the new one set up, but it is working well (except the lost email contacts). We waited our turns, and I waited 90 days post-monoclonal antibodies, and we did the quarantining, and finally got fully vaccinated against COVID with the Pfizer shots at Utah Valley Hospital. In the middle of April, Caiti (also vaccinated) started coming over again, and by June, we were told that we didn’t need to wear masks except in healthcare facilities and on public transportation. Things were opening up, which was both good and scary. Of course some people won’t get the vaccine (some can’t), which doesn’t help with the spread or with variants. But the case and death rates, at least in the United States, have gone way down.

My pandemic year was marked at the end with another back surgery at Utah Valley Hospital—surgery for a herniated disk that was just as bad when I had the first surgery, but that the doctor hadn’t planned to take care of, so he didn’t. So I was back 15 months later to have a similar surgery, which went fine, but because my medications were mismanaged, my three days and two nights in the hospital were hellish. And just as we had seen my son Brian and his family right before January 2020, we saw them again—first time in person since the pandemic began—in early June 2021. It was symmetrical somehow. I pray that our pandemic year has truly ended, and that cases and deaths will continue to drop in the United States and throughout the world—many countries are having trouble getting vaccines. These mRNA vaccines are a genuine miracle, and I hope they can be adapted to prevent future pandemics, which are likely to come in the future. And that is a summary of my pandemic year.

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