Tonight is the first evening in the last eight or ten that it has been nice outside. It’s a perfect 69 degrees. The sun is setting and the smell of the neighbor’s fire pit is pleasantly drifting over our back porch where I’m sitting.
Like most nice evenings, I’m out on the porch with a beer, enjoying the warm evening while distracting myself with Twitter.
Like clockwork, the neighbor to the south lets their dog out as soon as I start writing. George is a dark brown ferocious little guy that will bark down anyone that looks his way. Every time they let him out, he rushes the fence either at my daughters or a neighbor’s dog. His owners act shocked every time.
Almost immediately, the neighbor to the east lets their two, three, or ten dogs out. I can never tell how many they actually own. It’s a lot. The competition is on.
Our neighbors to the east are a nice couple. Middle-aged nurses. This week, their daughter and son-in-law are visiting from New York City. I’m happy for them. They get to spend some time with their grand babies and have their kids out of NYC where the pandemic has hit hard.
I’ll admit, it makes me a little nervous. As they’re sitting out back around the bonfire, one of them is hacking up a lung. Is the smoke getting to him, or did he bring enough COVID back to share with everyone? Probably just the smoke. Right?
Courtney, my wife, and the girls are already in bed tonight. So, I’m out here alone. It’s nice. Alone time that doesn’t involve work is hard to come by these days. During a pandemic, your children never leave. They are always there. Always.
I find myself reflecting on the past 2+ months home during the pandemic. While not nearly as crazy and hard as it has been for others, it’s been a doozy.
Looking a Pandemic in the Face
About mid-February, I began to get the feeling the Coronavirus was going to change everything.
I manage communications for several churches in Indiana along with a handful of businesses. As the pandemic ripped its way through the United States, I began to reach out to my clients with the suggestion they start making plans.
Nothing concrete yet. Just a few strategies so everyone was prepared, depending on how the coming weeks played out.
I don’t think any of us saw it getting as bad as it has, but having some basic plans in place would make everyone more agile when it came time to adapt and communicate when necessary.
The responses were somewhere between radio silence and “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”
No one had it.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist and a strong-willed one at that. The realization that everyone was going to wait until the last minute to decide what to do, or wait until someone higher up the denominational food chain told them what to do, freaked me out a bit.
The key to good communication is good planning. Without a good plan in place and a little time to spare, it would be difficult to communicate well. My job. The job of a perfectionist.
It was clear early on churches were going to need to close for a time. Still, most waited for the Bishop to make his recommendation. It took the Bishop a couple of tries and probably a week longer than necessary, but he finally recommended churches close through at least Easter.
While the Bishop waffled a bit at first, he has been stellar ever since in making the right calls to continue to suspend in-person gatherings for Indiana United Methodist churches, even as pressure mounts to reopen.
Week One – Pandemic Church
Week one was intense. On top of all my churches scrambling to get video sermons and services to me to post on YouTube, their websites, and Facebook, I was trying to crank out content that would help churches make the most of this time.
I was at my peak. My friend Steph, who was co-director with me in student ministry from 2010-2015, likes to joke that when trouble hits, I come running.
The story comes from our first out of state mission trip. One of our students had suffered a bad concussion during a game of ultimate frisbee. He was walking up to bed early that night when he passed out and fell down the stairs.
Legend has it, after another student came into the big meeting room and told us, I hurdled a couple of high schoolers from another church and some car barricades (the yellow cement pole kind) and took the stairs four at a time to get to him.
Anyway, apparently the story holds up for my work with churches. I put everything I had for 2 weeks straight into helping churches thrive. I worked with my church clients and wrote blogs to help other small churches around the country.
It was thrilling and exhausting. It was nonstop. I loved it.
Hey, Babe! We need to go to the hospital. I can see my bone.
A little less than two weeks into our local stay-at-home order, I decided to get outside for some fresh air. I had been working nonstop. My wife was upstairs in the guest room getting some work done and the kids were watching a movie.
Now was my chance.
I put some grass seed down I had laying around and then decided to change the light bulbs in the fixture above the front door. They had been out since Christmas.
The fixture above the door is ancient. It has a huge glass casing around it you have to take off by unscrewing the base and lowering the casing down to expose the bulbs.
I got on my green six-foot ladder and reached up to untwist the base. No sooner than I had given it a quarter turn the glass shattered out of nowhere. A 4-inch shard of glass bounced off of my hand just above the knuckle on my index finger, ricocheted off the wall, and shattered on the ground.
I looked down, a bit stunned, when I saw blood dripping from my hand. Upon closer review, I saw what appeared to be the white of my bone.
Oddly, it didn’t hurt at all. I grabbed some paper towels and went upstairs to inform Courtney her workday had ended.
After a brief stop at a local urgent care, I was referred to a larger hospital in town that had a hand surgeon on call 24/7. Apparently, the bone wasn’t a bone after all. It was the tendon and the urgent care doc was afraid I’d nicked it.
E.R. during a pandemic? No big deal.
I was very nervous about going into the emergency room during a global pandemic. There’s a good chance I’d watched a few too many hours of CNN’s wall-to-wall Coronavirus coverage and was a bit on edge.
I walked through the automatic sliding doors to be met by a nurse fully clad in PPE. Face mask, gown, gloves, and protective goggles separating her from the Coronavirus coming through those doors.
She interrogated me for 90 seconds to be sure I wasn’t symptomatic of the virus and then sent me to the registration desk. Within 2 minutes, I was back in the E.R. getting my temperature checked and off to an exam area.
The nurse who took my vitals was maybe the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Especially, being a nurse in the ER during a pandemic. Nothing but smiles and kindness. Did I mention she was close to full term pregnant in the middle of a pandemic?
I asked her how she was doing with everything. She kept her masked-up smile, which you could only tell was a smile because her eyes gave it away, and said they were doing ok. It hadn’t been overwhelming for them yet. Or so she claimed.
At this point, I was in decent pain. I made every attempt to be overly nice to each person that took care of me and focused more on them than what I needed. God knows they were going through more than an ugly laceration.
After only a few minutes, a tech came and took me to get x-rays. This took a few minutes and she returned me to my exam room to wait on the Physician’s Assistant.
The P.A. came in sooner than I expected. You expect to wait forever in the ER. I think they were doing what they could to rush people through to limit exposure to the virus.
She was about my age, give or take a couple of years. While she cleaned out my wound and began to dress it, we got to chatting. I asked her again how she was doing and she talked about the ups and downs of ER life in a pandemic.
She had a child that was turning 7, as mine did a few months earlier. They had scheduled a big party, but the pandemic ruined their plans. She said her kid handled it as well as any 7-year-old could, which she was thankful for. Still, a sad experience for a mom to have to disappoint her child for something as hard to grasp as a global pandemic.
Within no time I was stitched up and booted out the front door.
I have to say, that was the most impressive ER experience I’ve ever had. Checked in, vitals, x-rays, stitches, and discharged within two hours. Maybe a new land speed record.
Two weeks in the hole
I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life. As a kid, I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just thought I had stomach issues. I would get sick in the mornings before school and feel awful on the bus ride most days.
Before school performances, class presentations, and band concerts I would feel nauseous and sure that I wasn’t going to make it until the second I went on stage.
It wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I figured out what I had felt all these years was anxiety.
One afternoon before a confirmation retreat, I succumbed to a bigger anxiety attack, passed out, and fell down the steps of the chancel in our sanctuary. I didn’t make the trip. An interesting story for another time. That is when I realized I had anxiety problems.
This time, the deep cut, ER trip, and stitches event put me over the edge. I had been shaky for a few days, but this did me in.
When we got home from the ER I hadn’t had dinner yet. I attempted to heat up some vegetable lasagna but couldn’t force it down.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I barely ate and barely slept. I lost 18-20 pounds. I’m tall and lanky anyway. Eighteen pounds is a lot to lose. I was tired, skinny, weak, and shaky altogether.
My days were spent rocking back and forth rubbing my legs and arms trying to find something to comfort myself. Nothing worked. The sight of food made me ill. I slept on and off all day.
At night, I would pace around the room trying to calm myself down enough to sleep between nauseous spells. My wife had to move to the guest room just so she could get some sleep.
On top of the anxiety, the antibiotic I was on to prevent infection in my hand made me feel even worse.
I called my doctor and asked for anxiety medication. After a few days it kicked in and I leveled off. She also took me off of the antibiotic.
The doom and gloom feelings during that time got to me. I was convinced that my wife or I was going to get COVID. Or maybe we’d both get it at the same time.
What if one of our parents or her 90-year-old(+) grandparents got it?
What would happen to our kids if we were both hospitalized? How would we manage?
I couldn’t even pick up my phone. When I came out of it all, I had a couple hundred texts and hundreds of emails I hadn’t responded to. I couldn’t bear the thought of what one of them might say.
While it was awful for me, I’m sure it was worse for Courtney. She wasn’t sleeping at night because of me and had to deal with the kids, eLearning, and providing speech therapy to elementary school kids over Zoom while I paced the bedroom and napped off and on all day and night.
As awful as I felt, I just kept feeling like such a loser. Multiple family members on the Garrison side are nurses who were going to work every day. One cousin was even staffing the COVID unit at the hospital by our house. One text I did see was to let me know she had tested positive for COVID and had lost all taste or smell.
That kicked me right in the gut.
After a few days the meds kicked in, the antibiotic left my system, and I began to eat and feel like myself again.
Barring future catastrophe, those two weeks might go down as some of the worst in my life.
My New Normal
Those couple of weeks were terrible. For me, for my wife, for my kids. I learned a lot about myself though.
We talk a lot about a “New Normal” our world will experience coming out of the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m already starting to experience mine.
- Daily medication.
- Aware of how much sleep I’m getting.
- Quick to notice when I’m getting overwhelmed or not handling something well.
I’m sure my wife wonders when it will happen again. She surely experiences a bit of PTSD every time I rub my legs.
Life can’t be the same after that experience.
The good news is I feel better than I have in years. I’m healthy, motivated, and more aware of myself.
Maybe it was a good thing. After 35 years of pushing down the feelings and ignoring anxiety, I was forced to deal with it face to face. I know what it looks like and will hopefully see it coming next time. I have more tools, mentally and medicinally, to catch it early.
A lot of people deal with anxiety. I’m not special. It’s a pandemic of its own in our culture.
What are your experiences and how have you recognized anxiety and reacted to it in your life? What do you do to manage the anxiety and keep it in check?