Notes from the Frontline of Quarantine


One survivor reflects on how quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak is impacting her life and reflects on current events.

Our current quarantine reminds me of the day when my oncologist told me I needed to stay away from people because my immune system was zilch. In other words, he told me to begin a self-imposed quarantine.

My immune system, he explained, had been decimated by the drugs I was taking to beat the breast cancer in my right breast, leaving my body an open vessel for anything that landed on me and wanted to take root. Bottom line, if someone had a cold or fever, I would get it. This was brought home to me by a young woman in my support group. She had the bad kind of asthma acquired in childhood and had had some respiratory problems with her treatment. It was quite a shock when our support group leader told us she had died as a result of the flu, which came on quite quickly.

For this reason, when international health organizations say stay home, I stay home. I don’t go to the movies, or out to dinner or to the grocery store. I keep disinfectant wipes in my car because I use valet when I go to the doctor, and all I can see is all the steering wheels the valet has touched.

I think those of us who have had cancer have a healthy respect for quarantine. If we are in treatment it goes without saying, we don’t want to add to our physical challenges. Actually, it was harder for me the first time around because my oncologist told me that small children were the worst carriers of everything I wanted to avoid, particularly if they were in some kind of daycare. All I could do was watch my husband cuddle with our 1-year-old. He told me not to be snuggling with my baby until she was sanitized by my husband when he picked her up from daycare.

Today that daughter is living in the strange quiet of New York City where all nonessential businesses are closed. My other daughter is having fun with her daughters in Austin where it has been warm enough to garden. Since the schools are closed and my daughter, a costume designer for movies, has had her next project put on hold they are all home getting great bonding time. My two grandsons fall in the category of low-level service providers in their after-school jobs at restaurants. They just got laid off.

This time I am retired and live alone, but giving up visits from friends and family, lunches and other social occasions really wears on me. Multiplying my problems is the fact that the week before the government stepped in, I had already been isolating because I was in the hospital with a UTI that left me septic and with a lowered immune system.

In the meantime I will begin on the list of meaningless tasks that I need to do. Things like cleaning out my email inbox, pulling out all the mysteries I need to read, talking to my grandchildren on the phone, enjoying all those mysteries I haven’t read or — heaven forbid – work on my taxes. Oh, that’s right we have more time on taxes.

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