Wellness Wednesday: How We Are Navigating Our Return to Normal

From March 2020 through Friday, my husband and I ate only what I prepared for us at home. I’m pleased to have managed our nutrition very well, and our recent bloodwork shows that we are holding our own against disease. I’ll write a post on nutrition another time to share some of the recipes and cooking tips I picked up along the way.

Today, however, I have to write that …. we broke out and ate at not just one but two restaurants this week. One was just okay, and the other was a homecoming.

Comfortably locked in for a year

The pandemic locked us in, and we got habituated to those limits. We found ourselves enjoying each other’s 24/7 company — not a surprise, but what a bonus after 40 years — and engaging outdoors at a distance with neighbors. I didn’t miss outside society very much at all. In fact, I’d decided that hermit living was just my style, or perhaps it was the idea of breaking out of our self-imposed limits that made me anxious.

Many of us have gotten very comfortable with the safety that our isolated environments have provided and taking these initial steps out of our safe, home-controlled environments can cause fear and anxiety.

Dr. Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Hard-wired for fear

Coming on the heels of a slow recovery from my near-death 2019 illness, the pandemic terrified both of us. The unseen enemy lurked everywhere. We adopted strict cleansing habits. Masks, gloves, and bottles of disinfectant popped up on counters and cabinets around the home and in the car. It was war.

Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

Kirsten Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Taking baby steps toward old behavior

I walked into a grocery store for the first time in nearly a year when we got our first vaccine. The Publix pharmacy was near the bread aisle, and I will associate the sweet scent of dough with freedom for the rest of my life.

When we were fully vaccinated and outdoors, we began to relax around others. I went to Target, to Publix, to the post office. Not all at once, but here and there.

The way to work through anxiety is to take very small steps forward and expose yourself to manageable amounts of anxiety.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

One giant step into a restaurant

Then came last week, when the CDC announced that vaccinated people could go maskless. Our daughter’s visit coincided with that announcement, and I made reservations — at an outdoor table — at our old favorite weekly dinner place.

It was the first time I’ve had mahi-mahi since the pandemic hit. And blue cheese dressing. And anything someone else cooked.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

Choosing to keep new patterns

Still, that dinner did not feel like a homecoming. I hadn’t missed dining among strangers, and that included the wait staff, none of whom were our old regulars. Things change over 15 months. Including us.

A lot of people have found that this year has really allowed them to slowdown, to let go of things, to create new patterns and ways of being.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Two days later, we hit a homerun at our favorite breakfast place, where Latino sisters welcomed us back like family. Oh, how we’d worried about them. Other than being unemployed for three months, they and theirs are all well. Tucking in to a hearty Mediterranean omelet and homemade bread, I knew we were on our way to a new normal.

For a lot of people, it’s going to take some time to readjust to a new norm that isn’t quite pre-pandemic but getting closer.

Dr. John Whyte, chief medical director of WebMD.

How are you handling this phase of our unprecedented life?

Family Friday: When COVID Hits Home for a Reporter

Micaela Watts has spent the year of pandemic tracking the mounting data for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, part of the USA Today Network of newspapers of which my daily, The Palm Beach Post, is part. Her work meant understanding the virus better she ever wanted to know and listening to more heartbreak than she ever wanted to hear. Then, it came for her 100-year-old grandmother, and Ms Watts’ own heart broke.

The two worlds I strive to keep separate came crashing together: my job and my family. I was face to face with COVID-19, a set of genetic codes contained in a virus strand that brought the modern world to its knees. And now it had my grandmother, my Mimi. I had dutifully avoided seeing her for a year, even as I worried it would be her last. She was, after all, 100 years old.

Micaela Watts, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Here is a portion of the article Micaela Watts wrote about her grandmother’s final hour. I found it so touching that it needs no more words from me. Please read through to the end, as the final line broke my heart, too.

The COVID-19 unit was bright and clean. And though Brett had warned me I might hear a lot of different alarms and beeps, it was eerily quiet.

As my gaze moved toward the top of the bed, I first became aware of the dull roar of her oxygen supply. It reminded me of the closed-air system on airplanes, the hiss they make when planes are idling on the runways. I went up to her. Underneath the oxygen mask, her lips were dark. She took a ragged, gravelly breath. I heard her drowning in her own body.

The palliative care doctor, Dr. Blair, placed a hand on my back. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep her comfortable. She won’t be in any pain.” I burst into sobs. I looked over at Dr. Blair. To my surprise, I saw her eyes fill with tears. After a year of the pandemic and her career in palliative care, she was still moved by a granddaughter saying goodbye.

“If this is too hard, and you need to leave,” Brett the nurse said, “I’ll stay with her. I promise you, she will not go out alone.”

Over the next hour and a half, I held her hands and talked, loudly. Between her faulty hearing and the whoosh of the oxygen, I knew I needed to shout. I wondered if anyone passing outside her room could hear me yelling Psalm 23. “I love you,” I yelled. “I love you and it’s OK to go now.”

I watched as a single tear started to spill out of the corner of each of her closed eyes. She tried speaking, tried sitting up. She was already halfway gone. At 100, time was already coming for her, that was true. But did that make watching your loved one die any easier? Not for me.

When Brett next entered the room to administer her next shot of morphine, I knew it was time. “Brett …” I began, turning toward him. “You can turn it off now.” Brett nodded and pivoted toward the control panel for her oxygen. The hissing stopped. The silence that followed was the loudest sound I ever heard.

“She’s going to go quickly now,” he said. I nodded and kept Mimi’s small hand in my grip. She gripped back, hard. I watched her draw fewer and fewer breaths until there were none noticeable. Her grip went slack. I felt a hand on my back again. It was Brett. I looked at him, and he nodded. He didn’t have to say anything.

I slumped over in my chair, and he folded me into a hug. He reassured me that, since there was no intubation, no drawn-out fight, Mimi’s passing was one of the most peaceful he had seen in a solid year of watching people die.

At precisely 10 a.m. that day, the health department sent out their customary tweet with the day’s COVID-19 numbers as well as the daily press email. I opened it up.

There was one new reported death due to complications from COVID-19.

Micaela Watts, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Micaela Watts and her grandmother, Evelyn Watts

Wellness Wednesday: How I celebrated my second anniversary of being alive

As I sipped my first cup of coffee this morning, I checked for the Amsterdam time. It was about two in the afternoon, two years ago to the hour from when my heart stopped on May 5, 2019.

My second anniversary

We’d just crossed the Atlantic on a Holland America cruise ship and should have been at Keukenhof Gardens but my husband had bronchitis, so we had stayed in Amsterdam to pick up medicine when I fainted on the sidewalk.
The EMTs arrived quickly, but my vital signs were within normal range and I told them I felt perfectly fine. Of course I did not feel perfectly fine. I’d had several days of cramping in my abdomen but I had been ignoring it, focused as I was on the next leg of our journey and a reunion with family at the Oslo Opera. “Take us back to the ship,” I commanded.

The ship doctor would not let us back on board unless we signed waivers relieving Holland America of the responsibility for our actions. I was determined, R was sick, and getting back to our room seemed like the only thing to do. We signed the waivers and got to the room, but when R returned with lunch 15 minutes later I was sprawled on the bed, semi conscious. This time, the decision was made for us — the ship doctor and his staff, along with a new set of EMTs, evacuated us off the ship within minutes. Although I understand I must have been unconscious, I remember someone saying as I was rolled into the ER at OLVG Hospital, “We are starting CPR.”

Imagine my poor husband watching this drama unfold, sitting in the ER lounge with our luggage and still very, very sick himself.

Surviving

The ER team identified a ruptured arterial aneurysm in my abdomen as the reason for my condition, and they quickly performed a clamping procedure that stopped the leak. However, the amount of blood in my abdomen had already begun to wreak havoc with my organs, and I spent the next six weeks in the ICU as my body fought off failure.

Our daughter and my sister flew to be at my husband’s side through these very long and dark weeks, and they were supported by the remarkably compassionate OLVG doctors and nurses and the extended family of another ICU patient. These dear people became our friends forever — I just mailed them some gifts.

Recovering

When I was discharged to the hospital’s gastroenterology unit, I had lost 30% of my bodyweight and the ability to move. The doctors told me that I might not have made it at all had I not been strong, the result of teaching water exercise to fellow retirees in Florida. The lifetime exercise habit gave my body the muscle memory it needed as I slowly recovered my ability to move, then to stand, then to walk.

R and I flew to Florida at the end of July, where the University of Florida Shands Hospital took over my care and confirmed that I was strong enough to continue my recovery as an outpatient. I shuffled down my neighborhood sidewalk using a walker and then a cane, and regained my ability to walk unassisted through physical therapy. We even joined a gym, and then, just weeks before my first anniversary, the pandemic hit.

Living

Quarantine did not stop me. My walks got longer and faster. The hand weights came out from the closet. I worked out on Zoom with my sister’s Colorado fitness instructor. We bought a stationary bike. I swam in our community pool and jogged in the ocean.

I have regained, maybe even surpassed, my May 5, 2019 strength and resilience. My next Shands checkup is in July, and we’re expecting me to be discharged.

Gratitude

I really wasn’t sure how I was going to celebrate this day. But then, I got a surprise call from Marsha, who was the first person to entrust me with being her personal trainer in the water. Marsha had just finished a water exercise class with an instructor who was filled with joy and enthusiasm, the feeling that I hoped to impart with every class when I was teaching. The repetition of exercises we’d worked on together, the freedom of moving in water and connecting with others — well, she simply had to call me.

As we caught up with each others lives, I was filled with gratitude for Marsha and all my former students who helped me to be strong enough to survive in 2019. We have made it through this awful pandemic year and will see each other over breakfast or in a pool when conditions permit. We are in each other’s lives, and that is a wonderful thing.

Indeed, I am reminded, today and every day, that life is a wonderful thing.

Wellness Wednesday: How Ordinary Activity Improves Your Life

I am approaching the two-year anniversary of my shocking illness. On May 5, 2019, an undiagnosed aneurysm ruptured while my husband and I were in Amsterdam. Three months later, I left Amsterdam’s OVLG Hospital, whose skilled staff saved my life while their compassionate hearts helped me to begin recovering in a body that was left wasted by repeated brushes with death.

It has taken me two years to fully rehabilitate. I am grateful every time my feet hit the floor, or I roll over in bed, or I grab a heavy pan, or I sit up straight. I will never again take movement for granted. And neither should you, because you can improve your quality of life through ordinary activity.

Here is my experience and the findings of new research from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.  

Mobility Disability Affects One in Four of Us

When I returned home, I could stand, but not long. I could walk, but not far. And I could not lift my foot high enough to step up on a curb. I was among the 25 percent of older women who are mobility impaired.

One in four women over age 65 is unable to walk two blocks or climb a flight of stairs. Known as mobility disability, it is the leading type of incapacity in the United States and a key contributor to a person’s loss of independence.

Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego 

Exercise Guidelines Are Unrealistic

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

The Mayo Clinic

Before my illness, I was a fitness instructor, putting 55-plus men and women through hour-long aerobic, strengthening, and stretching classes many times a week. Since I dedicated myself to recovery, I have inhabited a far more real world of older Americans who are just not going to get those 150 minutes in. Ever.

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is increasingly more difficult to perform as people age.

John Bellettiere, Ph.D., UC San Diego

Light-Intensity Movement is the Key

We found that, among older women, light-intensity physical activity preserves mobility later in life.

Andrea LaCroix, PhD, MPH, UC San Diego

When you’re learning how to move again, every activity is challenging. As I’ve regained my strength, it’s tempting to disregard everyday movement, but it’s precisely this kind of routine activity that turns out to be the key to independence.

All movement counts if you want to maintain mobility.

Nicole Glass, UC San Diego

— Standing up during the television commercials.

— Making yourself that cup of tea.

— Browsing the garden to see what’s coming up this spring.

— Emptying the dishwasher (this is one you can “gift” to your housemate.)

— Taking a walk down the block. Or around the block.

And, as my friend Marlo Scott said in our post of last week:

Have fun while you move!

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness.

You can find out more about Marlo Scott’s fitness and wellness work here.

Wellness Wednesday: Exercise Doesn’t Guarantee Weight Loss, So Why Do It?

I’d like a good swim or long walk to earn me a Snicker’s bar, but that’s not how it works.

As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise.

Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic, cited on Oprah.com

So, why exercise if it’s not about weight loss?

I posed that question to my friend Marlo Scott, owner of First Class Fitness and Wellness and a former colleague when I taught exercise classes to active seniors in nearby Boynton Beach. Marlo, a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, holds a Masters degree in Health Education and is on the faculty of Broward College.

Although exercise alone doesn’t guarantee weight loss, it does make us healthier by reducing blood pressure, the risk for diabetes, arthritis pain, and depression and anxiety.

Marlo Scott

Exercise reduces blood pressure

The Mayo Clinic explains the correlation: physical activity makes your heart stronger = pumping more blood with less effort = reducing the force on your arteries and lowering your blood pressure.

Exercise reduces risk for diabetes

The Joselin Diabetes Center says that exercise alters fat to release a protein into the blood system, helping to improve glucose tolerance.

Exercise reduces arthritic pain

The Aquatic Exercise Association has partnered with the Arthritis Foundation to develop pool-based classes that use water’s buoyancy, resistance, and pressure to facilitate movement and relieve arthritic pain. I was an AEA-certified instructor before my 2019 illness, and being in water gave me back my body after losing so much muscle mass in the ICU.

Exercise reduces depression and anxiety

The Mayo Clinic says that exercise releases feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals, and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Getting more social interaction lifts the spirit. And the positive feed-back loop about knowing you’re doing something good for yourself brings you back for more.

Above all, find something that you enjoy! Have fun while you move.

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness

You can find out more about Marlo Scott’s fitness and wellness work here.

Wellness Wednesday: Krispy Kreme, Sam Adams, and the Tooth Fairy

In his article for USA Today, Nathan Bomey writes that Krispy Kreme — click here for video — is offering a free doughnut every day day for the rest of 2021 to anyone who shows their vaccination card. That’s 260 original glazed doughnuts, or 54,600 calories, according to My Fitness Pal. That’s nearly a month’s worth of food value, all free! Please plan accordingly.

The marketing incentives promoting vaccinations can’t hold a candle to my mother’s subtle control strategies. Here’s a story about Krispy Kreme, Sam Adams, and the Tooth Fairy.

Free rides and beer

Bomey writes that Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to vaccination sites to some customers. Staples is offering to laminate vaccination cards for free. Samuel Adams offered free beer to a limited number of people who showproof on social media of their vaccination.

Maybe good health is good for business, but savvy marketing may not be good for our health.

…you’ve got to recognize that giving people a doughnut a day might not be consistent with the message about caring about health.

Peter Jaworski, Georgetown University, quoted by Bomey USA Today

It would be weird if Krispy Kreme was offering a kale smoothie.

Theresa McEndree, Blackhawk Network, quoted by Bomey USA Today

Because I drove so far for the doughnut, I did end up getting six, so I think it was a good business practice.

Valerie Bennett, Roanoke college student, quoted by Bomey USA Today

Selling the baby blanket

My mother was a master at spotting opportunities for incentivizing her kids’ behavior while making us think it was all our idea. Here’s how my sister came to finally releasing her ragged security blanket.

The year was 1960. We were settling into Dad’s Foreign Service assignment in Milan when I lost my first tooth one evening as my little sister and I were going to bed. After she finished dressing to attend the evening’s performance at La Scala, my mother put my tooth in a little box and tucked it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

However, I really did not want some strange lady poking around while I was asleep. My mother thought fast. “How about Dad and I take your tooth to the office on our way to the opera for the Tooth Fairy to find there?” And sure enough, I had money in my hand in the morning.

My savvy sister saw a business opportunity. “I want to sell my nighnee to the Tooth Fairy babies,” she announced over breakfast Susie had clung to that raggedy baby blanket for two years, from Caracas, to Minnesota, to Milan. Mom quickly found a box, Susie packed it up, and Dad took it to the office.

By gum, the fairy bought it and Susie was thrilled to be paid. Lucky fairy babies.

Nancy Amerson, letter to her parents

It’s about providing an additional extrinsic motivator.

Theresa McEndree, Blackhawk Network, quoted by Bomey USA Today
Illustration, USA Today Network; photos, Amy Huschka, Detroit Free Press; Diedre Laird, Charlotte Observer

Travel Tuesday: Looking At The Dutch Tulips

Visitors tiptoe through the tulips in Dutch virus test, wrote Mike Corder recently for the AP, documenting the opening of the famed Keukenhof Gardens for a lucky 5,000 people. It is one of hundreds of public venues that the Dutch government has allowed to reopen under strict conditions to evaluate whether rapid testing can safely help the country ease coronavirus restrictions amid rising levels of vaccinations and warmer weather.

This is a gift. It feels great today. It is beautiful weather anyway … but to walk through the tulips is fantastic!

Corder quotesWritingBerries blogger Berry de Nijs, who shared the following picture on her WritingBerries Facebook page. Dank, Berry!
Dutch blogger Berry De Nijs posted this photo of the tulips in Keukenhof Gardens after her recent visit.

On May 5, 2019, we were scheduled to spend the day at Keukenhof Gardens when our cruise ship stopped in Amsterdam for the day before sailing on to Norway to complete a three-week cross-Atlantic voyage. We had missed the brief tulip season when we were in Amsterdam 2018, catching glimpses of the flowers only at the floating market during our week-long stay, so we’re really looking forward to seeing the 7 million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and myriad other flowers meticulously hand-planted throughout Keukenhof’s manicured lawns by a small army of gardeners.

Photo by Jane Kelly Amerson López, 2018

But, through one of the zillion of timing miracles that allow me to tell you this today, we were not among the tulips on May 5, 2019, when I fainted on an Amsterdam sidewalk. We were outside a pharmacy getting medication for my husband’s bronchitis. Quick response by EMTs had me in an ER within minutes just as my heart stopped. I had ruptured an undiagnosed aneurysm. OLVG Hospital’s expert intervention sealed the leak, but I would be in the ICU for six weeks as my body struggled to survive, and another six weeks in the gastroenterology unit as I slowly regained movement of my wasted limbs.

I celebrated my one-year anniversary back on my feet. But this year as I commemorate surviving and recovering, I am even more grateful to have been spared breast cancer, to be vaccinated, and to be the least interesting patient in my doctor’s roster.

There’s a whole lot to look forward to, maybe even tiptoeing through Kukenhof one day, while living in each moment.

Wellness Wednesday: Feel the Liberation of Getting the Vaccine

Not only was there no longer like a light at the end of the tunnel, there was no longer any tunnel.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin, in Jordan Mendoza’s USA Today article.

We were in the dark

Yes, we were all in that dark nowhere for months, feeling terrified and lost and hopeless and unseeing.

I thought I’d never get sprung.

My friend Deb

The vaccine lights the way

And, then, the unimaginable happened. A light beamed from not too far away, revealing a short tunnel through which we only had to step to be delivered from the Coronavirus killing machine. Yes, it seemed like an eternal wait, complicated by lottery scrambling for access, but then I entered a grocery store for the first time in eleven months. Inhaling the heady scent of fresh bread, I got a needle in my arm and the world changed.

Gratitude washes over us

United States is the first country to administer 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, on track to meet the president’s goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office. USA Today reporter Jordan Mendoza writes about Americans getting emotional when being vaccinated.

As soon as I got into the line, I saw an elderly person in a wheelchair getting their vaccine, and I think it was just like a really full-circle moment for me.

Michael Limus, 29, Sacramento, California

The magnitude of the moment just kept washing over me.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin

I had tears in my eyes, literally. But I also had just a tremendous amount of gratitude and hope in my heart that better days were ahead for all of us.

Tom Miner, 25, Charlotte, North Carolina 

I feel like it’s one step closer to a little bit more normalcy for my family.

Travel blogger Hather Montgome

It’s still miraculous that we’ve been able to come so far.

Mike DiBenedetto, 46, Phoenix

Zimbabwean-American Dr. Tererai Trent and her husband, Mark Trent, celebrated being vaccinated in the best possible way.

Compassion carries us forward

Everyone benefits if you’re a little bit more compassionate and open to being more flexible and more understanding of different challenges and needs. The pandemic is not the only time we should be thinking about these things.

Travis Chi Wing Lau, Assistant Professor, Kenyon College, Columbus, Ohio

Wellness Wednesday: Three Strategies Behind My Recovery

Dr. Lisa Sanders’ Diagnosis column in The New York Times Magazine tantalizes me like a true crime story, only with a happy ending. Sanders’ January 17, 2021 column was about a man who’d been diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative disease revealed to be a treatable brain disorder. She closed her essay with this:

It was only later that he recognized how strange it was to get a death sentence and lived to tell the tale. ‘“It was,” he told me, “like I was hearing my own eulogy without dying.”

Lisa Sanders, The New York Times Magazine

As a survivor of a near-death illness, I recognize that feeling. Two years ago, I suffered a ruptured arterial aneurysm and weeks of system failures in an Amsterdam ICU, and when I emerged from the fog of illness, my body had lost the ability to move. That intubated and inert body in a hospital bed was me. Yet here I sit, on the eve of my second anniversary, stronger than ever and completely myself in body, mind, and spirit. How in the world did I do this?

Three things have carried me forward for these past two years: keeping focused, celebrating small goals, and repetition.

Keeping focused

Focus seemed to take care of itself, at least initially. When I was really sick, the world shrank to nothing..Taking the next breath was the only thing. As I got better, the perimeter slowly expanded to include my body, my bed, my room, the physiotherapy gym, the park across the street.

After three months, I flew home, knowing how far I’d come. A wise doctor in Amsterdam counseled me to not let myself be discouraged at this phase by others’ impressions of me, but to keep my focus on the next step in getting better. One foot in front of the other, literally. Head down. One step at a time.

Celebrating small goals

At first, my only goals were small ones, and they felt huge. It took me several days to relearn to chew and swallow food before I could be released from the ICU. I could barely make a fist, so holding my iPhone was a victory. It took me an hour, but I finally peeled a tangerine.

Bending a knee, rolling over, and finally standing. My physiotherapist Gemma held me like a junior-high date and I shifted my weight from foot to foot..I walked out of the hospital, onto the airplane, and into my house, and every day since then I’ve continued to seek and nail those small goals.

Repetition

Every day my feet hit the floor is an opportunity to get better, and the morning begins with exercise. At first, it was 10 minutes of shuffling.. It’s now an hour of striding and weight lifting. Every day.

Four times a day, I repeat the pelvic floor exercises I learned from my gynecology nurse practitioner. I use the breathing prompt on my Apple Watch to consciously breathe for those two-minute sets. Every day.

It’s gotten me a long way. And I still have a long way I want to go.

One day, you look up and realize how far you’ve come.

Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse, OLVG Hospital, Amsterdam

Wildcard Weekend: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Living Today

‘I didn’t think that it would take years.’

12-year-old Darelyn Maldonado, quoted in an AP article by Michelle R. Smith and Andrew Ledrum, After Pandemic Year, The World Looks Back

Few of us understood a year ago what lay ahead. We forget that living one day at a time is the only way life works. As world looks back at the year of pandemic, here’s what I see.

  • Two years ago, my husband and I sailed for Europe on a trip that nearly ended my life.
  • One year ago, I was finally strong enough to resume normal life when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
  • One month ago, my surgeon told me that the lump she removed from my breast isn’t cancer.
  • Yesterday, two weeks after our second Moderna vaccine, my husband and I emerged into new normal life.

Here’s what hasn’t changed.

I will do everything in my power to stay healthy for the rest of my life: exercising, eating right, and staying away from risky situations. Three months in a hospital, nine months of recovery, and twelve months of partial living are enough.

I’m still under the care of the University of Florida Shands Hospital. My one-year follow up is in August. I am planning to be discharged.

For the rest of my life, I will be at high risk for bacterial infections. My spleen was killed during the surgery that saved my life. I keep a supply of antibiotics close at hand and will stay vaccinated for everything.

We have an amazing daughter who we speak with often and dear family across the United States with whom we’ve stayed in contact throughout these two long years.

We live in paradise.

Here’s what’s different.

The bureau next to the front door contains a drawerful of masks.

Going to Target feels like emerging into the Technicolor Land of Oz.

Our daughter is engaged to a man we love for caring so dearly for our girl. Although V is now vaccinated, we are waiting for her fiancé to also be immunized, and what a hug lies ahead when we can finally get together.

We have a new president, a man who overflows with empathy and good will, and a congress that supports him.

We won’t cruise again, and it will be some time before we feel safe getting on an airplane. But when we do, we’ll go to Amsterdam to hug the people who saved my life.

‘I’m starting to get that feeling: It’s time to go back and do something.

96-year-old Jean Allen Queen Anne Healthcare in Seattle, quoted in an AP article by Michelle R. Smith and Andrew Ledrum, After Pandemic Year, The World Looks Back