By Kate Buhler

For the last few months, the world was changing, but I was blissfully ignorant. Sure, I saw news coming from China and thought, "Oh, those poor people. What a tragedy! It makes me realise how lucky I am." It is human nature to feel bad for someone while feeling grateful for how good life is.

When did you realise the magnitude of the pandemic? Perhaps this will replace the old question, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” or later, “Where were you when 911 happened?”

For me it was Tuesday, March 3, 2020. I was working in New York City and news that the Coronavirus would likely impact our part of the world was rumbling. Because my job involves global travel, I had started to receive cancellations for a five-country tour planned the next month. First Kuwait, then Paris, then Amman, leaving me with London and Doha – and a lot of space in between. In the middle of a very hectic work day, I ate a turkey sandwich for lunch. By 6:30pm, I went to the lower East-Side to have dinner at a friend’s apartment. As I walked up the four flights of stairs to her place, I started feeling dizzy and nauseous. She welcomed me into her apartment, but I needed to sit down as she gave me a cool towel. It was totally out of character for me to get so sick; experiencing chills, sweats, and I felt confused. Suddenly I rushed to her bathroom. How do you know when someone is a real friend? When she holds your hair in a pony-tail and says soothing things despite the fact that you are throwing up inelegantly. Eventually, we sat back down on her couch and I tried to sip some water. After another hour, I was fairly certain I would not be sick again and took an Uber back to my hotel.

It was a sleepless night of incoherently wondering, "Am I sick with Covid-19? Did I make anyone else sick on this trip? Have I been anywhere dangerous lately?" (Answer: Seattle and 12 different airports. Twice I was directed around large groups of Chinese travellers being held for screening.) "How do I get out of here? I took the train from Boston, should I take it back? Not if I am sick, but could I rent a car and drive home? I don’t think I am well enough to make it." On and on, until the sun came up, I worried and realised that this ‘far away problem’ is now feeling much closer.

By 6:30am I called a doctor-friend. He heard my story and said it sounded like food poisoning but that I should go to a medical clinic a few blocks away by 7am. They saw me right away, tested me for the regular flu (clean), took my temperature (no fever), and told me it was likely that I had food poisoning. I asked if it was possible to screen for the virus, but they said there were no tests available. I rushed back to the hotel, showered and worked all day. I slowly felt better and was able to eat soup 48 hours later. My illness never materialised into a respiratory issue, and I feel confident it was just the sandwich. That said, it was a small window into the difficult choices many people will be making for the next few months. People will choose whether they should work sick or lose a paycheck. People will choose whether they want to pay rent or buy groceries. People will choose whether to leave their children home alone or skip the job interview. People will choose how to run their business through an unprecedented market. They will do what they have to do to save their business. That is, if they have a business left to save after this is over.

As for me and my business? It is shut down for the foreseeable future, and my family will be living on savings that were meant for my retirement.  The company that has taken me ten years to build up is gone for now. What’s worse, the industry that I have worked in all my life is disintegrating daily. Even writing that I feel guilty, because at least for the moment, we have savings when so many people do not. My youngest son is missing the last part of his freshman year in college, my oldest son will not get to graduate with his class, but if I can keep them healthy and safe, nothing else really matters does it? Does it?

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Life in lockdown. Womankind approached its community to write about life in lockdown around the globe, notably a three-day diary of everyday life under the threat of COVID-19. Womankind is publishing these stories freely to show how the pandemic is affecting women from all over the globe - from New York, to Barcelona to Glastonbury.

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