• Kaatje Gotcha

Lockdown Loneliness

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Lockdown Loneliness

My very first lockdown and its’ twin companion, loneliness, took place from 2015 through 2020. I found myself stuck in a hospital bed at home 20 hours a day, due to an old spinal cord injury which had morphed into chronic spinal cord inflammation. The pain of “adhesive arachnoiditis” has rightfully been compared to that of bonecancer, yet I still yearned to make the best of my circumstances. But my sickly life and that of my healthy friends diverged sharply; and over the years I lost a dozen or more friendships.

I fought extreme loneliness through comedy, open mics and writing, and even moved Downtown so I could do OT and PT exercises at a nearby gym. It took my power wheelchair only five minutes to get to the sanctuary of a heated pool, hot tub and friendly staff. I had access to a private shower with accessible shower seat and plenty fresh towels. Three, sometimes four times a week I would venture out to keep my body and mind as sane and as healthy as possible. I found a new life and routine; after a strenuous workout treating myself to a weekly burrito in a friendly cafe, or a small shopping trip on my way home, hanging shopping bags on the back of my power wheelchair. Life was hard, but I didn’t know how good I had it.

In March 2020, when the media first started reporting on a two week lockdown, I was alarmed, mainly because as a Physician Assistant and New Mexico Tech graduate I knew there’d be dire consequences of halting a global and local economy. But it seemed that most politicians and journalists had never taken a Logic, Economics or Statistics class, or understood the meaning of “global supplychain”. Besides, I had faith in Metaresearcher John Ioannidis’ analysis of the Princess Diamond cruise ship data, which showed that even in tight quarters, amidst an elderly population, the virus’ lethality could not be compared to the fatalities of Ebola, MERS or SARS.

I am partial to Professor Ioannidis, have been a fan of his since 2005. He had calculated a 1.0% fatality rate, in the mostly geriatric cruise ship passengers, but stated that with “Just seven deaths among the 700 infected passengers and crew — the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.025%) to five times higher (0.625%)”. Recall that the severely compromised WHO shouted a 3.4% case fatality rate to the media at that time. John Ioannidis also warned against taking rash measurements that would have great social and economic consequences.

But it’s been almost a year, and in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation, we never re-opened.

My father passed away in March 2020 from Alzheimer’s Disease, yet my long suffering mother, his primary caregiver, was not allowed to fly in and see her daughter in the US (my family is based in the Netherlands). Her March 31 flight was cancelled, and my heart sank at the injustice. How I longed to comfort eachother and talk in person yet that opportunity was denied, even if airtravel wasn’t shown to be a main contributor to the pandemic, nevermind that Covid-19 was already everywhere.

I tried to keep up my spirits, kept working on my second memoir, and eagerly awaited her postponed arrival in September. I knew that extreme loneliness was awaiting me, since I had my personal lockdown to deal with as well as the state lockdown (one of the harshest in the nation, after California). My ex-boyfriend and I started dating again, seemingly forgood this time, and I occasionally was able to swim in a friend’s indoor pool. I even incorporated a few minutes of stairwalking, lifting myself up using the banisters, with the help of my legbraces.

On Sunday July 12th I talked with my mom, and I gave her the happy news that that morning I had woken up for the first time in five years without overwhelming neuropathic (nerve) pain from my chest to my toes. I was proud, had worked so hard to maintain some sort of medical balance in my dire situation. Two days later, on July 14, she was found unresponsive due to a brain aneurysm. She’d never regain consciousness. Still having a Dutch passport, I managed to fly in, using three seats to lie down on the two strenuous flights back.

My sister, a nurse, and I took care of her while she was on hospice in the small apartment she last shared with my dad. Our mother passed away on July 26, both her daughters holding her hands. To this day I don’t know how we survived all this, and then came more bad news. Our brother and his wife had stolen their savings over a period of three years, greatly impeding a speedily wrapping up of their affairs. I was physically and emotionally wrecked, and returned to my small studio, which only served as a reminder she would never spend another holiday with me, sleeping on the comfortable sofa.

Soon after my return in October, the New Mexico lockdown became more strict with mandatory mask wearing outside, a fanatical and expensive cleaning regimen of shop surfaces and increasingly, more poverty, domestic abuse, suicides, forgotten children and now, worldwide hunger. Three more hospitalizations were my fate in 2020, for a total of eight and I suffered a hard fall from my power wheelchair. Then, Christmas and New Years came, and with it the realization that 2021 would no longer have any memories of my mom being alive.

Without the solace of my gym, and support, my body and mind sank in a deep depression. New Mexico is one of the most stringent lockdown states: Gyms are open but showers are not allowed. Even people with disabilities cannot shower after their swim, in a separate toilet and shower room. And it was much harder to reach a new gym, with a car and manual wheelchair.

Living in the year 2021 meant it had all really happened, losing both parents, home health carers, access to medical appointments, social support, and barely surviving the lockdown. Whenever I am able to swim, it takes days to recover due to hypothermia, without a hot shower or hot tub afterwards.

Life had become so incredibly hard, without anything to look forward to. I missed my mom, I missed my old life - which wasn’t much but at least I had a little independence - and I sank deeper and deeper into despair. Meanwhile, my risk of dying, if I were to have Covid-19, was miniscule. I tried to explain to the scared millennials and Gen-X-ers around me, that suicide and car accidents were going to get our age range before Covid-19, to no avail.

Two weeks ago, I confided to my health insurer that I didn’t want to live anymore, and before I realized what would happen, 911 police officers were in my home forcing me to go to Psychiatric Urgent Care, a locked unit. The irony, from lockdown to a locked mental health hospital! At the very least, a Psychiatric Nurse and Psychiatrist offered two hours of one on one, addipersocounseling and I was discharged that same evening. Afterwards, I felt relief, for still being here but also for finally acknowledging the major depression I apparently was suffering.

I had lost so much, in 2015 my rewarding, well paid job, friendships and now, my parents and the little bit of freedom I had so painstakingly built up. Was life still worth living? Besides, I knew that most politicians were wrong, and that focused protection would have saved many more lives, without a lockdown. It was also lonesome to meet lockdown zealots, who could not put numbers in perspective (although I could not blame them, with the fearmongering campaign unleashed against even the most rational of minds).

Equally disturbing was the realization that just like with the anti-opioid campaign, which hurts bonafide patients most, medical providers no longer had the autonomy to make medical decisions. This was top down governing, and it was hurting the lower class and impoverished populations most, even if a few acquaintances confided they made more with the unemployment benefits than their jobs. What hurts most is the heartlessness which with politicians have condemned us common people to suffer.

For example, my Navajo boyfriend’s Covid-19 negative grandmother died alone from colon cancer in April 2020, no visitors allowed. Whereas Covid-19 positive celebrities like Kobe Bryant were allowed to don full PPE/hazmat and hug their kids, and politicians had holidays in Cabo and $800 lunches in restaurants that were closed to the plebs. That is not an enlightened, or just, society. It definitely is not a society I want to live in, but it is the reality for now. So it is with a heavy heart, that I must go on living, despite my circumstances. Mum wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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