• Kaatje Gotcha

Surviving Five Years of Isolation, and Five Weeks of Covid-19 Lockdown

The cold and, for me, always painful winter had barely retreated when the first signs of lockdown arrived in downtown Albuquerque. I joked to my friends: “Isolation is my jam, homies, I’ve been bed and housebound since June 2015!” The second week of March had already kept me busy by crawling on hands and knees to finish the accessible Ikea kitchen, changing lightbulbs from my power wheelchair and a short hospitalization the morning after my father died. As a standup I’ve quibbed that I’d survive any apocalypse with “suturing and blowjobs” so thought myself well equipped for the weeks ahead. All kidding aside, sure there were nuisances, such as my caregiver not showing up for all shifts, and lack of toilet paper. Yet when the world panicked, my life improved: Jobless friends had time to visit, while others stopped by with groceries. My sweetheart, whose server job had evaporated came to the rescue with a restaurant sized roll of tp. However, my personal isolation since 2015 has caused suicide inducing loneliness, and was the main reason I’d started writing jokes from my hospital bed. I became a comic to deal with the bone-cancer like pain and isolated existence which greatly improved my life. This time, I adapted new routines like going to the corner liquor store every day to chat and buy orange cream or vanilla Minee cookies. I took the bus to the Rio Grande Hospital for trigger point therapy and pain medication management, and was still swiming. The atmosphere was dire but also festive, especially when friends and I filmed a Pandemic Comedy sketch. To my delight, I played an “Oral Sex Demon” in my manual wheelchair. But soon, movie theaters closed, then my gym, and therefore the warm pool I relied on to get through life with intractable pain. No more affordable Chinese massages a few doors down, either. I suffer from a progressive neuroinflammatory disorder, on top of traumatic cauda equina syndrome. Able bodied people started complaining about cabin fever after only a week indoors, and I raged with annoyance. My biggest problem, for the last fewyears has been controlling for the pain and isolation. The coronavirus did not change that. But my world, and the support system I carefully built, fell apart. Then caregivers stopped coming at all, and my physical situation quickly deteriorated. The corner liquor store closed, no more cookies and bantering with the guys. And then, it hit me: All these years of struggles, all the sacrifices had been for naught. I may not have had much control over my body and my existence, but loved going to the pool. To make matters worse, my mom wasn’t allowed to fly in. After my dad’s cremation, I’d eagerly awaited my mom’s arrival from Holland. My situational depression, and profound sense of isolation, quickly worsened. I even took 0.25 mg of lorazepam, but still couldn’t sleep from anxiety. It seemed quitting was once again the logical, inevitable conclusion. But, now aware that I am at a higher risk for suicide, I knocked on my neighbor’s door. G. welcomed me with open arms. We talked for a bit and admired the pink super moon. He too, had had a meltdown and struggled more than normal. My experience was not isolated, pun intended. Then he said his girlfriend had bought my book! So, I came down from that ledge, and developed a blueprint for the next few weeks, or months, or years. My ancestors made it through the Second World War and survived the Hunger Winter of 1944/45. I survided snow avalances, modeling in Paris and a skydiving accident. I couldn’t quit now. It was far from easy, but I transformed my living space into a gym with a yoga hammock, a wood grained, 6 x 8 foot thick exercise mat and foam roller. Without a pool, I started to walk more with my legbraces, and it helped a bit with the severe, intractable neuropathic pain. Not as much as a pool, but still. Then, a friend provided an indoor swimming pool to use during the lockdown; another offered help with household chores; the neighbor and his girlfriend invited me for dinner. The coronavirus lockdown meant that aqaintances became friends, and strangers became acquaintances. The skills I learned, and the on- and off-line kindness I’ve experienced will be with me till the day I die. And for the first time, I know that will be of natural causes. Then, I got really mad at the Great Lockdown measurements. But that’s time for another essay.

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