From the Front Lines to Peaceful Isolation

The coronavirus pandemic makes me think of the Great Blizzard of 1978.  With this pandemic, my husband Tom and I are doing our part by maintaining a strict isolation.  We are staying at home, as far from the problem as possible, so that those on the front lines – the people who work in health care – are not hindered by us.

With the Great Blizzard, I was much closer to the front lines.  Although my employer, The Ohio State University, shut down and cancelled classes for the first time in its history, the Student Health Center (along with the university hospitals) was the exception.  We, the health center employees, were told to report to work because an outbreak of influenza had begun on campus, and sick students were coming to the center in spite of the horrible wintry weather.  I was a student as well, working to put myself through college.

The worst of the storm in Columbus happened overnight, as I recall.  My neighbors and I woke up to about another foot of snow on the ground, on top of the two feet that were already there before the storm.  Because of the fierce winds through the night, the snow drifted mightily, making some front doors impossible to open.  Some areas were hit by winds of 69 to 89 miles per hour, with gusts up to 100mph.  Wind chill had reached -60 degrees F.

My home in January 1977, a year before the Great Blizzard.West Second Avenue, Victorian Village, Columbus.

In the early morning, no cars were on the road.  No buses were running.  Bicycling was impossible.  I dressed warmly, pulled on my boots, and left the house.  I steeled myself to the thought that I had to walk 1.5 miles in deep snow and bitter cold to get to work!

After slogging through the first half mile up Neil Avenue, I heard a noise behind me.  I turned to see a car with chains on its tires, moving slowly and steadily up the snowy avenue.  The driver stopped, rolled down his window, and asked if I needed a ride.  I could not believe my luck!

He was a medical student who had to report to work at the hospitals.  He drove me as close as he could get to the Student Health Center.  I thanked him, and wished him the best.  Then he turned his car toward the hospitals, and I walked the last quarter mile across a pedestrian-only part of campus to the health center.  I never knew his name, but I will never forget him.

In those days long before desktop computers and digital records, each sick student had to stop first at the medical records department, where I worked at a counter and took their intake information.  Then I found the student’s medical record and sent it via pneumatic tube up to the clinic area.

We did not wear masks or gloves.  Fortunately, I did not catch the flu.  The entire outbreak was not as severe as the public health experts on campus had predicted.  That was probably due to the Great Blizzard, which inflicted some social distancing and isolation on everyone.

Now during this pandemic, I think of my niece who is a doctor in Boston, my stepson who is a nurse who runs a nursing home in Louisville, and my cousin who is a nurse in nursing informatics at a hospital in Concord, New Hampshire.  I think of all the nurses and doctors who did an amazing job keeping Tom alive at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers when he had viral pneumonia in the winter of 2015/2016.  All their lives are greatly affected in this pandemic, in a way that is so chaotic and different from the way our lives are affected.  The contrast is striking.

I don’t ever want to have to see Tom in an ICU bed again, but if he needs one, I want one to be there for him.  My job, and his, is to make sure he will not need that ICU bed.  That’s what we can do to help those on the front line now.  We stay home, stay healthy, and have groceries delivered.


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