At a time like this, we believe it’s important to turn to our readers.
You are the ones living through this state of emergency and adapting to the challenges of COVID-19. That’s why we are launching a special experiment with this reader-generated column that allows us to share your experiences, your thoughts and your concerns about the pandemic.
These are your personal stories that will help our community come together during this historic time.
A grateful nurse (anonymous)
I was working at the hospital entrance on March 22. Day 2 of no visitors. It was a tough day. We had to turn many people away — people who have limited time with loved ones, people with language barriers, people of all ages, parents, children, brothers and clergy. I cried at times. I was yelled at, I was sworn at and I was also treated with respect. You could see the pain in people’s eyes. We keep you safe. We keep your loved ones safe. We keep our staff safe. It was a rough day, but then a delivery came to our entrance. Six baskets of goodies to go to all the critical care areas. I was lucky enough to be the one to deliver these packages that came from one very kind woman. You know who you are; we don’t. Staff was so happy for a quick break, a time to share thanks and, most of all, a time to remember why we do what we do. Thank you kind lady. We cried opening your gift. We care about you, too!
Surreal. Twilight zone. Strange. Not right. Sad. These are the words I heard in our school’s eerily empty classrooms and hallways today. From full, bustling, energy-filled classrooms to a smattering of seven students one day, down to four the next. Then one. And on this last day, no students. One empty table with the chairs still pulled out by little hands just days before. Sanitized tables and chairs sit stacked in the corner of the room. Trays still full of well-used school supplies and other treasures sit in piles in the corner. Yet still there was the normal routine. Standing for O Canada, but this time alone in an empty room. No need to repeatedly scan the room for inappropriate giggling, talking or masked attempts to continue colouring that picture on the table. There was something soothing about hearing that same, familiar voice over the PA system reading normal routine morning announcements.
Then it was time to snap into work mode. Lots to do. Photocopying, stapling, compiling many homework packages with an attempt to tailor tasks to each of those 22 little learners. Trying to make a paper package that will have to substitute for me as their teacher for a while. Isn’t this the golden opportunity teachers always talk about? If only we could have a day with no kids so we could get stuff done, organize, clean, prepare. But this is different. Today my empty classroom feels too big, empty and quiet.
Even the dismissal bell went unnoticed. "Do we just leave?" As if drawn together by some silent, unspoken purpose, we end up gathered in a circle in the hall, appropriate social-distance between us. It’s quiet. Not the typical jovial banter we’ve shared so many times before, as we looked forward to well-earned time to rest, relax, vacation. It’s different today. We don’t want to leave. "Take good care of yourselves" we say. Be well. See you soon? Later? Sometime.
With a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest, I drive out of our school parking lot. I know I will be in contact with my colleagues, students and families in some way, shape or form in the next while. I miss the children already — the sounds, their energy, their faces, their hugs and high fives. I want to give them back their routines, their regular learning environment, their home away from home. I hope they know how much I’ve enjoyed being their teacher so far this year. I hope they can wrap their young, innocent minds and hearts around this strange, foreign world we all now live in. I want them to feel safe, stay healthy, keep learning, experiencing and enjoying. I miss being in our Room 11, with all its rewards and challenges. I know this situation is necessary and wise. I just wish I had the chance to say a proper goodbye.
I always told my daughter to try to go through life like a green willow, not a brittle stick. These are green-willow times for us. Like most people, March has been a whirlwind of COVID-19 preparations. We also moved our parents on March 2 and 3: our dad to an assisted-living facility, our mom to a personal care home. They had never been so separated in 67 years of marriage. Big changes! In hindsight the timing couldn’t have been better. Our mom experienced a spontaneous hip fracture on her second day there, so together we faced surgery, partial hospital recovery and a return to the care home, not knowing we would have only one week to help her settle before the doors shut between us. My dad’s facility did the same thing a few days before.
Mom’s care home has been amazing. The nurses and staff work tirelessly for her and keep us up to date. Because mom is unable to understand speech, and phone calls to her are not an option, I have considered bringing a ladder and climbing up the her third floor window to blow her kisses, but have decided instead to follow protocol and leave notes in the drop box outside the locked care home. Those in our family with the green-willow genes got them from our 91-year-old dad, who has picked up his rusty artistic hand and is drawing fun cartoon pictures for his dear wife.
There are so many unknowns. My faith has not only sustained me, but inspired me through this impossible month. Part of the the familiar Serenity Prayer often resounds in my thoughts when I feel uncertain and fearful as I try to "accept the things I cannot change" (the virus is here, my parents are separated from each other, my death is possible) and "change the things I can" (learn to hand wash, social distance, care for others). I have lived in Winnipeg all my life and I believe, and have already seen, the way so many hardy Winnipeggers are bending, reaching out to others and adapting to this new normal.
Andrea McDonald Bradie
I live in Woodhaven, a small enclave south of Portage Avenue in St. James. It’s like a small town. We wave at each other as we drive through our streets. We have a very active community centre which is well used all year-long. We don’t have to know your name, but if you live here, you are welcomed. Parents of children maintain pretty good knowledge of activities in the community, and support as many of them as possible. And then came COVID-19. Within days, the Woodhaven Facebook page sprang up with ideas for kids. One mom is a teacher and offered help if parents were stumbling over school work. Others researched ideas for the community at large, like some of the other areas in Winnipeg; pictures in windows, or teddy bears for youngsters to locate in other windows popped up. The children’s walks are fun as they search for something new. Another family has a lending library out in front of their house and reminded us that books for all ages are available. It may be a long time to be isolated at home, but as I walk my dogs, I feel very connected to my neighbours. There are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet — a saying I have heard and firmly believe, especially in Woodhaven!
I am an active widower in my late 70s and my daughters are constantly pleading with me to stay indoors. Being somewhat forced to stay inside I have found a range of activities to take up my whole day, activities I never seemed to have time for prior to COVID-19. My days are consumed with getting a better sleep, reading books, sorting and posting in albums the hundreds of pictures accumulated in 52 years of marriage, taking more for studying Lent bible passages, taking time for exercise such as the treadmill and yoga, taking my dog, Charlie, for a daily walk, and exploring my love of cooking special recipes. I watch very little TV. life is good!
I am a single mom caring for three children. I have to admit I’ve been living in a heightened state of anxiety as a result of this pandemic. My visits to the grocery store leave me sitting in my car crying before I pull myself together and come home to my family. As a person who already deals with depression and anxiety, I am lucky I am in tune with my disorders and have some strategies for managing them.
Nonetheless, this is an unprecedented life change that can feel extremely scary for someone like me. I suspect there are many, many people like me. As I reach out to friends on Facebook, I see so many other moms struggling with the same challenges. As a full-time worker, I’m also continuing to meet the demands of my job. As one of the very lucky ones, I can do my job from home. This is a blessing and a curse as I now have to juggle cooking, cleaning, homeschooling and the job I’m paid to do. I’m more exhausted at the end of the day than I was pre-COVID-19. I am grateful my job continues. I am on a temporary project that is government-funded and have learned our project will continue as planned. This is a relief.
However, the purpose of this project is helping women find employment in the skilled trades in the construction industry. There is so much uncertainty around work and the economy right now I find myself feeling worried about our clients and their expectations to be employed in a largely underrepresented field. We are surely living in uncertain times but I am calmed by the fact that our federal government is taking steps to keep us safe. When I watch the Prime Minister’s daily briefings, I feel a sense of security that Canada is in good hands. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on the planet right now.
What’s a traveller to do when the Prime Minister gives a March 23 deadline for all Canadians to return home? You immediately pack, re-book your flight and prepare to fly out. It’s made even more expedient when your insurance company writes they will not honour your policy after that date.
I wanted protection on the flight but there was not a drop of sanitizer, a face mask or a cleaning wipe to be found in the entire state of Arizona. My wife and I were desperate for anything that would insulate us from the virus, even if it was just psychological. A quick internet search provided exactly what I was looking for: do-it-yourself COVID-19 protection. The YouTube videos supplied simple step-by-step instructions on mask construction. A couple of paper towels, folded twice, taped on each side with holes on the top and bottom to run elastic through and voila, a face mask. I took it one step further and made full face shields by cutting clear plastic to size and attaching to eyeglass temples with binder clips. A hat and gloves completed the ensemble.
As we took our seats a young girl carrying a small therapy dog turned to me and said what a great idea the face shield was and she wished she had made one herself. Halfway through the flight another young girl seated across the aisle asked where I bought the shield. I explained the mask and shield were both do-it-yourself from YouTube. She said she liked the look and asked if she could take my picture. I agreed and after she took the shot she brought it up on her camera and said she was going to call it, "pandemic chic." The descriptor made me chuckle but it had a ring to it that I rather liked. I returned to my seat buoyed by my newfound attention.
My wife and I have two kids with another on the way. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, so we built a bunk bed for our two boys, so they can share a room, and then turned the youngest one’s bedroom into an office (that hopefully will get converted to baby room this summer!). It’s been nice to be able to take coffee break and play UNO or Phase 10 with the five-year-old and my wife.
It’s been difficult, too, though because I’ve developed a dry cough. Knowing the other symptoms I keep catching myself thinking, "Do I have a stomach ache? Does my head hurt? I don’t think so… wait, what was that?! I think my stomach does hurt!"
It’s been a daily exercise of choosing to trust health-care providers and politicians are doing the best they can. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the health-care workers, grocers, garbage collectors, and emergency services, among others; the people who work the thankless jobs, often without any recognition. Thank you so much for what you’re doing every day, being the hands and feet of our community while we try to pull ourselves back to our feet.
Finally, it has been fun to see cross-political co-operation. It’s been exciting to see a minority government pull together across party lines to work together on beating this thing. Watching our Prime Minister speak to kids and validate their experiences, and seeing his chief of staff retweet a typically right-leaning newspaper journalist’s piece on COVID-19 has been hopeful and encouraging to me. The virus truly doesn’t care who you vote for, and we’re all in this together. Couldn’t be more proud to be a Canadian at this point. Love to you all, wherever you find yourself reading this, though definitely more respect and thanks if you’re reading from home!
I want to share something about a small business owner who collected items such as coffee, fruit, napkins and donations for an organization in Osborne Village, called Oak Table, to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has hosted fashion shows where the proceeds from sales of raffle tickets go to Oak Table. Her name is Connie Hall, and she is the owner of Peppertree Fashions in Winnipeg. I like to support local businesses who care about helping out in the community where needed. I am a proud customer, and I will continue to support her business, along with others who do good things for the different organizations in Winnipeg who need help and support during these uncertain times.
I’ve got heavy emotions about this situation. I went for a walk with my husband and son on the Trans Canada trail, and at first I was delighted to see other people, and smiled and waved. Then I became scared. There were too many people and they were too close. I ran into the field that was piled high with melting snow and followed the deer tracks to a little hill to avoid them. I called for my husband and son to follow me and worried they weren’t walking away quickly enough.
My heart was beating fast as I thought how narrowly we had missed physically bumping into these folks. People I had just been smiling at, like hundreds of times before on the trail. These are really strange times —a friendly wave turns into a marathon sprint just to avoid the next step in the evolution of a greeting. (What if they wanted to shake my hand?) Stay safe. Stay well. Stay away (just for now, not forever).
Our brother Sam Minuk passed away on March 22. In the Orthodox Jewish faith there is an obligation to say mourners’ prayers in the presence of 10 men. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to respect social-distancing requirements, but in order to fulfil this religious obligation, we held a minyan (a gathering of 10 men) outside of my house and the appropriate prayers were said.
My story is probably a lot like most people’s stories. After being laid off from a dental office on March 19, I’m left scrambling on how to move money, cancel subscriptions and book bank appointments via telephone to defer loan and mortgage payments.
I did go to work March 23 to see emergency patients (and I only had one), and on my way there I was looking at everyone else in their vehicle. Who were they and where were they going? Why was the elderly couple on the road at 7:45 a.m.? After leaving work I had to stop for pet food, milk and bread. The pet store gets everything for you and doesn’t let you walk about the store. No problem. In and out. Then off to Sobeys. Signs are up about social distancing and I abide by them.
After collecting my few essential items, I skirt around people to get to the check out. I stand at the green tape line to wait my turn and notice the great Plexiglas barrier between me and the cashier. Ugh, I feel infected, or maybe the cashier is the one infected. I pay with debit and use the edge of my Air Miles card to enter my PIN because this is the one time that tap isn’t working! I grab my stuff and go.
On the way home I was feeling anxious and upset. I don’t know if it was one particular thing or just everything about the few hours that I had to leave the safety of my home. When I get home I’m exhausted. Washed my hands and put on my PJs and see that the kids are actually doing their homework. This is really happening. I am one insignificant person in a similar boat as everyone else. I know that life will eventually get back to normal, but none of us knows when that will be. So for now, I’ll work when I’m called in, stay home whenever possible and hope we all stay healthy.
On March 18, my husband and I made a quick trip to the Regent Avenue Costco to pick up a few items (not including toilet paper). Upon driving into the parking lot, we noticed a long line of Costco patrons along the outside of the building. We took our place at the end of the line by the polite instruction of staff as they sanitized our shopping cart before handing it over for our use. Costco was monitoring the number of shoppers allowed inside, limiting it to 50 at a time. And as 50 shoppers left the store, 50 more were allowed inside. It went very smoothly without any problems. Inside we were met by staff handing out sanitized wipes and signs were posted throughout the entire store reminding shoppers to keep two metres of social distancing. There were staff members cleaning and polishing everywhere and others offering to assist shoppers if necessary. We just want to compliment Costco’s staff and management for a most pleasant shopping experience during this most frightening time in our world.
On March 2, I had a heart attack. I had two stents put in one artery, with another blockage of 90 per cent that was to be stented this March 26. I just got called and told it is being postponed. Very disheartening (pardon the pun). I want to do everything I can to heal, but don’t know how much physical exercise I can do. The Wellness Centre and those who can help me are all shut down, and the personnel have been re-deployed. It seems that just as my world has shifted, so too has the rest of the world. I don’t have a normal world to heal in. Not only has my existence been turned topsy-turvy, but I am landing in a topsy-turvy world. I’m going to have to figure it out myself. On the bright side, I was a bit worried about the hospital visit and COVID-19, so that’s no longer an issue. I am, however, in very good spirits and will make the best of it. No worries about depression or anything like that.
I am 40 years old and living with Asperger’s Syndrome. This COVID-19 virus has caused a myriad of very serious problems for people like myself. The closure of all city services left me with no supports. In a time like this, what I need is what is not recommended — physical closeness. I need to be hugged, held, comforted and kissed by my family and my friends in reassurance. The analogy I’ve used with family and friends is that I feel very much like Anne Frank, cut off from friends and family. The paranoia and hysteria on the media are frightening to see. I have cut myself off from social media, not knowing what to believe and missing my friends and family so badly.
I have begun to keep a record of what is going on daily for me in my journal and I will use it to create a blog when this is all done. It is really one of the very few things that is keeping me going. Let me see if I can put it into perspective for the readers. People with Asperger’s need time to comprehend change. Had they put warnings out back in December, it would have helped us prepare for the changes ahead. But they didn’t. Change cannot be suddenly dropped on those with Asperger’s Syndrome. From our perspective suddenly everyone is freaking out, panicking and we know something is wrong but we don’t understand what it is.
We also struggle to separate fact from fiction and believe literally all of what we see. Additionally, people with Asperger’s thrive on strict set routines. For us to be abruptly cut off from our routine is very dangerous. When things such as a lack of routine and social distancing are in place for extended periods of time, it can potentially cause a permanent sensory meltdown. I have had darker thoughts of self-harm which is not surprising given I have no access to needed resources. City services which are closed are also what I use not only to support my mental health and wellness but also to manage some of the more challenging aspects of my disability.
In an interview I did on The Current back in 2016, one of the things talked about was a national autism strategy. It is in situations like this that such a strategy would have been a massive help. While there are crisis lines and such, I have not had good experiences with them. Many people who work such lines are not well versed in how to talk to those with Asperger’s Syndrome. There will be enormous mental health repercussions from this virus. Since the outbreak and with all the measures put in place, I have cried and cried for my friends and have been sending everyone all my energy, light, strength and love, keeping nothing back for myself. I am worried about my friends and family. I wish more of my friends trusted me enough to open up and talk to me the way I do to them. It would have been a huge help and a way to relieve some of my anxiety. The legacy of the COVID-19 virus will not be the number of people it kills but the hysteria, panic, fear and stigma it caused.
The week before businesses and services were shutting down, I was so uncertain what each following week would hold. I had to work that entire week more stressed out than I have ever been, worrying about if I’m going to catch the virus while at work as I work with children and we always have families vacationing. We couldn’t distance ourself from the other children and we were cooped up in one room. It actually blows my mind how all of this has made me realize that childcare workers are not valued at all! We are always the last ones to be worried about and nobody takes us seriously. It’s a sad profession to be in, really.
We practically raise these children and we love them like our own. We teach them and we take care of them. We are so underpaid. I’m thankful we have an amazing director who actually cares about us. I’m now laid off until further notice but still have the same old bills and payments to make. I received my first $70 parking ticket while parked outside my own home for more than two hours on Monday morning while I tried to clean our back parking area. Where is the compassion in a time like this? I’m supposed to be getting married this year and it may or may not happen so that puts an extra stress on things and I’m really not sure where my head is at, at this point. We can just hope for the best and take things day by day, hoping it will all get better soon.
I’m an Ontario snowbird. I flew home from Arizona March 19 with one million other snowbirds that week, but flights to Ontario were fully booked so I landed instead in Vancouver. I'm thankful to leave the mess in the U.S. behind as we thought borders might close and we’d be stuck down there without health care, or, even worse, catch the virus and not be allowed home. I’m self-isolating in Whistler. The tourists are all gone, grocery stores are open and there are great empty trails to exercise on. But half the hotels are closed, and as the only one in my hotel, what if they close? Where do I go? I’ll be the only homeless person dragging golf clubs around. I’m supposed to be self-isolating, not moving hotels and certainly not flying home. With the town emptying, what if shuttles to Vancouver stop running? How do I leave town after 14 days? I had planned to enjoy Canada by buying a used car and driving east, but what if provincial borders close or require 14 days of isolation when crossing each of four borders?
I was going to move when I finished snow-birding, so all my stuff is in storage, which is closed as a non-essential business. So how do I get my laptop, work clothes and anything else? I’ve got a carry-on full of golf shirts and shorts. There aren’t even stores open where I can buy clothes. My resort and golf courses were still open when I rushed home as the Prime Minister requested. If I’d have waited a week I could’ve flown to Vancouver and got the new deal of free hotel with meals for 14 days isolation. Instead I might be out on the street for the final seven days of isolation. Happy to be healthy in Canada though, rather than chance it in the U.S. How much is rent in Whistler, anyway?
I’m lucky because COVID-19 has only created minor changes in my life. I do wish my wife would stay home and work full-time from our house but I can’t control that. I know I can only control how I behave and react to others. I am also fairly new to social media. I’ve never liked the concept as I think people should just meet in person and talk. Still, with so much time on our hands, I’ve noticed two trends on Facebook and Twitter; while there seems to be a genuine outpouring of love, affection, social solidarity and goodwill, there still remains too much vitriol and mean-spirited tribalism.
Now that I have more time available, I wonder if this would be the perfect time to start discussing what kind of society we want. Differences of opinion are to be expected. Democracy is messy and should be. There is no reason for those differences to create such churlish behaviour. If anything, I would hope COVID-19 reminds us all of our common humanity. We should be asking ourselves not which political party or leader we loathe or respect, how high our taxes are or why we’re more important than someone else and are more deserving of a particular service. We should be asking ourselves what our fundamental, foundational and philosophical beliefs are. If we were to consider our own foundations each time we have to make a decision, those decisions would be so much easier to make.
Do we want a society where the most important discussion is GDP, the stock market and taxation? Do we want both low taxes and good services (at least for us)? Do we really want a healthier environment? How much are we willing to pay or sacrifice for it? How much are we willing to change to create more equity and opportunity for all? A civilized society should reflect how we treat the most vulnerable, not how we protect the already privileged. What does this look like in practice? Free education and free health care for all? If not, who should be excluded? Why those particular people? Do we ever really stop, think and talk about who we want to be as Canadians?
And then my uncle died March 25 at the age of 88. I remember the tour de force he was in his younger years. I remember how he would go above and beyond for just about anybody. I also know that in his old age, he became quite irascible as he felt useless, irrelevant and that the world had passed him by. And it makes me think of all the experts (and not-so experts) who tell us to do this or eat that to make us live longer. No one ever asks how long we want to live or even how long we should live. At what point is life long enough? 88? 67? 103? Any number seems so arbitrary. People die every day at all ages.
Isn’t the positive impact we have on people, the environment and society in general more important than a number? Are we too busy to stop and reflect? Or are we willfully trying to chase a dream that is illusory at best? I have firm beliefs. I’m not sure many others share my point of view or even care enough to slow down and consider why we’ve created a society where poverty is a given, rich people getting richer is a given, and much of public debate is misinformation, talking points and spin rather than genuine listening and trying to understand where each of us is coming from. We have much more in common than we do have differences. Is this an opportunity to create a more humane and just society or are we biding our time until things return to normal?
Harv-Al Sportswear is a Winnipeg manufacturer of custom team uniforms for sports. With sports shut down now, in what should have been our busiest season, we are staring at a dark screen. Ten people finishing up work meant for spring hockey, cancelled events and anticipating virtual lineups to access dwindling government funds.
So what are we going to do about it, aside from washing our hands a lot and keeping our distance from each other? Well, I guess we will be launching our Silver Lining isolation package. Please look us up; we will try to provide an incentive to work out at home, and to contribute to the well-being of others in the community through a charitable donation.
I have lived in Manitoba for 15 years. I have always taken comfort in the fact that I can get on a plane to see my family in Ontario and be there in two and a half hours. Today, and with good reason, coming back from that same trip would get me and my husband two weeks of self-isolation to flatten the curve. Pretty mind-boggling! I am trying to write down as much as I can to remember it all.
Lenore used to leave at 8:30 a.m. and come back home at 4 p.m., even though I sat here crying patiently by the door. Now she wakes up slowly and seems to nap at will and we lie together curled up so warm and tight. I hold her within my heart using all my doggie breath and all my might. So far, it’s working. Now when she leaves we go together and we play fetch and run and go for long walks at any time of day. Something in me knows that this wondrous time will end and she will leave at 8:30 a.m. and come back home at 4 p.m. again. For now, I say, "Woof woof, hooray!"
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