This was the guidance I got from the government at the start of the COVID pandemic.
Until then I had approached this new situation with a degree of practicality- it won’t be as bad as they are warning us, we’ll be fine. But as the news got worse reality began to dawn on me that this really was a bad situation.
The fear didn’t really set in until I realised that the “vulnerable” at “high risk of death” meant me. I’ve never seen myself as vulnerable, but the daily reminder on the news reinforced this message again and again.
And then the letters and emails started to arrive. “You have been identified as being at a high risk of imminent death”. That isn’t what it said, but it is what I read. So now I had cancer and COVID worry about! Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!
We implemented the shielding guidance as much as we could, I moved into the bedroom vacated by my son (who remained at university following the advice that the best thing he could do for Mother’s Day was to stay away). We allocated separate seats in the living room and at the table. Cleaning took place each day and we washed and washed our hands. But the task that reduced me to tears was packing a bag ready for what I assumed was an inevitable hospital admission and death. I was told to add in the name and contact details of my next of kin in a prominent place, in case it was needed.
This bag sat at the side of my bed and was a constant reminder of my vulnerability. Each time I saw it I got upset. Finally I hid it in a cupboard (telling my family where it was so that they could grab it when the inevitable happened)
I hid my vulnerability and got on with life. I made the most of the spring sunshine, the garden and the quiet. I reconnected through zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, land line and post with family and new and old friends. I developed a habit for meditation. I’ve always loved numbers and became fascinated with the array of statistics presented to us each night, trying to make sense of them, looking for any sign of a downward trend.
My only trips out were to the hospital (I was fortunate that my treatment continued throughout). Things there changed radically, but gradually fell into a routine that I became familiar with. In a weird way I looked forward to my “ official” trips out on release from home imprisonment. It’s surprising how much the world changes when you don’t see it for weeks at a time.
Hospital felt safe and controlled, when we were finally allowed out once a day it felt terrifying. I saw everyone as a potential threat and didn’t want to leave the safety of home. I had to break through that fear because I only have one life and I desperately wanted to live it as much as I could. In the end I decided, I know that I have cancer and that it will definitely get me, but COVID, well I could take the risk and see if I could dodge that bullet?
As COVID cases began to drop I grasped every chance I could to get out and enjoy myself (safely) before winter and a second wave arrived.
And the bag? It’s still packed and ready. It sits in the wardrobe guarding my vulnerability. I hope I never have to make use of it and hope that one day soon I can unpack it with confidence.