It gleamed over the horizon, like a shining ornament. Beckoning, enthralling, pulling one along mindlessly with promises and hope. The dawn of 2020. The year that was supposed to be different. More glorious, fulfilling, and exciting!

For the JJ family, the year started off with a jolt. We met with an unexpected health crisis. Although the outcome was better than we could have hoped for, it drove home the message that life was fleeting and that change is it’s only constant. Shortly after, across the world, another close family member experienced a health crisis, necessitating a prolonged hospital stay. Eventually, that resolved as our loved one made it home to a slow but steady recovery.

While both events were unexpected, one was a hospitalization that was fully insured and thus, monetarily, less painful. The other, on a visitor’s travel insurance, stretched our emotions and finances to a painful limit. What both journeys taught us was the power of human empathy and caring. Our friends supported us with hugs, kind words, tons of food, drop-offs, and pick-ups. Across the globe, my family did the same, pushing aside all thought of work, of physical and mental exhaustion to be at the hospital day after day until the crisis ended. The rest of us supported via Whatsapp messages, emails and phone calls. This allowed us to come through this crisis, battered and bruised, but alive and kicking. The roads may have been unfamiliar but the destination was the same. Towards life and healthy living, with a ton of love and support along the way.

The JJ family had a trip to Spain and Morocco planned for spring break of March 2020. With the health issues that arose, we felt it best to cancel the trip. And with the second crisis, the trip did not matter any longer.

Just as we were celebrating a somewhat return to normalcy, COVID-19 struck Washington and then New York. I had been following the Wuhan epidemic, but like most of the world, I did not consider it a threat until it landed on our doorstep.

From then on, being in the healthcare field meant that there was no bigger issue in life than learning all about this minuscule virus and its giant implications for humans. The next several weeks were spent reading or listening to every available text, article, and interview and webinar published on the topic. It meant learning how to keep the office safe for providers as well as those we served. It meant figuring out how to continue our service albeit on a different platform, how to ensure we reached everyone that needed help. To calm anxieties, to answer questions, to guide our community in the right direction. Again, a journey none of us planned for, but one that swept us along, all the same!

As a provider, the challenge was even greater as were suddenly left to manage issues over a phone call. Video chats became the epitome of luxury as it was reassuring for both sides, to see and to be seen. Many were eager to welcome this “less than optimal” method, others were more resistant. Despite this, I found many lighter moments during these chats. I learned that a large number of people, of all ages, owned an iPhone. To be able to see people was refreshing. The smiles that instantly broke out on many a face were warm, genuine, and heartwarming. For a change, we the providers were welcomed into the homes of those we served, giving brief but invaluable insights into their lives. We were introduced, in some cases, to fellow family members whom we otherwise would never have met. A much-beloved daughter, grandchild, or a family pet! Like a wrong turn on a well-planned trip that leads to amazing experiences, this COVID journey has taught the lesson of letting go and embracing spontaneity.

Small business owners have the responsibility of meeting overheads, paying the staff, and keeping the cash flowing. Our staff was on edge for days, not knowing if the pandemic would leave them without a paycheck. It’s in situations like these that having a strong office manager makes all the difference. Ours is a force to be reckoned with, during normal times. These aren’t normal times, by any means. Working together we pooled our knowledge, strategized and found ourselves on the road to improvisation, adapting to new technology in an old fashioned arena, thoroughly disinfecting the work environment, socially distancing even in a small office environment, learning to protect oneself and others. We sallied forth, hoping to prevent COVID and to prevail.

I closely followed reports of my fellow brethren around the world battling this vicious virus. From China to South Korea, from Italy to France, in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, healthcare providers of all caste, creed, and color struggled valiantly to understand the mechanisms of this virus and pondered how best to treat it. I read poignant stories of patients dying alone, of families torn apart by time, space, and this virus. I read about frontline workers who felt the enormous strains placed on their shoulders, physical, mental, emotional. Anguish for people they couldn’t save. Anguish for patients alone in their illness and in their rooms. Anguish over whether to intubate or wait. Anguish about what combinations of medications to use to get a good outcome. Anguish about the possibility of spreading infections to loved ones. Some eventually succumbed, downed by a microscopic Goliath. For healthcare providers all over the world, this pandemic voyage will remain a singular one. A time when we felt deeply for our fellow providers, strangers though they may have been. When we felt a sense of solidarity unlike ever before. When we celebrated their joys, shared their sorrows, and deeply mourned their loss. It’s an ongoing voyage with no end in sight yet, but one which I am certain we shall complete, in triumph.

On the homefront, I was fortunate. The children are grown now and didn’t need much by way of help with online schooling. For the first time in years, I had some time for myself. I often thought about writing. But my heart wasn’t in it. There was no drive to think about, talk, watch, or write about travel. The enormity of the pandemic and its far-reaching complications fully occupied my mind. It wasn’t until Texas gained a handle on the caseload did my mood begin to change.

Like most people during this pandemic, the JJ family has been focused on healthy eating. With a plethora of recipes on social media platforms, it was just a matter of time before we began experimenting with food. If we couldn’t travel to eat, then we would eat to travel! This led to two discoveries: the children are open to trying all kinds of cuisines and that they have become very healthy eaters. Very little processed food has entered our home in the last 10 weeks. And the question at dinner prep often is, “Where are we traveling to today?”. We have enjoyed recipes from all over: from Greece to Thailand, from Mexico to India, from Spain to Korea. As culinary journeys go, this one has been delicious and all-encompassing in its flavors. And I hope, it’s only the start of something unique and lifelong.

As with any enforced isolation, we have come to rely on each other for maintaining our sanity. From rummaging through childhood videos to laughing at old photos in the albums, throwback journeys have been fun and so revitalizing. Tik Tok dances. Floss challenges and workout regimens from all across the world have kept us physically engaged.

Far-flung though our families may be, we have used this unexpected pause to rekindle relationships, to call more often, talk and chat. Our family elders now meet weekly online, and I love listening to their conversations. There’s a treasure trove of memories to be relived, cherished, listened to, and embraced in these meetings. Cousins have been meeting cousins, our children are learning about each other, cementing and solidifying a stronger relationship for their future. Video conferencing has formed an invisible bridge linking the old, the middle-aged, and the young. For the moment, we are enjoying this exquisite journey together.

As the pandemic continues, the world around us has blossomed in ways more beautiful, colorful, and more pristine than before. I, for one, am happy that the Earth got a few moments of relief from the hubbub of human life. That we got a chance to be still and to embrace people, places, and life around us in a different way. The path ahead is uncertain and we might still get tossed around like ships in a severe storm, while we refine our instincts and science to match this virulent pathogen. But hope springs eternal. So let’s stay cautious, stay safe, and stay adrift in the sea of life!

2 thoughts on “Take the next left: Journeys during a pandemic

  1. LV says:

    Moments beautifully captured through words!

  2. Basavana Gowda says:

    Well captured Subhashini

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