Reflections on early days of self-isolation

“I sent you four emails,” the salesperson from Trail Appliances tells me, but they’re not in my Inbox either on my phone or laptop.

“That’s strange,” I reply. “Okay, well I guess we can try my work email…”

I’m trying not to panic, but I can’t help thinking of the scene in the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale where June comes home to her husband and child complaining that her bank card isn’t working. With the flip of a switch, June finds out that she no longer has access to her money. And so the story begins…

I realize that Atwood’s fictional world where an archaic government takes over, reverting society back to times of ignorance and injustice is not the same as what’s happening here with CoVID-19, but the swiftness with which things are changing feels familiar.

Schools were quieter than normal for the last day of classes before March Break amidst fears of this new disease; at the time, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just another ploy for students to miss school, but now it seems like the right move taken by cautious parents.

The day before, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer in British Columbia, had announced that all travellers to Canada, or coming home to Canada, were encouraged to self-isolate. Even from the United States. When I broke this news to my parents, who were in Washington State on vacation at the time, they were shocked. They had been offline since the morning and were not aware of the developing situation.

“So what you’re telling us,” they said, “Is that the situation has changed in the last six hours?!”

An urgent, “Yes,” I replied, telling them to go straight home to the island rather than make a pitstop to visit us in North Vancouver for the weekend. I ended the call with my cautious mother and conflicted father, relieved when they sent an email detailing their new plan to take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria instead.

I reassured them, “Missing this weekend isn’t a big deal. We’ll see each other at Easter. And it will be great.”

Now I’m not so sure.

Easter is just over three weeks away, and I’m not convinced things will have significantly improved by then.

Since the end of school on March 13, self-isolation has been the order of the day. Non-essential travel is no longer allowed, and now even the U.S. border will only be open to trade and for essential travel purposes. Canadian travellers have been urged to come home immediately.

March 17, bars and restaurants in Vancouver were ordered to close. The College of Massage Therapists has ordered its members to stop practicing for two weeks. My physiotherapist has been cancelled. Every day my inbox is inundated with messages and updates from retail stores closing, many for two weeks, some indefinitely.

Schools are closed until further notice in Alberta and BC.

People have been told not to hoard since it’s really not necessary, but when you go to the grocery (and liquor!) stores, the shelves are starting to look empty. This exacerbates the problem, because when you see these yawning blank spaces, you might think “I better stock up now while there’s still stuff left.” It adds to the hive mind that this is going to get worse before it gets better (which it very well might, but trade routes are still open and working).

There is a lot of negativity online, but also a lot of positivity and support. Find your support groups, start a group chat, plan for video calls and meetings with friends. Share ideas for keeping the kids busy and entertained, loosen the rules around screen time, and try to take time for yourself if possible.

Revel in the small moments and the wins, like this story out of Venice, where swans and dolphins have returned to the canals typically rife with boat traffic. The water is clear and Italy’s air quality has improved significantly with social and work life coming to a standstill.

The natural world is improving.

Start a new hobby or go back to an old one. Create something new and just for you or something to share with others. Organize your photos and make albums. Call someone on the phone you would typically just text or email. Or just sit back and relax, with no expectations at all.

Onwards and upwards…

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