The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 25, 2020 1:00 am

Birthday love -- from a social distance

A welcome moment of normalcy in far-from-normal times

Frank Hill

Often when I write, I have an idea where the story will end. I do not have any idea how this short essay will end.

I know I awoke this morning about 6 a.m. I stumbled to the bathroom quietly, not wanting to awaken my wife or our dog. My wife remained asleep, or pretended to sleep. The dog followed me downstairs. I let him out the back door and went to the front door to get the morning paper. As I did so, a thought was fermenting in my mind. What should I do, if anything, about the threat of COVID-19?

Well, because we are encouraged to limit trips outside our homes, I decided I should get food before having to hunker in. We needed cereal, soup, milk and fruit. We had enough paper towels, but I would get some toilet paper if available.

About 8:10 a.m. I walked into Target, proud of myself for deferring breakfast. As I walked the aisles, I was reminded of our former neighbor in Michigan back in the 1970s. There was a sugar shortage, real or perceived. Our neighbor liked to bake and give cakes and cookies to neighbors. Stores predicted there would be a run on sugar. Our neighbor said she wanted to get to the supermarket and stock up on sugar before the hoarders got there. We never teased her about that.

On my trip to Target, I saw a young lady with a full shopping cart. On top of her cart she had a large bag of dog food. “Got to feed the dog,” I said to her. She replied: “We have two dogs, a cat and a turtle. Pretty soon they may have to start eating each other.”

I left Target with Grape-Nuts, coffee, milk and a lot of yogurt. No toilet paper and for that I felt strangely proud, though I concede I would have bought some if any had been on the shelves.

My next stop was a branch of the post office. A busy but friendly clerk wore a face mask. She was trying to avoid robbing us of our health.

Back home I played Frisbee with our dog and tried to be nicer than usual to my wife. It was her birthday.

Later, our dinner was delivered by Waiter On The Way, thanks to one of our sons and his wife. Our other son and his wife had planned to host a party at their home, but the gathering was canceled because of the virus. About 6 p.m. one son called to wish my wife a happy birthday but the call seemed to get cut off.

We then heard noise in our driveway, and our sons and their families were standing there, appropriately distanced from one another. The phone call had come from them as they stood several feet from the front door. They would not come inside and would not let us go out and hug them. They are concerned that because of our age we are especially susceptible to any germs they may be hosting. So they stood in the driveway and sang “Happy Birthday” to the first lady of our family.

In a strange way it has been a birthday to remember. On the evening news I heard that at that time there were three reported COVID-19 deaths in Indiana and additional cases, some in Allen County.

As we watched television tonight, my wife received a text from a friend. The message quoted the head of a trauma unit at a large hospital in a neighboring state. That physician wrote:

“I implore you to take this COVID-19 seriously. It is real. Society is teeming with it. The numbers you see in media are the tip of the iceberg. The ICU in the hospital is full of young adults on ventilators fighting for their lives. A medical assistant I work with is COVID-19 positive on a vent. She (is an) otherwise healthy person in her twenties. We are seeing mostly young people coming into the hospital with their lungs destroyed by this virus. The media made it sound like the biggest risk was elderly. Probably true but in [state omitted] it's hitting young adults hard. Sequester you and your families away from everyone. Don't leave your house. Don't have any social interactions with anyone. Keep your parents isolated. Incubation can be up to 14 days. Anyone who has not been isolated for 14 days is a risk to you. It is estimated that 150 million in US will have it over next 10-14 days. I believe it.”

OK, that lengthy quote is one physician's opinion. Other physicians may disagree.

As I said at the beginning, I do not know how this story will end.

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