This is not my first quarantine. In 1997, when just 20 weeks pregnant with my twins (now 22 and healthy), I went into labor. After a week in the hospital to stop the process and to stabilize me, I was sent home on strict bed rest. I spent 16 weeks in bed. For the first 12 weeks I was only allowed up once a day to use the bathroom. I was in the “Trendelenburg” position — the feet of my bed on telephone books, my body inclined 15 to 30 degrees, hips above the head. Gravity was my enemy. I was allowed a very flat pillow and to prop on my elbow only to eat. I left my apartment about once a month, in a wheelchair, to go to the doctor. Needless to say, this period was physically and emotionally challenging.
I faced some of the same anxieties that we are all facing today: I was petrified for the health of my babies. My doctor told me that if I gave birth before 28 weeks gestation, I would have stillborn or very sick children. The goal was to first get to 28 weeks, then 32 (the return of showers and walking to the bathroom whenever needed), then 36, at which point I could fully get up. There was a lot of economic uncertainty. My husband, an artist, was working but we were very much a two-income household, and I needed someone to help care for me while he was at work. I was fortunate to have help from my father and was also able to get a small amount of disability from New York State. (I encourage everyone to go to the Local 802 resource page at www.Local802afm.org and see what benefits and relief are available — every little bit helps).
While I knew that my bed rest was going to last a finite period of time, I also knew that my new reality, whatever the outcome, was going to be drastically different than my life before. And now we are all facing the COVID-19 crisis. The health fear for my loved ones feels familiar, as does the economic uncertainty and anxiety. This will end at some point, but none of us knows what our business will look like when the quarantine lifts and we will all be facing a new reality.
I found in 1997 that having small milestones and things to look forward to every day or week did a lot to buoy my spirits. We played games to mark the days: we named a state every day and tried to name all 50 in alphabetical order. That got us through the first seven weeks. My husband washed my hair every Sunday. A visiting nurse came every Tuesday. Friends and family would come by if I felt up to it. We had only a desktop computer in another room, no cell phones, no Netflix — a very different time. I read a lot, watched TV and worried.
These days, I do what I’m sure everyone does: I practice my cello, take walks, do online yoga, cook with my family (my three kids are all home from college to quarantine and they use a LOT of toilet paper), participate in group virtual recording projects, and have Zoom gatherings. And, of course, we now have Netflix and Amazon Prime! But I do worry a lot about the future of our business for all of our colleagues and about my family’s economic outlook. Not to mention the state of our country…
I try to keep the anxiety at bay. I try to remember that this will end and that so far I have my health, my family (though this is perhaps a bit too much togetherness!), and a wonderful community of colleagues. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to get unemployment. And I try to remember the glorious feeling of that first shower after 12 weeks without one. I promised myself at the time to never take that feeling for granted, but of course I have.
Looking back, that 16 weeks in 1997 seems like only a short blip in time. Hopefully this period will too recede into a distant memory. But for now, I’m looking forward to the day when we all get to have our “first” live performance — or even rehearsal — again! In the meantime, stay safe and healthy everyone!
Caryl Paisner is a cellist and a member of the Local 802 Executive Board.