The streets of Manhattan are eerily quiet. No kids on their scooters or skateboards. No moms and dads delivering toddlers to preschool. No gaggles of teens talking too loudly on the street on a Friday night. No shelter residents from a few blocks away arguing, cursing, screaming. No cars honking at delivery vehicles blocking them in.
Just an occasional dog barking. An occasional garbage truck growling as it gnashes its metallic teeth on trash bags tossed in by unusually quiet, masked sanitation workers. I miss the classic rock and R & B that they usually blare at 6am on pickup days. I even miss the ridiculous amount of traffic noise that usually accompanies evening commuters cutting through 93rd Street to get to the West Side Highway.
But one noise penetrates the silence on the regular: the wail of sirens carrying strangers off to the ER. I don’t need to read the daily statistics to know that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week saw record 911 calls. I heard it, all day, all night: the siren song of COVID-19. Short of being in critical condition, sick New Yorkers are told to stay at home. With each new chorus my gut clenches. Another poor soul is in dire enough shape to need oxygen, seizure meds, intubation. Another family is sick with worry, unable to accompany a loved one to what might be a final resting place.
Dan and I could tell that things had improved yesterday. We had hours of silence. I still slept badly last night. Maybe I’ve gotten used to the sirens. Maybe they have become white noise. Or maybe its just that the dull ache in my stomach is keeping me awake. It’s not the acute abdominal pain that some coronavirus patients are experiencing. It’s more like what as a child I called “the ball of wax feeling in my tummy.” It’s low level anxiety. Everyone I know here has it.
The residents of my building have become ghosts. I hardly ever see anyone, except for our immediate neighbors. So far no one in the building has been felled. We know this because anyone either positive for or suspected of having coronavirus is to report to the Co-op Board so that all of us can take even further precautions. We already have a disinfecting station in the lobby, and only allow one person/family in the elevator at a time. All doorknobs, laundry machines, mailboxes are sanitized several times a day by our dedicated staff. I miss the camaraderie that this mid-size — by New York standards– apartment building enjoys; we all know each other at least by sight, and celebrate holidays and births and other life moments publicly.
Dan and I only go out to walk the dog. He’s happy that we are home all day, but also befuddled by our lack of socialization with other dog owners and doggies. Everyone is keeping social distance, and our early morning off-leash coffee klatches in the park are no more. He hasn’t been to doggie day care all month. I can tell he misses his buds. He’s gotten over his unease at everyone wearing masks and gloves, even if Dan and I haven’t.
Our biggest fear comes when each week Dan goes to Mt. Sinai for his immunotherapy cancer treatment. This week he had scans, too, meaning that he had to go to two different radiology departments on Monday and treatment on Thursday. So far, cancer patients, especially those like Dan who are in clinical trials, are being segregated from the general population and are still receiving excellent, safe care. But it is still scary to go to the places where the most virus molecules lurk, waiting to find hosts. Unless it is pouring down rain Dan walks to and from treatment, going from the West Side to the East Side through Central Park to avoid taxis or public transportation.
The good news is that Dan’s scans show that his cancer has receded by 42% since December. His cutting edge, high tech experimental protocol is working! We should be ecstatic, and we certainly are grateful. Nonetheless, we can’t help but think about the bad news that so many other New Yorkers are receiving. Their lungs are getting so much worse, not so much better as Dan’s are.
We know we are so very fortunate. We have everything we need but peace of mind. We are not financially strapped. We can get delivery of almost anything within hours. We are not navigating a work-from-home-with-little-kids scenario like so many younger folks are. We get to FaceTime with our grandson every day, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark time. And my older daughter has learned that she is pregnant after a long IVF journey. A new life to look forward to!!!
We have so much to live for and so much love in our lives. And we know that millions of others do too. We will all be so happy when the coronavirus siren song gets off of repeat. In the meantime, our checks from the feds will go to the local food banks. It’s the least we can do. If you can spare yours, think about doing the same.