As restrictions from COVID-19 lift ’round these parts, my urge to get back to business as usual has intensified. I’m lucky to live in a state that’s been less affected, so I dared to ask my favorite doctor the burning question: “Is it safe to grocery shop again?” I waited on pins and needles for his response. Ten minutes later he replied yes. Who knew such a simple request and vital answer would overwhelm me with an enthusiastic sense of freedom?
It’s been a few weeks since there has been a positive case of coronavirus in Vermont, but I’d assumed time would continue to stand still in my case. The world is restoring its normalcy, but that standard doesn’t apply to those with health challenges. Our immune systems don’t have the capacity to fight a virus that still presents many unknowns. We don’t have the luxury of risking contraction. Dancing with death isn’t something new, but avoiding that tango is always the goal.
I secretly plotted my trip to the grocery store the night before. Refraining from telling a soul, I mapped out my plan: get up early, skip the shower and breakfast. There wasn’t a moment to waste. Mornings are hard for me. My brain fog doesn’t dissipate until the late afternoon, my body moves sluggishly, and my energy circulates slowly. I was determined to set these symptoms aside and accomplish what I set out to do — grocery shop.
I feared my loved ones would assume the protective role and attempt to talk me out of going. Like a little kid sneaking candy, I didn’t want to be told no. (Many with an altered health status feel pressured to check life choices with “their people,” but that’s a topic for another day.)
I haven’t stepped foot inside a store since March. My sister, brother-in-law, and friends have dropped groceries at my doorstep. My heart bursts with gratitude for those who have met my needs amid these uncharted waters. Nobody knew what to expect, but they rose to the occasion on my behalf. When my support squad is activated, they stand at attention with valor. These caregivers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic.
Thirty people were allowed inside the store at a time. The camaraderie in the line was strong. Masked and 6 feet apart, we were all in the same boat. The system in place at this establishment was efficient and the store owner’s care evident, contrary to what I experienced later that day in another grocery store. The staff’s actions at the first location showed that their patrons’ safety is more important than business. This made all the difference.
Time went more quickly than expected, given the length of the line. I took a few steps forward in line every minute. As customers arrived at the tent set up just outside the entrance, an employee sanitized each returned cart before giving one to an incoming customer. Armed with a surgical mask and N95, I was ready. As I reached the front of the line, the employee granted me permission to head into the unknown.
Once inside the store, my automatic trauma response kicked in. My eyes darted to the exit as my flight reaction screamed, “Where can I escape?” As I perceived each person as a threat to my health, my fight response triggered. When the freeze response kicked in, each breath became heavy through my rigid chest. Thankfully, an encouraging pep talk raced through my mind to disarm the activated trauma brain response. The cycle never ends, but my coping skills make the experience easier.
Every person respected the unwritten rule to keep distanced, and each shopper wore a mask. Wrinkled upper cheeks revealed smiles hidden behind covered faces and polite manners spoke loudly: “You go first.” “No, you.” “I’m sorry.” “Thank you.”
Every part of me fought the tug at my heart to break down crying in the middle of the store. Overwhelmed with emotion, I fought the tears stemming from a reverence for what was taking place before my very eyes. This is a dream for people like me! Wearing masks, sanitizing everything, respecting personal space … finally, the world is creating a safe space for those at greater risk of infection contraction. Maybe the world won’t go back to “normal” after all.
Something good can come out of every bad circumstance. This pandemic has birthed a prioritization for the protection of the most vulnerable. Fellow customers spoke volumes through their actions: love, care, respect, and honor for fellow humans. This is unity during unprecedented times. We really are all in this together.
The vulnerable feeling of being open and exposed left me while safety and protection settled in. My trauma response diluted as peace washed over my amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. “The threat is gone, Lara,” whispered my conscience. “You are safe here.”
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.
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