I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes.
I am ironing coffee filters for my masks.
Early on in the pandemic, when masks were not easily available, I read recommendations for creating them from doubled tee shirt cloth with a filter pocket filled by a flattened coffee filter. Testing had shown such three-layer homemade masks to be efficient at stopping virus particles. And so I made masks, a dozen or more, hand-sewing them for my friends and family, and ironed coffee filters to insert in the pocket.
Later, cloth masks having become readily available, I purchased a half-dozen expensive but comfortable coverings of thick, double-layered soft cloth. But then (of course), recommendations changed. Double-layers weren’t enough in the face of virus variants; no, a triple-layer mask was necessary. Buy new ones, the Pandemic Gurus recommended.
New masks not being planned in my budget, I began double-masking and returned to inserting a coffee filter between the two masks.
And so now I stand at the ironing board, ironing coffee filters for my masks, while watching my DVDs of “Downton Abbey”. I’m watching the episode in which Matthew’s fiancé dies of Spanish Flu. The irony (bad pun intended) of this is not lost on me.
I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes, perhaps a coat or jacket or even a hat or gloves. Now my errands, those such as I absolutely must run, are an Olympic marathon in preparation and clean-up.
Before even leaving my house, I set a bowl of water in the microwave, ready to be heated for scalding my masks when I return. The countertop where any shopping sacks will be deposited is protected with wax paper. I place disinfectant soap, a nail brush, and a spray bottle of strong isopropyl alcohol next to the sink. I rub the lenses of my glasses (some small protection for my eyes against airborne viral particles; I have not worn my contacts in months) with shaving cream to keep them from fogging up.
In my car, small paper sacks sit opened and waiting on the seat. One will contain discarded mask filters and disposable gloves; the other, my used cloth masks. I prepare a mask for each stop I must make, placing the filters between them, and lay out pairs of disposable vinyl gloves on the passenger seat. Whether the gas pump or shopping cart or door handles or ATM buttons, I’ve touched nothing for months without wearing gloves. Questioned by one stranger as to why I wore them — “The virus particles are in the air,” she instructed me officiously — I could only answer logically, “Well, they’re going to land somewhere, you know!” I check to be sure that I have both hand sanitizer and another spray bottle of disinfectant in the car.
Masked and gloved, I race through my errands (pumping gas, taking a package to the post office, or picking up groceries, almost the only excursions I’ve allowed myself in 11 months) trying always to avoid the cretins in the aisles wearing their masks as “nose-wipers or chin diapers”; changing my contaminated PPE between each stop. Returning to my car, I strip off masks and gloves carefully, dropping them into the paper sacks, before disinfecting everything I have touched and sanitizing my hands.
Returning home, I toss the paper sack containing used disposables into the garbage bin and carry the sack with masks into the house. I scrub my hands thoroughly, and once more disinfect everything I’ve touched—door handles, car handles, alarm buttons, purse, wallet. I carry in my purchases, placing them carefully on the waxed paper. I scald my masks in boiling water and agitate them with disinfectant soap, then rinse, spray them with alcohol and hang them to dry. I wash my hands again and put my purchases away, then pull up the wax paper and disinfect the countertop. I wash my hands a third time.
This, this is now my new reality, and that of millions of other people, as we try to avoid the virus; waiting ever hopefully that our number will come up and we will be scheduled for the vaccine; frightened always that all our efforts to be safe will fail, and we, in the most vulnerable of groups due to age and chronic illness, will contract and die of Covid-19.
I remember when life was simple. I remember complaining about the restaurant a friend preferred; about believing that, living alone, I knew what loneliness was. Now I would gladly go to any restaurant, just to be out once again. Now I know more of loneliness than I have ever endured in a very solitary life.
The world will turn, I know; this will end. Someday, Covid-19 will be merely a sad footnote in the history books, to be wondered at by generations that have never known pandemic.
It can’t happen soon enough.
You might enjoy looking at these thoughts through another lens, by reading, “In the Moment”, which can be found archived from April 12, 2018.