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No Toilet Paper in the Time

of Coronavirus

This tiny little virus that causes Covid-19 disease has managed to travel around the world with staggering speed, hitching rides and infecting people in most every part of the globe. One of its superpowers is to bring countries— large and small — to almost complete standstills, devastating health systems, families, businesses, and entire economies. 


Who knew we would be seeing panic runs on stores for toilet paper, paper towels, bleach, antibacterial products, and even common grocery staples to the point that shelves emptied overnight? It took a month before I was able to score some paper products through our local grocery store’s curbside service. 


I remember clearly the day my 89-year-old father and I began “social distancing.” It was Friday the 13th of March, and early in the morning I took Dad for a wellness procedure 40 miles from our home. As we passed the grocery store at 7:45 a.m., I wondered why the parking lot was already full. I tried to recall what holiday it must’ve been since it hadn’t registered that the panic had begun.


Early in the shut-down, our sweet neighbor Anna left a 4-pack of TP on our porch, along with an anti-bacterial wipe.

The massive size of this medical complex we visit every so often always astounds me when I drive up to the 6-story clinic where Dad gets checked out. I realized what a huge, profitable business sickness is. I always see so many obese people and diabetics with limbs missing that it frightens me enough to eat healthier when I get back home. Three of the biggest causes of death and disease in this country: heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are for the most part, preventable. We’re killing ourselves with what we are feeding our bodies and the lack of exercise. 


I dropped Dad off at the door of this huge clinic and parked about quarter of a mile away since the parking lot was full. I walked into the building without anyone giving me a second glance and met Dad at the 5th floor check-in desk. A woman standing beside us apologized to the receptionists for coughing on them. One receptionist smiled and said, “No problem,” and she handed her a face mask, which the woman just held. The woman also told them she was having trouble catching her breath. Someone escorted her to an exam room, and I noticed she never put on the mask.

My eyes widened as I looked at Dad. I knew this woman had mentioned two of the symptoms of Covid-19, and yet no one had stopped her (or us or anybody) at the door downstairs to even ascertain that she or we might be contagious with this virus. I looked around at the waiting room full of elderly people who were probably there for non-illness related procedures like my dad. The sick woman could’ve exposed us all.

Some recognized the danger coming and began preparing for it; others, like our federal government, didn't


For a week or more prior to this, some of the medical systems in Austin and Round Rock recognized what was coming and had already begun dressing in protective gear to triage people at their doors, and yet this huge medical system where we were was going about business as usual. Dad and I wondered for 2 weeks if we had been infected, and fortunately, we are still healthy. 


I believe our federal government also failed to recognize the danger of what was coming and how lightning fast the pandemic struck and spread. On September 11, 2001, and the days and weeks afterwards, we saw a glimpse of how a single event could almost wreck our economy when the airlines were grounded for a short while. So many things depend on each other for an economy to function normally, and when one domino falls, it brings down so many others with it. 

That is occurring now with this invisible and deadly virus, but it is so much more widespread and far reaching than what happened with 9-11. The world is much more interconnected than we realized. Covid-19 has brought the most powerful countries to their knees without a single shot being fired. Conspiracy theorists are going nuts over this, and it is terrifying to realize that this event has shown how effective biological warfare could be, although the perpetrators risk wiping out themselves and their own people in the process. 

The people in our neighborhood check on each other


A huge positive coming out of this catastrophe is seeing how this crisis, like others in the past, is bringing out the best in people, along with sparking creativity and problem-solving skills to meet the challenges the virus has created. The people in our neighborhood check on each other. Two of my neighbors have shared toilet paper with us. People across the country have made hundreds of thousands of masks to share with each other and to help make up for the shortages in our medical facilities. Closed schools are still feeding students. Food banks are giving out record amounts of food. 

As for affecting me, the introvert in me is enjoying this time at home with no schedule to follow, because what most of us have been asked to do isn’t physically hard. But it is taking a toll in other ways. I’m having a hard time sleeping at night. Then I sleep late and take an overly long nap during the day. I’ve owned my minivan for almost 9 years and had never locked my keys in the car, but in the past month, I’ve locked them in the car twice. Today, I set the keys down in the passenger seat to put on my N-95 mask before I got out to run an errand, then I forgot to pick up the keys. I got my exercise walking home from downtown and back with my extra set to unlock it. 


My grands are only 22 minutes away, but they might as well be in another state. I’m glad my kids are being careful about isolating themselves, but I miss them terribly. I can change my perspective in a heartbeat, though when I remember that many people went to war before cell phones and the Internet, and their families sometimes didn’t hear from them or see them for months or even years to even know if they were alive. I’m not a phone talker, and I don’t like to see myself on Zoom or FaceTime, but I’m so grateful that I can text and email or have this screen time technology to use. My oldest grandson has passed me up in height since this started, and his birthday is tomorrow. I’m hoping to meet my daughter halfway to give her a cake I baked for him. 


Covid-19 is changing our behavior, our communities, our perspectives, and our ways of doing things. Wearing masks and grocery shopping online may be the new normal for some time until a vaccine is created. 


We can choose to respond to this crisis positively, productively, and others-centered, or to react to it negatively, passively, and self-centered. 


I choose the former.


Donna Van Cleve

Written April 2020; published May 2020

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