By Sharon Challenger
(January 11, 2021) Many people have growing concerns as the number of cases of Covid-19 increase daily while others tune out the news entirely.
We are bombarded daily with statistics, how many tests have been done, how many people tested positive, how many are in the hospital and how many have died.
The constant barrage of statistics revolving around the illness, has led to what psychiatrists’ call “psychic numbing.”
What is “psychic numbing” and how is it impacting our response to Covid-19?
When we process information, how we react to it is determined by how we “think” and “feel” about it. “Psychic numbing” occurs when the information we receive creates a negative response which makes us want retreat or disengage. It is a protective response to a dangerous situation. Simply put, we tune it out, or reject the information entirely, which can be detrimental.
While tuning out might make us feel better momentarily, it does leave us open to misinterpreting the reality of the situation.
So, how can we reduce the “psychic numbing” that the Covid-19 pandemic headlines have created? What might help to make us tune in again?
One way would be to stop focusing on the statistics alone. The painful reality is that for every case that is reported, there is a person associated with that number. A person who may be suffering, a person whose loved ones are terrified about what is happening. A person who before contracting the illness had a life filled with adventures, and activities. They are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, niece, nephew, or cousin. We should and must remember that or we risk losing our humanity.
Early on in the pandemic some members of my family in California contracted Covid-19, and what happened to my family has unfortunately impacted many others around the world.
On February 11, 2020, ten of my cousins boarded the Grand Princess Cruise ship in San Francisco, California for a much-anticipated trip to the Mexican Riviera. The cruise destinations included the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Photo by Cece D.
My 91-year-old cousin, her daughters and sons-in-law were looking forward to quite the adventure. During their voyage they shared photos of their adventure on Facebook. There were beautiful pictures of the scenery, dinners together, and a lovely group photo. They were happy and their smiles clearly revealed that they were having a lot of fun. Seeing the photos made me feel as if I were with them, and I felt so happy for them.
What they did not know however, was that onboard the massive ship, a new and potentially deadly virus, Covid-19 was lurking. Unbeknownst to the passengers, some people were falling ill. Some stayed in their cabins while others went about with their vacation, mingling with others on the cruise ship.
On February 18, three days before the ship returned to San Francisco one woman onboard was ill enough that the cruise ship left her in Cabo San Lucas.
On February 21, 2020, the returning ship pulled into San Francisco and approximately 2,500 people disembarked. Sixty-two passengers reboarded for the next cruise destined for Hawai’i. The cruise made stops at Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hilo (on the Big Island) between February 26 and February 29.
Meanwhile on February 28, 2020, one of my cousins fell ill, and a 71-year-old passenger was hospitalized. The 71-year-old died on March 4, 2020, the first known (at the time) reported death in California. What is shocking is the fact that none of the passengers who were on the Mexican voyage were notified about their being exposed until the death occurred.
Soon after returning home, some of my cousins started feeling ill. In total, four of the ten contracted Covid-19. Thankfully, my 91-year-old cousin did not!
Their symptoms varied greatly. Some had the fever, difficulty breathing, loss of taste and smell, chills, others had digestive issues and fainting. Some were sick enough to be admitted to the local hospital, others rode it out at home.
At the time, little was known about the virus, and it soon became quite clear that our emergency preparedness was sadly lacking. Miscommunication, lack of proper testing supplies, and denial resulted in the virus getting spread far and wide.
The Cruise line was not ignorant to the threat of the disease. The Diamond Princess had been quarantined in Japan on February 3, 2020. All were tested and a total of 696 were infected with Covid-19.
Upon trying to return to the mainland from Hawai’i, the U.S. government decided to quarantine the Grand Princess off the California coast before passengers and crew members would be allowed disembark. They were quarantined for fourteen days at military bases in California, Georgia, and Texas.
A lawsuit would later be filed on July 4, 2020, claiming that “Princess became aware of at least one passenger suffering from COVID-19 symptoms onboard the Grand Princess Mexico cruise, but they did not warn passengers aboard the ship, nor did they put into place any quarantine requirements, social distancing protocols, or meaningfully alter their on-ship protocols, event itineraries, or cleaning and disinfectant practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/first-class-action-lawsuit-filed-against-carnival-and-princess-cruise-lines-over-coronavirus-exposures-on-mexico-grand-princess-cruise-301071150.html)
Life After Covid-19
For some recovery is a slow process. There can be lingering long term effects, and as time goes by more reports are being published by the medical community. We hear little in the media about the “survivors” and how the illness has impacted their daily lives.
Some of my cousins have lingering effects from the virus, including short term memory issues, diminished sense of taste and smell, difficulties with concentration, and when challenged they are sometimes overwhelmed. One cannot tolerate smoke because it triggers phlegm ad coughing spells. How long will the symptoms last? Will survivors ever regain their former health? All questions remain unanswered as of today. The CDC is actively working on trying to get a better understanding of the side effects of Covid-19. For a list of current recorded side effects read more here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects.html
When it hits home – Haddam and Killingworth
As the numbers of reported case began to increase all around the country and world, panic began to set in. So many questions about the virus were arising and so few answers being provided made people uneasy.
Within 16 days of the first reported death from Covid-19 in California, the first case of Covid-19 in Haddam was reported. On March 20, 2020 Haddam’s First Selectman Bob McGarry and Killingworth’s First Selectman Cathy Iino sent out a notice to residents asking everyone to follow the guidelines to avoid getting and spreading the virus.
Two and a half weeks later, on April 9, 2020, a 56-year-old gentleman from Killingworth lost his life to Covid-19 followed by a 77-year-old gentleman in Haddam on May 13, 2020. More would follow.
The deaths sent shock waves throughout our towns and left people with feelings of fear and profound despair.
As I read though each of their obituaries, I was deeply moved by the way family members described their loved ones.
I learned that their interests included hiking, nature, skydiving, home repairs, fishing, basketball, sports, coaching, travel, movies, dining, cooking, serving on Boards, and helping others in whatever way they could.
They came from all walks of life. Some worked in the medical profession, some were retired, while others were business owners who were working and serving their communities.
One was described as being passionate about “equality and fairness for all people,” another as “spunky” and “a generous gift giver.” One was said to be “hard-working and well-respected,” and another as “good Samaritan and willing to go above and beyond to help others.”
The admirable qualities they possessed, remarkably could also be seen in their surviving family members. At a time when they were suffering, all reached out by asking that donations in memory of their loved one be sent to organizations which care for others in need.
We must remember to focus on the people who lost their lives. They were not just a number, a statistic which the CDC will log into their database. They were, a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, and a friend to others.
How do we cope? How do we pick up the pieces and move forward?
While the science is telling us that we must maintain a “social distance” with one another, we must remember that this means “physically.” We must try not to remain distant emotionally.
Try to keep up with friends and loved ones. A video chat or phone call to a lonely friend or family member may be just the medicine they need, and it will cheer you as well. Be the one to reach out to others, don’t sit back and wait.
Researching ways to manage stressful times can be a great help. This site has a lot of good information: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/surviving-tough-times.htm