Friday, March 13, 2020

Life During Wartime

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around” – Talking Heads

If you are one of those people who still thinks the COVID-19 virus is unlikely to change your life, think again. We are witnessing the worst-case scenario of a global war against a highly contagious virus that requires all of us to do our part to contain its spread, particularly to the most vulnerable among us. Here in Italy as of today there are more than 15,000 known cases of the Corona virus, 11,000 of which happened just last week. 
From New York Times March 13, 2020

Hospitals in the north where the spread began are overwhelmed, desperately seeking to create intensive care beds for the overflow of dying patients. This New York Times piece (no paywall on Corona news) provides a grim glimpse into the future scenarios likely to expand globally.

Italy has now taken the most drastic measure of putting the country on pause – no school, no work, no play – and is using celebrities and doctors to spread the #IoRestoACasa message that staying put, in the safety of one’s home, is the best way to contain the spread of disease. Now only supermarkets and smaller food stores plus pharmacies are open, and you have to wait your turn to get in. When I ventured out to the pharmacy yesterday, there were about ten people waiting not in line, but with the required meters between them, each new arrival confirming who was the last person so as to keep track of turns. This sort of civility is rare in Italy where cutting in line, especially at airports, is more the norm. Masks and gloves are everywhere, and supplies of hand sanitizer seem to have run out.

Against this surreal backdrop, my life as a caregiver goes on with the daily joys of watching my mother get better and better with each day. Even her bloodwork yesterday shows dramatic improvements in the worrisome numbers. When we first got the hammock-like lifting machine to transfer her from bed to reclining electric armchair, she actually loved the whole experience, and stayed in the chair for 30 minutes. Just yesterday she stayed for three full hours, eating dinner in the chair, and during her physical therapy session managing to stand three times holding on to the bed frame while we supported her on either side. For the first time we saw her move her feet on her own, taking little steps as we pushed the armchair into position, and turning her ankles in circles to stretch the muscles. This morning I left her room for a few minutes and returned to find her sitting up, legs hanging down the side of the bed, torso up, with only the yoga belt barrier I put in place as support for her hands. She is ready to, as she says, “get out of here.”

Also remarkable is the dramatic difference between her speech when she is lying in bed compared to when she’s sitting up in the chair. Moans and groans turn into full-blown phrases of thoughts her brain has been likely storing up for eventual use. Her physical therapist recommended putting
Maureen loves the armchair
objects she enjoys out on a table in front of her, so I got out her box of costume jewelry necklaces and bracelets, and she reached forward with delight, holding each one as we talked with her and had much more meaningful social interaction than when we are leaning over her in bed, taking her blood pressure or helping her to eat and drink something.

I shudder to think how all of this would have been different if we had decided to put her in an ambulance and take her to the Umberto I hospital when she first had the crisis after her colonoscopy and endoscopy hospitalization. I doubt she could have survived. Alzheimer’s patients are particularly prone to terrible disorientation and panic attacks in hospital settings, and she would have increased her risk of exposure to germs, bacteria, and of course, the COVID-19 virus. With her weakened lungs and heart, she wouldn’t have had a chance.

So please, take this pandemic seriously. For you, for your loved ones, and for those who are most vulnerable. They need you.


  1. All so wise, Andra. Hope all the measures begin to shut this thing down. xoxo

  2. Thoughts are with you both, and all of Italia.

  3. and indeed I am taking this seriously … thank you for making this personal, I hope you both stay well & safe

  4. Maureen is looking good - you're doing a wonderful job, Andra! Stay healthy. I pray for the end of the spread of COVID 19 🙏

  5. Sending you love and light, Andra. You and Maureen are in my thoughts. Love you, Jen

  6. Andra - I finally had the sense to find your blog and see what had happened to you both since this time last year.
    Words cannot express. Now the world has become your experience in Rome - nothing will ever be the same. Danielle is here unable to go back to her normal routine this time of year in France. Much love from both of us - Peter & Danielle