We are unplanning our plans. Sunday night when my partner came home from his weekend fishing trip he complained of a pain in his side, perhaps a pulled muscle. By Monday morning the rash appeared, wrapping around the right side of his body from his belly to his spine, bubbling up and in some places already breaking through the skin. We knew right away it was shingles. Neither of us has been vaccinated for that. The cascade of impacts was instant. We have been planning for months for his upcoming knee replacement surgery, we took a class together for patients and caregivers, he’s had all the requisite doctor appointments and medical clearances. But you can’t have knee replacement surgery if you have shingles, and this could last a while. So, we unplanned our plans in what felt like pandemic déjà vu.
By eight in the morning, we were at the urgent care clinic affiliated with his doctor’s practice. But there was already a line of six people at the front door. It was quite cold outside. A young woman in a ponytail hugged a toddler in a pink snowsuit. A young man held hands with a little boy. RSV is a health emergency here because of so many sick children. We were informed that the clinic administrator had not yet arrived for work, so everyone waited on cement in the frosty air, unwilling to give up their place in line to sit in a warm car. Across the street we watched a hunched old man with bushy grey hair and a long grey beard unfurl his sleeping bag on the iced grass between the sidewalk and the curb.
This dystopian tableau swamped us. A living answer to the rhetorical question “what could be worse?” My partner worried about the child in the pink snowsuit. I worried about my partner. He had seen her face and he thought she looked quite sick. I have never seen him in so much pain. We talked about how many of the homeless people in our town are elderly. What happened to their Social Security? What about their Medicare? Maybe they’re mentally ill. But why is an elderly person homeless? We didn’t know. It’s a haunting feeling to be in the presence of so many people who obviously need help and not be able to help them. Mentally the word SHOULD comes up in all caps. I should be able to do something about this. I should fix this. But all I can do is drive my boyfriend to a different clinic.
At another urgent care center in a less traveled neighborhood, he got in to see the doctor right away. Then off to Walmart to fill the prescriptions. I grabbed some groceries while we were there, and we were home by 9:30. We wore masks in Walmart. No one else was. It just seems like now would be a really, really bad time to get Covid again. We’ve been vaccinated four times and we’ve had Omicron. But we know several people who have also been multi-vaccinated and got Covid in the past month. So, we’re back to isolating ourselves and wearing masks in public.
This is quite a different journey than preparing for knee replacement surgery. But we are resilient. If there’s anything we’ve learned from events of the past few years, it’s that plans are made to be unplanned. We’ve cancelled our Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s okay. There will still be laughing at our table for two. We will still eat good food and play with the dog. Because even with all this happening, we know we are the lucky ones. We are not waiting in line outside in the cold for urgent medical care with a beloved sick child. We are not old and grey and sleeping on the winter street. We are not the healthcare worker facing a long line of sick people first thing in the morning. We are not alone. It will take some time to adjust to unplanning our plans. But we will manage with affection and gratitude. Because even with shingles, which we fully expect to totally suck, we are feeling blessed. Hope you are, too. Happy Thanksgiving.