If you are a person with a physical disability who is also considered high risk for surviving Covid, then you are like me. Living with the Covid threat for one year is like waiting for the longest doctor prognosis ever.
You see, during the day, I am not your Diva Latina on Wheels. I have another identity. I am Ms. Alvarez, a 7th grade middle school teacher in one of the largest school systems in America. Last year on Friday the 13th, we were officially told it would be our last day at work because Miami was going on a lockdown to stop the spread of Covid. This unknown virus that made the BoogeyMan seem like Mickey Mouse.
As adults, we whispered like our students when they think we can’t hear them. We were as much in the dark as them. Yet, we were expected to be a beacon of light and hope. Our smiles and reassuring words were not only for them but for ourselves. It was another role that was unofficially bestowed on teachers and one year later, it continues.
That afternoon, I went to the supermarket with my mom to get enough food for a month. Turns out food wasn’t as important as toilet paper. Did people think that Covid would make them use up all the toilet paper?
It was the last time I ever went out without thinking, “Watch out! I could get the virus and die!” But that feeling didn’t last long.
While in one of the aisles, a former high school classmate walked up to me and gave me a HUG! I felt my eyes pop out of my head. We had not seen each other since 1988! What a great surprise! Or was it? Would I have the virus now? Would I die? Would I be one of those news stories?
The lack of information on Covid was turning the world upside down. But what about the individuals like me? Like you? Individuals who already had to be careful of getting a severe cold? For many of us, staying healthy was our every day goal. Now this mysterious Covid? This was doom yelling into our minds.
At my work, catching colds came with the territory. Ask any teacher. Fortunately, my students understood that if they had a cold, they were to tell me and sit in the back of the room. They sneezed, they went to the back of the room to wash their hands where fortunately, we had a sink. My students were great about protecting me from their colds.
But even their careful actions didn’t stop my body from several bouts of pneumonia. So you can imagine how I was feeling when I heard these horrible and tragic stories about the people dying of Covid.
Time went on. After two weeks, people were getting restless staying home. I didn’t understand that. As someone with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, I broke my bones more than 200 times before the age of 10. Staying home was the only thing to do while healing. My mom kept me busy. I read, watched tv, sang, listened to music, worked on puzzles, learned to knit, crochet, colored, and spent time with my family. That was my life until the age of 10 when I stopped fracturing.
Later on, I fractured but it wasn’t like before. But that’s another story.
Therefore, I couldn’t understand the whining from non disabled people who couldn’t go out to the park or to a party because the world was working as one to stop the spread of a deadly virus. I definitely didn’t understand the social media stories from people whining with a glass of wine in one hand and their pool in the back ground.
Now one year later, I have learned several lessons. You might not agree with them. But that might be because you’ve learned different lessons or none at all.
I’ve learned that our society needs an attitude check. You don’t need to discuss politics when it comes society’s dealing with Covid. Look at society’s actions. “People with ‘good genes’ will be fine. The rest of you should stay home.” That’s what I heard from leaders, friends and family.
That’s insulting. This is what physically disabled people have been told for decades in other areas of our lives. Now we have to hear it again for Covid. If it is true that only people with “good genes” would be fine, why didn’t the people with these “good genes” help protect those who don’t have “good genes”? Don’t good genes come with empathy and understanding?
Instead, they rebelled against any attempts to slow down the spread of the virus. In my city, Miami, people continued to disobey anything that could have decreased the number of deaths. It was all about the good life for those with the “good genes.” Covid taught me that there are too many cold hearted, petty people in the world. Unfortunately, many of them live in my city.
People wanted to blame political leaders for everything going wrong with the virus. But I really couldn’t accept that. Political leaders don’t put a mask on your face anymore than they put a coat on your back. People decide that. People decided that wearing a mask properly wasn’t that important to them. People decided to take risks with their lives and the lives of other people. I learned that I was not willing to risk my life or the lives of other people because I hadn’t had dinner with my besties in weeks. Turns out I have great besties because they weren’t out there “living la vida loca” either.
I learned that people aren’t too happy with their lives. They might talk a big game on social media but if people can’t handle staying in their home for a month without whining, then their home life really isn’t that great. For the record, I don’t mean the people who went out with their masks, taking precautions to go to work to earn a living. Or the ones who didn’t have jobs because of Covid. I am specifically pointing out the people who went on social media about how “bored” they are at home.
If you are bored at home, you are bored no matter where you go. The problem isn’t location. The problem is your company. These people might want to converse with those of us who understand what it is like to not be able to go out for weeks or months at a time.
For many of us, staying at home was the only choice before the pandemic. Lack of transportation, physical barriers to locations and lack of funds kept many disabled people at home. While I have a job and I did go out with my friends before the pandemic, I had great company alone. I love being alone. It’s not always my preferred choice but I don’t loathe it. I don’t whine about how the virus has me staying home.
Perhaps more non disabled people needed this time to get to know themselves and learn not to be so boring.
This next part makes me proud. I learned that my physically disabled friends are stronger than most people. They are more creative, interesting and innovative than my non disabled friends. Their only concern was not getting the virus. It wasn’t about missing out on “Happy Hour” or not being at the next cool event.
Sure, they missed meeting up with friends and having the company of others but they knew how to keep themselves from being petty whiners.
In fact, many of us are thrilled that because of Covid, businesses who wanted to survive the pandemic became more inclusive. They didn’t do it for us. They didn’t do it because they were in violation of the Americans with Disability Act. It was for the non disabled people.
All of the sudden, video calls with our doctors, streaming the latest movies, watching the latest conferences, virtual touring of places that pre Covid would not be possible for millions with physical disabilities was now possible and successful. So I learned that we were right. Our society can be more inclusive if it really wanted to be without creating more laws. Why did society insist on excluding us before Covid? Why do they shut those doors figuratively and literally now that more in person activities are resuming? Why not keep these reasonable accommodations for those who need them?
Now I could still get the virus and die from it but this past year, I’ve learned that I am stronger than I look, my past prepared me for the pandemic much better than my non disabled peers, and inclusion is possible.
Hang in there, my friends. Covid isn’t going anywhere. But if society chooses to learn from this past year, our future can be safer and better for everyone.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your first year dealing with Covid. Email me at nathasha @ audacitymagazine (.) com.
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Editor and Founder of AudacityMagazine.com and currently with her own podcast, Audaciously Speaking.