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A lookback on 2021

Today is Wednesday, Dec. 8. Last time I was here (on this blog, not on this Earth) was in January, 2021. Eleven months ago. In my fantasy life, I was on a world tour, making a difference in peace or climate change or global health or any number of lofty things. Yeah. That did not happen. Yet, I think it’s useful to take inventory of the passing of a year. To look at things with some perspective. To see what lessons have been learned.

From January through early March, I was slugging out the pandemic like everyone else. Scared. Upset. Watching the bad numbers rise daily. And rejoicing when it looked like there was a way out of this viral terror encasing the globe. Then came the magic date in early March, when I drove to a nearby former horse-racing facility, got in line with dozens and dozens of others, and after filling out forms served up by the uniformed and frequently good-looking members of the National Guard, I got in line for my first Covid vaccination. The woman who administered the injection to me was a local physician, a vein specialist. Though the process of forms and questions had been somewhat – and understandably – like marching orders, this volunteer doc/injector-of-good was sweet and upbeat. Afterwards, and never being one to miss an opportunity for free medical advice, I asked her if she could do anything about my legs, or as I call them, “the map of Rhode Island.” 

“That’s another clinic,” she said, with a chuckle.

Then came the second injection three weeks later, followed by difficult, brief side effects but also great feelings of relief, though I continued my safe practices – not because I didn’t trust the vaccine, but because I didn’t trust others, an unfortunate leftover neurotic theme of mine from childhood…a childhood before certain vaccines, before a better range of antibiotics, surgeries, and treatment for disease. The reality of vocal anti-vaxxers this year did not escape me, and I decided my mask was permanently and comfortably to be a part of me for the long haul.

See, when my mom was a child, there were no antibiotics. The early ones were a Godsend, but during WW2, they were restricted because wounded soldiers needed them first. That was before my time, but the stories lingered. Anyone born in the 50’s – nay, anyone born anytime – understands that medical advances are happening every day. Literally, as I write this and as you read this, some smart ass 12-year-old is in the preparation stages for someday finding that cure, that treatment that will save lives.

When I got my shots this year, and then got the booster, I couldn’t help but envision, each time, what it must have been like for my mother-in-law, who by the grace of God was able to nurse her two toddlers through scarlet fever during WW2, not knowing if they would make it, per the doctor’s caution to her. They were that sick. There was no treatment. And though they lived, many others did not, or survived with long-standing medical problems.

My own mother brought my older brother Bob to the hospital when he was a sick child during the 1940s. Mom feared the worst, as there was a polio outbreak in her area. In the elevator on the way to the clinic, another woman – a mother – looked over at my sick brother.

“That’s what my boy looked like yesterday,” she said. “Today he’s in an iron lung.” 

Fortunately, my brother did not have polio. And today, polio is entirely preventable.

Sometime during this past spring, I finally emerged from my shell of fear long enough to re-engage, not even close to solving climate change, but for me, monumental. I went to the nearby beach, keeping distance, adding long beach walks to my, um, minimalist exercise regimen. I began to meet with a few women in my building who were also vaccinated, and we played canasta. Yes, I’m one of those. I ventured back to the physical building called Church, masked, steering away from human clusters. I sat at my sewing machine and continued making masks, improving on the style I’d made for my doctor’s office the previous year.

I got a long-overdue haircut, not sure yet if I wanted to get my hair colored, a bigger indoor time commitment.  In May, my family gathered at a rental house in Virginia, as we had all been vaccinated. I started going into stores, always masked. It was starting to feel close to normal, other than the worry about others who were unmasked. So many others.

Some day, our history books will reflect on these years of the pandemic. I like to imagine what they will say, and how people will react when they read about this pandemic, that a vaccine was invented and produced and available, yet so many refused it. And how there were parts of the world where the health care system or access to vaccines was so primitive or political that large populations could not receive them. 

Lastly, when taking an overview of 2021, there is one other thing that I can honestly say I conquered:

A lot of head shaking.

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