Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following is the first selection of stories selected to be featured in the Boston Globe, our media partner in this project. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.
By Jane deLima Thomas, who is a palliative care doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
My father had a massive stroke on April 13th. My mother called me and said, “If you want to see him, you should come now.” Without thinking about COVID or my mother’s fragile immune system, I leaped into the car and drove to their home. I looked down at the man who had raised me and I scanned his face and hands, committing them to memory. I told him I loved him and I believe he mumbled that he loved me, too.
I am a palliative care doctor, and during the pandemic I’ve had to call families and tell them they couldn’t come to the hospital to see their dying loved ones. I have withstood their anger, tears, and begging, knowing it was safest for everyone – patients, staff, and families themselves – if they stayed away. I did my best to be compassionate, but it wasn’t until I felt the primal need to see my father one last time that I truly understood the terrible loss families experience when they are denied the same. And now I feel the heaviness of it deep in my chest every time I reach for the phone to make another call.
By Shahrin Islam, who is an AmeriCorps member serving as a Case Manager with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
The last hour of a Ramadan fast goes by the slowest. I always find myself watching the clock more closely in this last hour but today, I am extra vigilant. My 12-hour shift at a facility for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for COVID19, will start at 7:00 PM.
At 6:50 PM, I enter the donning station, ready to gear up in personal protective equipment (PPE). I hesitate. And I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Shortly, I must take off this PPE to break my fast when the sun sets. Using a set of PPE for only 30 minutes seems wasteful.
We usually take a break half way through our shift to conserve our limited supply of PPE. The other choice is to break my fast early. Again, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But I swallow my guilt along with a swig of water and finish donning my PPE by 6:59 PM.
Before I go in, I pray that my fast, though incomplete, is still valid. I pray for a cure, a vaccine, the government to make decisions with the safety and health of people in mind and for all of this to be over.
By Kate H Schlesinger,
Katie’s video wasn’t working on Zoom, so I couldn’t see her face for our last class. Juliana didn’t make it to class at all. I had taught them in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, watching them grow as thinkers, writers, and people, and this was the end. I never imagined that my students would become floating heads on a screen for brief weekly sessions rather than the living, breathing teenagers who burst into my classroom for class or help with an essay or because their friends were there or just because. I never imagined seeing students – athletes, artists, historians, mathematicians, noisy, thoughtful, quirky, determined, anxious, dancing, laughing, flirting, falling, thriving – flattened to two dimensions.
I never imagined that in our last history class students would only be faces in boxes as they analyzed documents, focusing on screens or books, never quite looking me in the eye. I never imagined that, not wanting to try to be inspirational to a screen, I would cut short my goodbye speech and let them go, my finger hovering over the “end” button as they said goodbye and left, knowing that without awards ceremonies or graduation, I may never see their faces again.
By Amrapali Maitra, a resident physician in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an anthropologist.
I often revisit the scene in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things where Ammu and Velutha meet at the riverbank. The Big Things are overwhelming—the caste differences that forbid their love—so they focus on Small Things. An insect has built a home out of rubbish and leaves. They tend to minutiae like life depends on it.
The pandemic is a study in Small Things. On a walk, I hear a blue jay’s liquid screech. Enjoy fuchsia eruptions of rhododendrons in the Arboretum. Inhale ash from my neighbor’s backyard, conjuring nights of s’mores and songs. Spy a family of squirrels relocate to the rain gutter
COVID has transformed my identity as a doctor. In March, I cared for cancer patients. But while pregnant, every moment in the hospital became a negotiation between duty to others and obligation to the life inside me. So, I transitioned to virtual care.
Sitting at my dining table, I begin each phonecall, “This is Dr. Maitra! How are you coping?” The words are chalky in my mouth. I swallow the guilt. Sheltering in place, I’m no hero. Then I feel my daughter’s forceful kicks and realize, I’m exactly where I need to be.
By Daina Wynot, a quintessential millennial who occasionally pretends she can write.
My grandmother called me over to her apartment complex to pick up a leftover meatball sub. She didn’t want it to go to waste and wasn’t taking no for an answer — I don’t think any grandmas will accept a “no” from their grandkids, especially when it comes to overfeeding them.
I donned the mask I made of leftover fabric from my attempt at crafting dog bandanas and set out to retrieve the package.
Grandma was standing outside when I arrived — folks who don’t live there aren’t allowed in — and I approached her with my phone facing outward. My 7-month-old nephew, her great-grandson, was on the screen, babbling away with a bottle in his mouth.
“Can he see me?” she asked, absolutely thrilled to learn that he could. “Oh, no wonder he’s shouting so much! Look at me, a crazy lady in a mask.”
After ending the call I was informed I would be taking her to get “one of those things” as soon as stores reopen.
“I can’t take my money with me,” Grandma said, and using it to buy a magic machine that lets her see her great-grandkids whenever she wants is a pretty good deal.
By Deborah Vatcher is a retired physician and oboist.
When was the sky ever so saturated, so clear, so blue? Absent that smoky haze? These cerulean depths—a Côte d’Azur overhead—invite a daring swim in a sky of pure color, as the Cooper’s Hawk dives for prey; and standing outside now, watching him, I feel giddy, caught in the undertow of these waves of clarity.
When was it ever a two-hour walk to the turtle pond and back? Before this pernicious twist of coronavirus slipped into circulation, it was a thirty-minute outing with DixieDudeDog at most. These days, I just never know. Between pauses to stare at the sky, mute, and in awe, I meet the neighbors, all home now, out in their yards, with tools and trimmers—busy with projects long-planned, and now, at last, well underway. Bill and his kids are planting a garden, and we spend some time talking about all that. And when I’m nearly back home, two women stop me, ask directions, and seem in no rush to move on. I’ll visit the egg farm on Hancock Street later this afternoon, walking there, of course, and pet the gray barn cat; and when was this cat ever so friendly, before?
By Jennifer Serafyn, a lawyer who lives in Dorchester with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Barkley.
It’s mid-March and our dog doesn’t realize that we’re all home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. A school day. A work day. She doesn’t mind that when we go for our usual walk in Dorchester Park, we see no one. Not the guy who also has a beagle or the lady who doles out treats from her pocket.
It’s Easter and our dog doesn’t understand that no one is coming over for dinner. She doesn’t know about being over 70 and having lung disease. Instead, our dog jumps onto my lap as we Zoom with family to celebrate virtually. Safely.
It’s mid-May and our dog doesn’t notice that the bike path along the Neponset River is more crowded than usual. She wags her tail and sniffs the grass as runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers pass by. She doesn’t care that most of them are wearing masks.
Soon it will be June. My sons will turn 9 and 11. School will end. Our dog will continue to meander through the days, unaware. That’s all we can be sure of.
By Chris Kelly, a public relations consultant and walker of Buddy.
My son and I were walking our dog when we saw someone walking toward us on the same side of the street. The person was wearing a long coat, a baseball hat, and over the bottom half of their face, a bandanna. “Let’s cross,” I said, steering us to the other side of the empty street.
As we passed, the person called out. “Hi! Windy day, huh?”
“Yes!” I agreed as we walked past. A block further, my brain connected the voice and the covered-up form with our neighbor. Not only had we crossed the street to avoid her, but we’d barely acknowledged her greeting.
Often, we walk our dog another route, past a home built in the 1600s. It’s been there through wars and assassinations, a Great Depression, 9/11, hurricanes and blizzards. So many different events with one thing in common: people gathering to support each other through them.
But now, we can’t gather, and “social distancing” means that when we see someone approaching, we cross the street or trespass someone’s yard or dart into traffic; anything to avoid contact. Today, hurriedly moving away is a way to take care of one another.