With stay at home orders in place, my family’s physical world has shrunk to the walls of our home, but there’s an elephant in the room. My husband, also a doctor, is taking care of patients with COVID-19 in the hospital. (My patient care is by telemedicine.)
The risk is real. He could get sick. We could get sick. We have elderly and frail relatives nearby, how do we protect them? And we have teenagers who understand what’s going on. We can’t shield them from the truth and pretend these are extended snow days.
Our strategy is to be open about my husband’s risk of illness, be strict about the precautions we are able to take, and then not dwell on it. Our goal is to be flexible, and focus on the short term decisions we have control over. This is our new normal, and we’ve accepted it will take time to adjust.
My husband moves freely in the guest bedroom and bath. Those areas my children and I don’t enter. In the living room and the dining room his chairs are at least 6 feet away from us. He doesn’t come into the kitchen. We’ve added frequent cleaning to high touch areas all through the day to protect ourselves. Is it enough? We’re not sure, but it’s something, and it’s what we can do. As more research comes out about transmission, we can fine-tune more.
Another intentional strategy to decrease the stress in our home is not to talk about the crisis much. It’s difficult given both my husband and I are in health care, but at the dinner table we let our teens guide us with conversation. The more laughter the better. And we don’t have the TV on with the news blaring all day.
As the weeks go by, we’re also focusing on our general lifestyle looking for ways we can maintain our overall health.
Routine and Balance
Establishing routine is critical to regain our work-life balance. We no longer have the physical change of space to signal work is done. During the day, my husband and I are busy with COVID-19 issues related to our jobs while the kids do their online schoolwork. In the evening, we shift gear to family time and exercise and cook together. The weekends are when we all pitch in with the housekeeping. The structure allows us to enjoy our downtime with each other. But, we’re not forcing the issue. We aren’t a family that bonds over board games so we’re not trying to push the pressure to have “quality time.”
My teens have shifted to sleeping later and waking up later, which is appropriate for their age. That’s fine with us, as long as their sleep schedule is consistent, they awaken rested, and their school responsibilities are met. For me, I’ve found exercising and limiting alcohol and caffeine are helping me sleep better and get the rest I need.
Arguably, the most challenging aspect of COVID-19 is the physical distancing. We are actively trying to keep up with relationships. We’ve had video chats with both sides of the family. My neighborhood is showing solidarity with chalk art and window art. I even have virtual book club meetings soon. My childhood girlfriends have set a Sunday morning recurring meeting that I hope continues after all this is over. Life isn’t being postponed.
Our exercise routines have shifted significantly. There’s no more time at the gym or the swim center. We’re using online apps for stretching and strength training. We head outside for more solitary activities like biking and running where we aren’t close to others.
The first few days we ate like we were on vacation, but we’re back on track with veggie heavy meals and snacks during the day. Treats like salty snacks, dessert, or alcohol are limited to small portions in the evening after we’re filled with the healthy stuff. Of course, flexibility is necessary here, too. We’re limited by the food choices in the house because we no longer can run to the store, but there’s plenty, and we’re thankful for that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in ways inconceivable; so much is out of our control, but with good intentions, a few actions steps to guide us, and flexibility we can get through this.