As I walked back from the mailbox a couple of days ago, I stepped off the path about six feet to keep the prescribed personal distance between me and a neighbor walking in my direction.
“How are you doing?” I said, as she passed.
She answered slowly, “This is really hard”.
No kidding. The rules for surviving this pandemic aren't necessarily unclear. It is that there is so damned much to keep track of and that makes it easy to screw up.
That day I had faced my usual mailbox confusion. Do I need a mask for the 200-foot walk and back? Should I wear nitrile gloves? I wore the gloves and mask that day. Sometimes I don't.
Back at my apartment, I dumped the two envelopes and one package on the porch table where I had left a bottle of antiseptic spray, paper towels, a trash bag, a paper shopping bag and scissors.
After cutting the package's plastic wrapper open, I dumped the contents into the clean paper shopping bag and stuffed the wrapper into the trash bag.
Then I opened the two envelopes, dumped them in the trash bag (recycling has become less of an issue these days when I am concentrated on avoiding the virus), and wondered if I needed to wipe down the contents.
I decided that since it had taken several days for them to arrive in my mailbox, any viruses were probably dead so I didn't need the antiseptic spray after all. Then I took the paper shopping bag, scissors, spray bottle and paper towels into the house, leaving the trash bag on the porch.
After removing the gloves into the kitchen trash, I started washing my hands to the tune of Happy Birthday when fear hit me: I had not taken off my shoes before entering the house and I had held the package, as I walked home from the mailbox, against my sweater.
Holey moley. I stepped out of my shoes and walked barefoot back to the laundry room where I ditched the sweater, my cloth mask – and, for good measure, my pants - in the washing machine.
All that after just a five-minute trek to get the mail.
I will spare you the details of the much longer cleaning routine after grocery shopping. But even on this short foray outdoors I screwed up, so you can imagine how badly it goes with the more complicated, twice-monthly food runs involving both store and home with many more possibilities for contamination.
Never yet have I done all this without mistakes - it doesn't help that I am constantly refining the routine. And so I worry then, for a week, waiting to see if symptoms appear.
My neighbor is right – it is hard trying to keep ourselves and those around us safe during a dangerous pandemic. Of course, this is new to us. We've never done it before which may account, in part, for the mistakes I keep making.
Another part is that it takes so much time from, for me, an already shortened day just because I tire so easily and it takes me much longer than during most of my life to do all the ordinary tasks I hardly noticed before: washing up dishes, sweeping the floor, folding laundry – you know, just normal, daily stuff.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?