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Two weeks before the mayor announced lockdown of our city, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference came to San Antonio. I had been given a free pass as a San Antonio poet, but having several auto-immune diseases, I was afraid to go amid news of the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, the thought of missing such a life-changing experience tortured me. I wanted to feel the creative electric energy that literary gatherings hold and hang out with my poetry friends. But reason had its way, and I withdrew.
The following week I was scheduled for a blue light treatment on my face to eradicate pre-cancerous spots once and for all. They said it wouldn’t hurt, but it did. My face burned for two days, then peeled and peeled again. I had been told to stay inside, but I went to the dermatologist’s clinic to get some heavy sunscreen. By chance I met a cosmetologist in the hall who gave me a heavy cream and helpful advice. I felt she was an angel sent from God.
When President Trump advised older people to stay home because the virus was “very bad” for us, I had already been isolated for two weeks. Then came the official lockdown, and I have hardly been out of the house since, except to walk the dog.
At the beginning of this isolation, I felt the void stretching before me could be an opportunity. What will I do with this time alone? It seemed like a shift was happening – a reboot, a chance to go back to ground zero, wipe some things away, and build upwards on the best things.
As I was considering what was most important, my sister called to ask how I was doing. I have chronic diseases which can be treated but not cured. She is to be my medical and financial power of attorney and the executor of my will, but she knew I didn’t have any of that written up yet. So she asked me to write her an email about my wishes concerning my assets should I pass away.
After we hung up, I realized: She thinks I might die now. And she’s right. It could happen.
I got sick with Sjogren’s Syndrome, CREST, and pulmonary hypertension 15 years ago and lived for almost three years in an extremely debilitated state. I sat in a chair reading, watching TV, or gazing out of the window all day. I ate very little and went from 150 to 105 pounds. My mental capacities became very limited, so it was impossible for me to do the editing work I had done before.
After diagnosis and treatment here in San Antonio about 12 years ago, it was as though I came back to life. Reenergized, I threw myself into working with people experiencing homelessness. Writing poetry began to open up and bloom as a valuable pastime, and I enrolled in graduate school. I was able to cook and entertain once again. My husband and I followed a local rock band and generally began to enjoy life as never before.
Now, all of a sudden, I saw the first thing this isolation offered me was a chance to get my final papers in order.
First came the decision, then the action, which was like slogging through a dismal, muddy swamp. The paperwork was hard to do. Decisions: Do I want to continue living if I can’t take care of myself and can’t understand what is going on? If I am pronounced terminal within six months, do I want measures taken that will keep me alive as long as possible? These scenarios were horrible to contemplate.
My mother’s passing three years ago was arduous, painful, and prolonged. She had severe dementia but also a pacemaker, so she virtually died before she died, often enduring pain daily. At the end, I cried many nights and prayed for God to have mercy on her, to take her and end her pain.
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So I decided against suffering. I decided against spending piles of money to keep me alive when I no longer would be truly alive. Once my husband and I both filled out and signed our papers with a notary, a heavy load was lifted. Death didn’t look quite as bad, now that I knew I wouldn’t suffer needlessly, and my loved ones wouldn’t have the burden of decisions about our care, and taking care of us for a long, long time. I felt like I had faced my death and made it through. At least I made it through that little step.
What other good will I allow to come from this time of coronavirus?
One evening with the pandemic, the separation, and the sadness ever-present, I heard a young Hawaiian man named Thunderstorm Artis on the TV program, “The Voice.” He gave a moving interpretation of “Blackbird” by the Beatles. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” I cried all the way through the song.
Feeling the load of worldwide sorrow, one morning I looked out of my kitchen window onto our backyard. A congregation of weeds had shot up like Jack’s beanstalk after the heavy rains, and the landscape looked desolate and unhappy. Then I saw what looked like a small leaf attached to one of the two-foot weeds. A blur of wings revealed it was a hummingbird. He flitted from one tiny white and yellow flower to another, taking pleasure where he could find it, finding joy amid the chaos. What joys will I find in this time of coronavirus?