Finding community during quarantine

Editor's note: This column is part of a series by Lakeshore residents about their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was the small stuff that kept me worried about COVID-19 at first.  

Do I have enough toilet paper? Do I have enough food to keep me alive? 

The vast number of people purchasing items from the stores caused a panic within me. I rolled along aisles cleared of the basic necessities we take for granted. I went to three stores before I found a stash of toilet paper. It was midnight, and I hit up Family Fare as workers restocked the shelves. 

Lucia's birthday cake

It was a 12-pack of Charmin, which caused a different kind of panic. How can I push my wheelchair and carry a 12-pack of toilet paper along with my other purchases?

I managed. I’m a pro at problem-solving because the world is not always accommodating to someone on wheels.    

Life in quarantine

COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order posed a unique situation for me. I may use a wheelchair full-time, but I have a very active and independent lifestyle. I live independently, work, drive, and, when I don’t want to bother with Shipt, shop for myself.  

I’ve always used hand sanitizer and washed my hands regularly. As a person who uses a wheelchair, my hands are always exposed. But as the virus spread, so did the need to constantly wash our hands and keep our distance.

Quarantine started for me on Friday, March 13, 2020.  Somewhat out of fear, but also because my employer allowed me to work from home. It made my decision to limit my exposure much easier.  I have severe asthma and am physically disabled, which puts me in the vulnerable category. 

I’m fortunate to have a job that can be done remotely. It’s kept me busy, and makes the days go by better knowing that I can still be a resource navigator for my clients at The SOURCE. Each Monday, our team has a virtual meeting. It’s so great seeing my co-workers’ faces and helps make Lucia's Zoom birthday partyisolation less lonely.

Celebrating in solitude 

As the month went on, an impending milestone birthday left me down. I was turning 40. 

Leading up to March, I was already contemplating life. Were the next 40 years going to be as engaging? Was it all downhill from here?  I know I was being a bit dramatic, but I suppose we all do some soul-searching at such a milestone in life.  But having to celebrate it in quarantine added another layer of sadness. 

Yet, March 26 was unlike what I expected. I received messages, phone calls, and texts.  My co-workers sent cards, which included such sweet messages. A friend dropped off a box of Little Debbie Birthday Cakes, and I received thoughtful gifts from immediate family. To top it off, a good friend hosted a virtual Zoom birthday party! She even brought me a small cake, my favorite meal (baked spaghetti pie from Hops at 84 East), and other goodies!

It was a great day, even in quarantine.  
Unexpected visitors

I’ve been discovering during this time to myself that I may be stuck indoors all day with little human interaction, but I am still in community. I’ve had individuals, friends, and acquaintances reach out to me and offer to go to the store. Meals have been placed at my doorstep. Friends and colleagues have called to tell me they are thinking of me.

A pair of ducks visited Lucia's condo.

It’s also given me the chance to reach out to those I care about and offer support. I’ve been sending out cards to friends, taking small drives around my condo community, and waving to my neighbors.  

The other morning, I woke up to loud noises coming from my basement. I assumed the worst. As I gathered the initiative to check out the cause, almost expecting to be face to face with a masked person. I did not have to worry. I was able to get a picture of the suspects before they took off in a hurry — two ducks. Even they wanted me to know I was not alone.

Lucia Rios is a writer and disability activist. She is also a contributor to The Lakeshore. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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