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Tell Me More: Mainers Tell Us Their Stories Of Anxiety, Adaptation To The Coronavirus

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Willis Ryder Arnold
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Maine Public

For the past few weeks, Maine Public has been asking you to share your stories of life during the time of the coronavirus — and you delivered.

Below is a selection of messages from your fellow Mainers about how they are (and sometimes aren’t) coping with how the pandemic has changed all of our lives. You'll find stories of hope, frustration, innovation, service, appreciation and keeping busy.

Something to add? You can contribute your story by email at TellMeMore@mainepublic.org.

Jump to: Getting outside Use of masks for protecting others Maine COVID sitters COVID-19 How my life has changed in the last week Home not alone Maine Unemployment Services Failing At Home with Greater Portland Landmarks BIW Frosty’s safety advisory My experience with self-isolating Dealing with isolation Farmers, fishermen and producers Small towns COVID policies Under Self Quarantine Senior couple, husband with pulmonary fibrosis My isolation story Ranch in quarantine

Submissions have been edited for length, clarity, and anonymity.

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Getting outside

This is a time of mandatory slowing down, and it offers opportunities to do things we have been wishing we had time for. For some, it is writing that book. For some, it is getting back to art. More family time. Planting seeds indoors for the garden.

For me, it is getting outside, watching the accelerating signs of the new Spring, walking, and listening to birds and frogs. We have to gird ourselves against ticks and observe social distancing, but now is a good time to start "going wild" even if it's just in the back yard. Fresh air, sunshine, and moving!

Received March 20, 2020

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Use of masks for protecting others

"There is plenty of evidence that in wearing a mask we can protect others from ourselves"

I’ve been trying to reach out wherever possible to encourage the use of homemade masks or bandannas by citizens when out in public. There is plenty of evidence that in wearing a mask we can protect others from ourselves if we are COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic. In Czech Republic it is mandatory to wear a mask in public and people have put “mask trees” in sidewalks full of homemade masks to give away. Their slogan has been “my mask protects you, your mask protects me.” I think so many Mainers are looking for ways to help right now and I think it would be incredibly impactful if public messaging emphasized the importance of not just protecting yourself, but protecting others.

Received March 31, 2020

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Maine COVID Sitters

I am reaching out because I have been organizing childcare opportunities for health care workers in need. Health care students have been asked to stay out of the hospitals at this time so we are calling on them to assist with childcare/petcare/help with errands as they are able. We would love it if you could share our efforts — we are desperate for volunteers and want to help as many families as possible!

For more information we can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MaineCOVIDSitters, you can email us directly at mainecovidsitters@gmail.com, request support at https://forms.gle/MRrEvbZZ3p1Uxi459 or sign up to help at https://forms.gle/fVss4jHPqDFGLM3v6.

Received March 29, 2020

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COVID-19

I have had respiratory problems since returning from a trip on March 15. I suspected it was a cold but could not rule out exposure to the novel coronavirus due to the many public places and airports I was in. I contacted my doctor’s office Monday, March 23, and was seen the next day at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway to get an exam and a COVID-19 test.

I found they had implemented procedures to protect patients and staff. I was told to wait in the parking lot and call them. A staff member wearing scrubs and a face mask met me outside and handed me a mask, which I put on. In the lobby someone dispensed hand sanitizer into my hands and they watched me clean my hands. I was shown to an exam room. A nurse practitioner saw me. She wore a disposable gown over her scrubs, a mask and a face shield. She listened to my lungs and asked a lot of questions, which I found to be thorough. She administered the swab test and offered a prescription for antibiotics which I accepted. The antibiotics were because I had had respiratory symptoms for 10 days and may have developed a bacterial infection.

Stephens called me later that day and said my tests for flu were negative.

"My concern is the length of time likely to pass before I get COVID-19 results."

My concern is the length of time likely to pass before I get COVID-19 results. The NP said results were taking 9 days or so.

My wife and I have been in self-quarantine since March 16. Fortunately, my wife has no symptoms but if I have COVID-19 I may still be shedding virus and contagious to anyone I meet. My wife is a veterinarian and would like to get back to work, which she cannot do until my results come in. Also, although I still think I have a cold, I still am worried I have COVID-19 that could rear its ugly head at any time.

Received March 27, 2020

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How my life has changed in the last week

We received this message this morning from our daughter who works as an emergency physician/toxicologist at a hospital in Las Vegas. We are sharing it because the public needs to know what a dire situation our hospitals and the brave people who work there are in. We cannot allow this to continue. Essential supplies and equipment must be provided to the hospitals as the highest of priorities in our fight to deal with the Corona virus. More screenings and testing needs to be implemented. How can we be bungling this crisis so badly?

"Just finished my fifth shift in a row in our COVID unit, and I have to say, I'm spooked. I'm pretty worried about what's coming. Our healthcare system is about to become completely overwhelmed.

"The first few days were about addressing social issues. In the ED we think a lot about 'volume,' or how many people are coming through who need to be seen.

"We're getting a big surge in what is called the 'worried well,' who take up a lot of time and a moderate amount of resources. We're doing everything we can to keep these people from tying up the emergency department, but there is no place else for them to turn. They are terrified. They want to get tested. We don't have any tests. It makes my job easy. I'm grounding a lot of people. Anyone who thought they were sick enough to come to the emergency department during a pandemic is sick enough to quarantine at home for ten days in my mind. It will help with social distancing and keep people from coughing on each other while they fight over toilet paper at Costco. But they have no place else to get information. Every urgent care and primary care office is terrified and sends them directly to the emergency department to 'get tested,' but we don't have any tests. It overwhelms the system. We have told our own employee health over and over again to stop sending us people who looked sideways at a COVID patient.

"Another issue we have had is people in group living situations. Patients sent in from the VA shelter, homeless shelters, and detox or sober living programs. They can't quarantine where they live. But if we tell the program we can't rule out COVID, they could lose their bed and be on the street during a time when all businesses and restaurants are closed. We don't have a plan. We have been secretly testing some of these people — sending tests to California, telling them to wear a mask when they go back, and calling them with their results. I hope. I can't get the results because they're run in a lab in California, so a nurse in Infection Control is supposed to get their results and call them. I can't see the results myself.

"Also seeing a fair number of people with mental health issues who are having trouble with quarantine. Their therapists offices are closed, or if they try to get treatment, their insurance company is closed. They are stressed and anxious about being quarantined and losing their social support.

"How can we be bungling this crisis so badly?"

"Today was a turning point. Much higher volumes; the staffing plan we put in place 5 days ago has started to fail. We're going to need to shift more docs and nurses over from the main ED into the isolation unit as volume picks up. At the beginning of my shift it was a lot of the worried well, but as the night went on we started to see some sick patients. What's spooky is that a lot of them are young, and they go downhill REALLY fast. The patient that's bothering me the most from tonight was man in his 30s with AIDS, not on medication, who came in walking, talking, normal-looking guy with nearly normal vital signs; two hours later he was gasping for air and we were figuring out a plan to intubate him. There have been a handful of other patients in their 40s who have gone downhill quickly but not quite that severely; you don't have much of a chance when you have no immune system left like this guy. My worry is that because we are seeing a skew towards younger patients in the beginning, there will be no beds or vents left when the surge of older patients comes."

Editor's note: This message was also published by the Portland Press Herald as commentary. We have shared an excerpt; for the full message, click here.

Received March 18, 2020

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Home not alone

As we work from home anyway this is not such a difficult time. We have no young children at home as all have grown and have homes of their own in four different states. That makes things a bit easier. We keep in touch via phone and email and plan some FaceTime reading with a young granddaughter.

It is a good time to catch up on jigsaw puzzles, reading and artistic endeavors. Exercise classes are now followed on Zoom and Facebook.

It has been interesting to look on YouTube and see what rabbit holes we can find. I discovered an ancient Chinese instrument called the “Sheng” yesterday and that led to discovery of many other odd wind instruments and a lovely concert/interview with James Galway. Earlier in the week I saw a dance performance by the Nicholas brothers, a biography of them illustrating their careers, a bio of Bill Bojangles Robinson and a two hour talk by Alex Haley on his Roots journey. All this while weaving and doing finishing work on other craft projects.

My iPod is very good company as I can do other things and listen to books at the same time. Email, phone and Facebook keep me connected to friends and family so we keep track of one another and how we are doing.

It is a good time to do some cooking, especially things we are finding in the freezer so that we need less at the grocery store.

Sunny days are great for getting outdoors for fresh air and exercise. Walking the dog we can monitor day to day the progress of the snowmelt and observe changes in our surroundings. It is a good time to do some spring cleaning and sorting of stuff.

All in all there are plenty of things to do. A bit of imagination helps. We can do this!

Received March 20, 2020

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Maine Unemployment Services Failing

I have had incredibly difficult time getting unemployment benefits and I feel like I’ve exhausted my options. I know I am likely not alone in this, and after hearing a recent Maine Calling on the topic with other Mainers calling in, I felt like I needed to share my story too.

I was temporarily laid off due to the virus; I will return when it’s safe to be in close contact with clients again. I filed for unemployment last Friday, the day I was laid off and have had extreme difficulty since then navigating the system. I made an error on my claim, so it’s labeled as pending (although it took some serious digging through the website to figure that out). I can’t go back and edit the claim to correct my error, I can’t submit a new claim, I can’t file weekly certifications. I tried calling MDOL; their regular customer service hours are M-F, 8a-12p, which is already limited, but now they are not taking any calls due to the high volume of claims. They directed me to their website where they are asking for up to 5 business days to respond to inquiries. I just need to contact a human to figure this out, and they are making it impossible. It honestly feels like they make it difficult so people will just give up.

"I felt like I needed to share my story."

I find it very challenging to believe that they are doing the best they can as an institution as this is not the way to help out those in need in our community. They have made themselves less available in this time of greater need. I understand they have a high volume of claims, but their current system is not effective.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m hoping for by sharing this story with y’all, maybe finding out that I’m not alone or hopefully some sort of change to their system comes out of this, but I’m not sure.

Stay safe.

Received March 26, 2020

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At Home with Greater Portland Landmarks

I know we’ve all been inundated with messages every day on how COVID-19 is continually changing how we live. It is an unprecedented event, and speaking personally, it’s hard to know how to react. We are all processing our anxiety and uncertainty in different ways, but I know collectively we are all searching for meaningful ways to help each other.

Like many of our fellow organizations and local businesses, Landmarks made the decision to close our office, and we’re working hard on adapting our resources to support you and help our community connect during this disruptive time.

We’ll be increasing our digital presence and finding new ways to share with you. You can see our guide to researching the history of your house online, and there are digital versions of our activity books for kids. Stay tuned at our website as we release self-guided walking tours and more in the coming weeks. We hope we can teach you something new, inspire you, and remind you how amazing this place is.

Received March 25, 2020

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BIW

My wife and I own a business in Bath. A restaurant. BIW is taking care of its own and doing all it can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But what nobody seams to know or acknowledge is they are keeping virtually every participating restaurant in the area alive! Thousands of dollars a day are being spent by BIW not only to stay open, but they have also reached out to a dozen or more restaurants to feed the employees willing to work. They have singlehandedly done what the government has yet to do, they have provided hope for our restaurant and a dozen others in the area. We owe a huge gratitude to them and the undying efforts of their staff to allow us to serve them. One grocery store offers more danger that the whole of BIW. Please pass along my plea to offer support for a company (yea big corporate General Dynamics) that has proven its care for local business. Bath Maine will get through this because of BIW.

Received March 24, 2020

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Credit Submitted photo
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Frosty’s safety advisory

Just now in our backyard, a message from Frosty:

Frosty says, “Be Safe!”

With thanks for all your invaluable programming during this crisis,

Received March 24, 2020

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My experience with self-isolating

It seems as if everything in our life has changed, and we’ve had to remind ourselves that it hasn’t.

We can still enjoy getting outdoors every day in the fresh air and beauty of nature. This has not changed. It seems even more important now, in order to get away from the news, the warnings and the general anxiety of the situation.

I’ve been missing my several social circles — choir, the Pease Greeters (greeting the troops, which means a lot to them, and therefore, to me), church friends, the knitting group I’ve been bonding with for 12 years.

So I’ve been thinking of “COVID hacks,” ways to connect with people and still keep a safe distance.

Posting videos with messages for our friends. Going for a walk with a friend in historic downtown or on a beach (6 feet apart, of course), sitting on (sanitized) chairs with friends in the yard when it warms up (6 feet apart).

Finding something to laugh about is an absolute must. Today I even pulled over just before a tollbooth to write down some hilarious things for the toll lady to enjoy. “The dangers of raising backyard chickens” on YouTube. And Google “Barbie Lobster”, about what happened when two lobstermen got bored. (Please do check these out yourself!)

Made copies of a fun photo of us to frame and send to friends we won’t see for some time.

I have visited with my mom from outside her window at her assisted living residence.

Absolutely as vital as sunshine and exercise, is posting things that are so hysterically funny I can’t watch them without laughing so hard I can’t breathe. It’s good to take your mind off worries for a while.

Received March 24, 2020

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Dealing with isolation

Many of us moved to Riverplace Apartments, near the Coast Guard in South Portland, as a temporary place until we found more permanent lodging. Many of us have stayed because of the community we have here. People help their neighbors in good and bad times. A woman named Judy was frustrated at the lack of community about 4 years ago so she started a social committee. We now have interesting speakers, music jam night and weekly coffee hour and happy hour. It has been such a joy for those of us that knew no one when we landed here.

So, in order to keep in touch and not miss out on our weekly connection, Penelope organized a Zoom Virtual Happy Hour this past Friday. It was great as we checked in, shared stories of our “new normal” and gave suggestions and facts that helped the group. Since I am on my own, I don’t drink by myself — just not something I think would be good for me. But with this virtual cocktail party, I poured a glass and appreciated the wonderful group that had become my friends.

Received March 22, 2020

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Farmers, fishermen and producers

As more stories are written about the impact of closures on restaurants and their staff, the missing part of the story is the impact on their food suppliers, particularly the small farmers, fishermen and producers who they buy from directly.

"As I watched my sales evaporate, I got motivated to help other farmers."

I am a cheesemaker and pig farmer in Waldoboro and restaurants make up 85% of my sales. As I watched my sales evaporate, I got motivated to help other farmers and producers consolidate their products in central location and accessible to all and on March 17 created the Farmers and Producers Database. The idea was to provide consumers with a reference for sourcing foods without going to supermarkets or farmers markets, many of which are either closed or not well attended currently. These producers have farm stores, some offer online sales and some are offering home delivery.

Additionally, I wanted there to be a way for farmers to communicate immediate needs or resources they could share. If they were short handed due to illness. Bulk buying grain. Have space they could share with another farmer to sell products, etc.

The UMaine Cooperative Extension office offered to take over the management of the list and gave it a dedicated page on their website and promoted it through the organizations committed to supporting local producers.

Now farmers, fishermen and producers can sign up at https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/farm-product-and-pickup-directory/submission-form/.

If you are an eater, go to https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/farm-product-and-pickup-directory/. Even if you are out of state, there may be online options to support these local farms.

Received March 22, 2020

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Small towns

My wife and I are from Greenville, but our careers have brought us down to work in southern Maine and go home most weekends. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on going home weekends, so we are checking in with my elderly parents via phone and Facetime, and I wanted to share with you what my Mom told me when I checked in toward the end of this past week.

My dad is an 89-year-old diabetic and two-time cancer survivor, so Mom is naturally worried about exposure to COVID-19, and with his ElderWell program suspended, Mom was worried that boredom might drive Dad to activities like going to the mail that would potentially expose him to the virus.

My younger sister is a caterer in Greenville and Dad usually helps out as a sous chef, but between the virus and mud season, her business is pretty much shut down. After talking with Mom, my sister figured she could keep Dad busy making a soup out of leftovers and she put the word out on social media that a hearty soup would be available later that day if anyone was interested.

By the time I talked to my mother in early evening, 50 orders of soup has gone out, and a family relative and a relative-in-law have signed up to deliver the next day’s batch of soup.

And that’s the beauty of a small town.

Received March 21, 2020

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COVID policies

I write, as a health care worker — specifically on the front lines (ER and ICU) — with mounting concern about our local hospitals’ accountability and effort to protect its health care workers.

"The risk for employees is increasing."

As seen below, an excerpt from Central Maine’s policies, a two-pronged issue is present:

1) To say that once the virus is widespread in the community it’ll be hard to prove it occurred at work and assumed to be community-acquired is ignorant to the daily work of clinical staff and short-sighted to the fact that most people are either at work or at home, there is no “community” to even have much contact with. The probability is obviously higher that exposure is through our work during a pandemic than outside exposure; this frankly feels like an effort on the hospital to distance itself from accountability.

2) To further absolve itself of responsibility, the organization states if proper PPE is used then the risk is assumed to be low. The issue with this statement is that every day the organization reduces to the standard of precaution needed due to the impending lack of supply, not supportive science. This is evident in the CDC’s own pruning of standards where they have recently stated that a bandana would be a last resort. Clearly, the gold standard of protection with this virus is the use of an N-95 due to the virus’ ability to remain aersolized and airborne for an extended period of time (unlike the flu and other upper respiratory viruses). Just because supply is low doesn’t mean we should sacrifice safety; furthermore, these sacrifices shouldn’t then pigeon-hole employees in the instance they become ill.

Basically, the risk for employees is increasing (growing number of cases, lesser protection) while the hospital’s protection and accountability are decreasing.

I just want to put this forward into the community so Maine’s public and health care workers can have an accurate idea of how this situation is being handled and the new, assumed risk that everyone is being forced to take.

I and other health care workers are not trying to complain and shirk out duties; it’s just the opposite. We are dedicated to our patients and will be there through the height of this outbreak. We simply want to be protected during our practice (and if we can’t due to unforeseen shortages) then certainly protected after the fact while we are ill or quarantined.

Received March 21, 2020

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Under Self Quarantine

I started having symptoms last Saturday. Low-grade fever started on Tuesday. I called my doctors office on Wednesday — Intermed, and was told to quarantine at home as they did not have enough tests.

I am shocked that this is what people are being told. What happens to the single parent who is told to quarantine for two weeks? Not gonna happen.

Luckily I am not a single parent but if my husband gets symptoms then I don’t know what we will do. We have two kids.

I can find no information about when more tests will be available nor how they are made available. I keep seeing the negative cases tested increasing each day so some folks are being tested. Do they have symptoms, where are they located, who are their doctors?

Received March 20, 2020

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Senior couple, husband with pulmonary fibrosis

My husband has pulmonary fibrosis which is an interstitial lung disease with no known cure. My husband is doing extremely well with his PF but I am very concerned that he may not be able to withstand the COVID-19 virus, should he contract it. He had his 79th birthday yesterday.

"I am very concerned about exposure for myself, but more so, for my husband."

Meanwhile, though I am much healthier, I too am a senior citizen at 68 years old, and have asthma that is well controlled. My concern is the fear of going out of the house for any reason and bringing COVID-19 back to my husband.

While we have enough food to last for a little while, I am facing the inevitable need to get more. In addition, I must go the doctor’s office next week to have staples removed from an incision resulting from surgery a week ago. I must get them out, but am very concerned about exposure for myself, but more so, for my husband.

We have both vowed to adopt a positive attitude, but every now and then, the reality of the situation washes over us like a wave of fear/uncertainty.

Received March 20, 2020

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My isolation story

I am currently in isolation, or quarantine, whatever you want to call it, for two reasons. I was in NYC from March 11-14, and had already decided to self-quarantine myself because I visited there and I live in a cottage at OceanView. When I returned I was told we had 2 cases here and we were asked to self isolate ourselves and everything here has been canceled — all programs, eating together, etc.

My biggest problem is deciding what I am going to do first: clean a closet, answer emails, talk to friends including FaceTime who live here and around the country and world, or quilt. I hope to finish 2-3 quilts that I had started and make a few more to give to charity.

I am still able to walk outside because I live in a cottage so I don’t have to leave a building with others in it. When I see another person, I cross the street so I keep my distance. I didn’t walk today because of the rain, but if it is still raining tomorrow, I will probably take a walk. My usually mode of exercise is our pool, and it is closed now. I really miss it.

I am sure I’ll get bored at some point, but for now, I am quite happy. My family has a Message group where we text each other, so that keeps me close to my family and we share serious things as well as some humor.

Received March 19, 2020

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Ranch in quarantine

We are a small local farm family that just got back from a family vacation in Florida and are in a self imposed quarantine. We were in the Tampa/Clearwater area and everything shut down after we left Tuesday morning. So far we are all healthy but are monitoring our temps and trying to stay busy with the kids all being out of school. We have a high schooler, kindergartener and a preschooler all home. We are a livestock farm and are also trying to be very careful around the livestock since there is no info about how we could spread it to our livestock if we were exposed in Florida. One great thing is that there is plenty of room for us to get outside and stay active. The small kids are doing good although it is hard to relay to them why they can’t go see their grandparents and give them hugs and love.

Received March 19, 2020

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