I live in Los Angeles County, where new coronavirus cases are showing up as fast as anywhere in the country. We're on lockdown. We were the first state to be told to stay in place. Until this week, we were actually able to take some comfort in that, because we lagged so far behind New York in cases and in deaths.
California isn't competing with New York yet, but it's not a competition anyone wants to be in. In Northern California, the lockdown has already been extended until May 31. Los Angeles is somehow supposed to partially return to work in May, but no one believes that will happen.
Last week, Los Angeles was a movie set: a ghost town, empty freeways, empty sidewalks and no smog.
The smog isn't back yet, but it's surely coming. "There's traffic," we say to one another, astounded by the sight of cars going in every direction.
There's nowhere to go. Are all these people really making their 11th visit to Costco? Did everyone decide a cloudy day in the middle of the work week was the perfect time for a drive? I have my own theory.
We're all going nuts. I was in the ICU once, for three weeks, and when the nurses woke me up at 2:00 a.m. (contrary to doctors' orders) to ask me where I was, I was at a loss. The nurse asked me who she was, and I thought she was my college roommate. Finally, the most arrogant of the three asked me who was president, and I told them Barack Obama was, and to get out of my room.
Being in an ICU room will do that to you — isolation, not being outside, not looking at anything but the view outside your window.
In a post-anesthesia haze at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, I kept inquiring about the traffic heading to the Red Sox game in Fenway Park.
It really is a terrible thing to feel like you're ready to jump out of your skin, much less your house. I've lived through it enough to know it can be terrifying. It doesn't mean that your brain is damaged; it means you've spent too much time in your room.
"Wheel her onto the patio," someone shouted as I sat there wondering if I knew anything other than the identity of the president. They did. They told me what happened. It scared the living daylights out of me. And then it went away.
There are many parts of this pandemic that feel like a lengthy illness even for those of us who are not (yet) infected. Permanent pajamas, endless attention to viruses and bacteria, fear of any cough, uncertainty about loved ones. It feels like one of those vigils with which many of us are too familiar. But the one thing we tend to forget when we're in the middle of a vigil is that they end. They even usually end OK. And as they fade into the past, so does the fear. We just need to keep breathing and not go out.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.