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My Turn: The curse of interesting times

  • Residents sit on a soccer field as they wait to receive kits equipped with cleaning products and protective face masks for children, provided by a non-governmental organization as a measure to help control the spread of the new coronavirus, in the Paraisopolis slum of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 6/26/2020 7:00:18 AM

Coronavirus and sequestering, as a friend said, “is interesting. We’re going through a historical period; how often does that happen?” She’s right, but remember: “May you live in interesting times” is a terrible curse in at least two cultures.

Probably good stuff will come of it. Maybe we’ll learn some long-forgotten, basic hygiene. We hope to emerge as a no-longer racist, and less divided, nation.

In the meantime, we’re still in the throes of it. The very best entertainment for myself, as well as an excellent stress reliever, is to take a handful of clean masks, packed away in clean envelopes, and hand one to the way-too-many people in public places who aren’t wearing one (summer complaints, I assume, because surely no native New Hampshirite is that selfish and self-centered and foolish) and stare them down until they put it on.

I suppose there’s a small chance that the person I’m snarling at doesn’t actually own a mask, in which case I’m happy to provide one. But I doubt it, at this point in the pandemic. Anyone not wearing a mask isn’t keeping their hands off their faces, nor keeping their hands clean. Hello, round 1.2 of COVID-19 spike.

I got the garden planted during the deepest part of the sequestering, but the weather gods are apparently ticked off, because the garden’s suffering from lack of water. I’ve never had to water daily this early in the season, ever.

Who knows what will actually become harvestable this year? Which worries me – a full chest freezer of produce is a main part of what feeds us over the winter, and if there isn’t that freezer full, then the living expenses are going to be higher.

And that worries me because even though I’m now seeing patients, the frequent and elaborate disinfecting routines we have to go through, and spacing treatment days to avoid coming-and-going overlap with other practitioners, means I can only see about a third of the patients I’d usually see. It’s necessary; but comes after three months of not seeing patients.

So my professional life – the life that brings in actual cash for bill-paying and grocery buying – has been on hold, and remains in a really tight space now and for the foreseeable future.

My life during the deepest sequester amounted to spending a lot of time reassuring patients, sending face masks to those most at risk, hunting down face masks and gloves and disinfectant, writing protocols for risk management when I finally could work again, checking in with more fragile or elderly patients, and writing endless notes to New Hampshire Employment Security trying to get them to send me unemployment checks.

Despite two poems, two begging notes, several irritable notes, and total hopelessness, my application for self-employed unemployment benefits is “under consideration,” as it’s been since the week of April 5.

Every so often I get a call, responding to a note or poem I’ve sent. They’re always nice folks, but they’re also always not someone who can do anything about it or explain the hold-up. I thank them for the work they’re doing, they tell me to be patient, I point out how long I’ve been being patient, we hang up, and I cry, as I watch my financial life crumble into dust.

I’m one of the lucky ones. The husband, who is also self-employed, started getting benefits almost immediately, and that, plus the government’s May check, has kept us from debtor’s prison, or whatever the equivalent is now.

I have a home, and the remains of last year’s produce in the freezer, and a place to plant a garden. For us, stuff gets put off – maybe we can pay this month’s food bill, maybe not, and that’s what credit cards are for. Real estate taxes are going to be impossible this year. An EID grant let me pay my back rent, and the current installment of my professional insurance. It could be worse; it may become worse.

But there are people with no homes, no gardens, no family to help, and the rest of us are feeling strapped, so we have fewer extra dollars to share. But share we must – it’s part of the growing of a national conscience and heart. We must be part of that growth. Even when we’re poor ourselves, we must share a little of what we have, and insist our legislators do the right thing.

And NHES – if you’re listening, c’mon: It’s been almost three months, for heaven’s sake!

(Deb Marshall lives in Wilmot. She blogs at

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