To paraphrase the little Poltergeist girl, “I’m baaaack.”

It would be nice to have some exotic excuse for being out of circulation for several months. I could tell you I have been on a round-the-world cruise or helping James Bond on a secret mission or working on the cure for coronavirus.

The reality is a bit more mundane, not to mention embarrassingly stupid. In early November I tried to step sideways while one foot was up on a piece of furniture. (Piece of advice: don’t try it, especially if you’re in the “at risk” over-60 category.) My doctor thought I had a hairline fracture of my right wrist and told me to wear a brace. Regrettably, she didn’t realize that my mitochrondrial DNA came from a woman who walked around on a broken foot.

Braces are easily taken off, and Thanksgiving was on the way, bringing out-of-town relatives. After a week or two of vacuuming and cooking, the wrist began hurting — big time. It didn’t help that less than a month later I fell flat on my face, blacking both eyes and bloodying my nose. By the time I was referred to Vanderbilt Orthopedics, my hairline fracture had spread in at least three directions.

Six weeks of casts followed, with X-rays every two weeks. Eventually I graduated to a better brace and was threatened with dire consequences if I removed it except to shower. This time I was a good girl, and at the end of two more weeks, I was released.

And now here we are in the midst of a pandemic. I had to go to Kroger today and sure enough, there are empty shelves everywhere. It boggles the mind why people think they need to stockpile toilet paper. Hand sanitizer I can at least understand. Even more confusing is why there was not one package of pasta of any shape on the shelf. And cream cheese?? A friend told me that she saw one person leave Aldi’s yesterday with 40 gallons of milk. Do cows get Covid 19?

I can’t decide if we’re better or worse off than our ancestors. In 1793 5,000 people died in Philadelphia alone, while another 17,000 fled the city. That was yellow fever. Cholera also came through in waves, killing thousands. About 130,000 people worldwide still die of cholera every year.

Scarlet fever was another killer, attacking mostly small children. At some point in the 1920s, it went through my mother’s family. In those days, schoolteachers did not get any kind of sick leave, and scarlet fever cases were quarantined for three of four weeks. I don’t know how long my poor grandmother had to spend housebound with five desperately ill children, but I do know that Grandpa stayed at his parents’ house up the road and talked to her through the window until everyone had recovered. 

Even in my lifetime we stayed away from crowds in the summer because we were afraid of polio.

We’re certainly better off than those poor ancestors who had no idea what caused these horrible diseases, or how to fight them, let alone prevent them with vaccines. They certainly had no medical facilities that could analyze the genetic profile of the viruses and start working on a cure; and while we’re worrying about how many tests or ventilators are available and will they be enough, they had to depend on chicken soup and Vicks Vaporub.

In that sense we are much better off. On the other hand, there was no 24 hour, seven days a week live television coverage, not to mention Facebook. The constant barrage of information — accurate or not —tends to keep some people’s panic level high. Everything I have heard, read or seen emphasizes only three things. Wash your hands frequently. Keep them away from your face (easier said than done).) Stay out of crowds, preferably at home.

And don’t panic! We’ll get through this.

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