Leah Rumack and her son get some time outdoors during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

How nearly dying prepared me for isolation

While living for the moment is not my specialty, it’s a skill I’m dusting off


I learned a lot when I nearly died a few years ago from a scrape, the least of which was “Maybe don’t use the kitchen scissors to snip the loose flap of skin off your injured elbow or you’ll contract a virulent blood infection and nearly have your arm amputated!” I also learned how to get through the desperate isolation of COVID-19.

In Toronto, we’re now in approximately week 2,837 of social distancing measures (OK, week nine), with very few signs that things will return to normal anytime soon. Other than cursory trips to the grocery and liquor store, wan shuffles around the block and the occasional bike ride, I’ve been in my small house with my husband, my nine-year-old son and an increasingly unhinged cat. It all feels eerily familiar, except this time I don’t even have the excitement of a cheery home-care nurse visiting the house every day to re-bandage my oozing arm after I was released from the hospital. (It’s the little things that keep you going.)

Like the sudden and shocking contraction of everyone’s lives since COVID, my world instantly became very, very small when I checked into that ICU in May of 2017. After the initial horrific “So, are we going to cut off her arm or not?” phase, I still had to stay in the decrepit, depressing hospital for a week so the IV antibiotics could beat the infection.

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I’m not generally considered a glass-half-full kind of person. (I’m more of a “F*ck this glass. Who picked this ugly-a** glass?! I will never drink water again just to insult this glass!” type.) But I learned how to take the smallest of things — ice cream for lunch, being allowed off the floor to go sit outside, getting hit on by a 20-something in the dingy hospital library — as major wins that punctuated a Groundhog Day of painful dressing changes, morphine drips and the woman down the hall yelling obscenities deep into the night.

Tiny treats like care packages from my coworkers or a friend’s triumphant delivery of a USB key full of illegally downloaded trashy shows were the only things that brightened my day. My life became a TV show that happened in extreme slow motion where the episode descriptions were things like “Leah is finally able to walk down the hall and get her own water, but will the hot doctor visit?” 

My world is similarly miniature and unhurried now, but thanks to my near-death training, I’ve been able to quickly gear down and fully live in anticipation of Episode 6: “Will Leah’s package of nasal spray arrive today? Or maybe it will be THE SOCKS?” or, even better, Episode 7: “It’s sunny out today!”

Obviously any advice to bask as much as possible in small satisfactions right now assumes your health and the health of people you love aren’t in imminent jeopardy and that you have enough resources to survive. I know I’m lucky because these things are true for me at the moment, though they may not remain true indefinitely. I may be feeling bored, exhausted and hopeless, but at least I’m feeling bored, exhausted and hopeless in a safe home with a (mostly) loving family and a pantry full of tuna and spaghetti. For that, I’m grateful, even if I am pretty sick of spaghetti.

Like the sudden and shocking contraction of everyone’s lives since COVID, my world instantly became very, very small when I checked into that ICU in May of 2017.

So while living for the moment is not exactly my specialty, it’s a skill I’m dusting off. Here’s how I do it: I really, truly take things only one day at a time (gross!). I think of lockdown as a (relatively cushy, all things considered ) jail sentence that I just have to get through as quickly as possible. Each day that passes is a day closer to it being over. I find moments of happiness: a phone call with a friend; Negroni o’clock (5pm, baby!); or finally organizing my bathroom cabinet (weeee!!!!). And if I feel like crap, I try not to feel bad for feeling like crap. The world is crap right now. I’m not weak — I’m correct.

It’s not like I’m all rainbows and puppies (though I do really want a puppy). I’m still in mourning — for the world, for my career, for my lonely, only child who runs desperately to the window every time he thinks he hears other kids. And I’m still scared — for the health of my family and friends, for our finances and for the long-term effects of our fraying relationships with each other, especially if this goes on indefinitely.

But I can’t think of indefinitely — not only because it’s crushing, but because it’s pointless. We can’t really compute endlessness — which feels a lot like nothingness — and we just don’t know how long, how bad, how deep this is going to go. So I only think about tomorrow. And maybe tomorrow there’s going to be sun.

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.


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  • says:

    I love this story.