Risk and Reciprocity

We are humbled by how feeling both safe and stuck can expose our truer selves.

As I write this, our family is preparing to welcome a nurse back into our home after suspending our community nursing services for the last five weeks. The stories in early February of a contagious yet elusive virus created concern for us with the possibility of a community transmission into our home. Our younger daughters, Rachel and Janneke, are part of the vulnerable sector in this province, and our caregivers also work with multiple clients and in long-term care homes. By March 16, we were no longer willing to take the risk. 

Learning to live with missing out
With the births of our two younger immunocompromised daughters in 2006 and in 2009, our family’s lifestyle was drastically changed and evaluating risk became a daily topic. We experimented with making hand sanitizer long before it became cool, and missing out on social gatherings was the norm. 

Wash before welcome
We had a sign stuck to our front door that asked anyone entering to wash their hands – and if they were sick, to visit another day. I can recall observing our older daughters reminding their visiting classmates to wash their hands upon entering our home, as if every five-year-old does that at the start of a playdate. 

Those were our earlier days. In the last three years, we relaxed on those rules, and we took down the signs. We still asked people to stay away if they were sick, but we were willing to allow the occasional sniffle through the side door. 

Everyone’s missing out
Yet now it feels like the whole world is suddenly living like we did in those early years. Only we didn’t have the cool homemade masks or the extensive repertoire of fun songs to sing while washing our hands. As much as we have joked about the global shared experience of being both safe and stuck at home, like many of you, we’re not content. 

Three themes
Recently, three words have come up often in our home conversations: fragility, humility and uneasiness. We are shaken by the fragility of life, that both healthy and vulnerable people can become suddenly and seriously ill or die. We are humbled by how feeling both safe and stuck can expose our truer selves. The longer we remain physically distant from others, it becomes harder to find the silver lining – and our patience. We are also growing uneasy with the conversations around the value of life, as problems, protocols and PPE are discussed in an overwhelmed health system – who gets saved first and caregivers who walk away from their jobs. 

We are as healthy as our neighbours
Just before the COVID crisis escalated in Ontario, I listened to an interview on CBC’s The Current. A public health expert pointed out that though we might need to take individual precautions with washing our hands and staying home if we are ill, an outbreak response is dependent on the community. Solidarity and reciprocity in a pandemic are incredibly significant. Based on the Ebola outbreak, social cohesion is a big predictor of how well a community manages. 

This week, we will start with nursing hours again, as we have learned of a nurse who works with only one other client. She’s part of our original team, so we look forward to welcoming back a familiar face. Perhaps we all long for the familiar, as we wait expectantly for social restrictions to lessen and the chance to hug a loved one. May strength and patience be sufficiently available for you, as we wait expectantly together. 

“Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others . . . But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.” – M. Scott Peck

  • Sara Pot is a new columnist with CC. She lives in St. Catharines, Ont. with her husband, four daughters and their golden doodle; she welcomes conversation and feedback!

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