A Fresh Start

Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on January 06, 2021 # COVID-19

Here we are in a new year. Even though the date is just an arbitrary mark, it gives us a cue that we can turn a new page in time and within ourselves. This year of 2021 leaves me with some optimism because we have new horizons. Last year was quite an eye-opener due to the pandemic. Our relationship encounters were changed, routines were affected, and life was dramatically altered. This year, we have the possibility of gaining back some of our freedoms with the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The two vaccines that are available now, Pfizer or Moderna, require two doses for full effectiveness. Both have an effectiveness of about 95%. That means you have 95% coverage in your body after taking both doses of one of the vaccines. The remaining 5% is your risk of catching COVID-19 after vaccination.

When the viral load in the population goes down, you still have this small risk but less opportunity to be subjected to the virus because fewer people will be infected with it. The virus will still be out in the world. It always will be out there. Just like polio, measles, and other viruses are still out in the world. People don’t contract these diseases because most are vaccinated against them. When vaccinations are refused, we see these diseases strike again because the virus is always out in the world.woman on beach

It is far too soon to resume old behaviors. However, it is time to start thinking about what we will need to do as time moves through 2021. Planning is a good way to be sure we are making good decisions while maintaining our health.

Take a moment to think about your life before the onset of COVID-19 and how it is now. I am sure much has changed. We will continue to take the safety precautions for quite some time, even after the vaccine has been distributed. Do not stop your safety precautions now. It is too soon. In fact, the safety measures will be to our benefit to continue throughout this new year and possibly beyond.

Carefully washing hands is something that should be continued. In some cases, this slows and even stops the spread of germs, COVID-19, and others. Hand washing is critical to health for everyone. Let’s keep that up. Sloppy handwashing had become a standard that has been corrected. In our rush, rush, rush society, time to carefully wash our hands has passed. There is never too little time to keep ourselves and others safe from infections.

Mask wearing will be with us for a while. It might even become a standard. This remains to be seen but wearing a mask might not be a bad thing, if you are over the age of 2 years, have hand function for removal if having difficulty breathing, and do not have respiratory issues. Mask wearing keeps you from spreading germs to others as well as reducing germs from entering your respiratory system. Even though you receive the COVID-19 vaccine, others will not have it for a while. Continue to wear a mask due to the community viral load.

Some individuals will want to ditch the mask as soon as it is deemed safe by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). But let’s rethink a sudden stop to face masks. It will be wise to use a much more gradual approach to relinquishing masks as people realize their protection and opt to continue wearing them. The risk of the virus will decrease over time, not overnight. There will not be a specific day when we go from needing a mask to not needing one. With immune systems compromised as with neurological injury, we should all be cautious. We all have a good collection of masks by now, along with the good habit of wearing them.

Social distancing might be more of a challenge. Keeping a bit of space between you and others is essential in maintaining health, not just in the time of COVID-19. Keeping up social distance can benefit everyone. Not only does closeness spread COVID-19, but it also spreads colds and flu. Keeping distance is important to staying healthy. Shaking hands, hugging, and kissing in a casual setting is subjecting you to all types of germs. Social distancing is a good health protection measure to keep up.

I so often think of being with Christopher Reeve for a visit. We were in an area that was very crowded and noisy. Along came a Dr. ‘Big Wig’ who was anxious to meet him. He got right up in Chris’s face to talk, but so did the smell of the garlic dinner he had the night before. There was Christopher Reeve, who did his finest acting to pretend not to notice. Christopher deserved the academy award for that performance. Finally, I was able to pull him away. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences. Social distancing would have worked wonders that day.

As time goes by, we will return to group functions. Until we see how well COVID-19 is controlled, we need to keep social distancing for quite a while longer. As you can tell from the above story, it works for a variety of reasons.

One of the preventions learned during COVID-19 is to shelter in place. This is a good technique that everyone should keep up for now but especially when ill. Hopefully, as time progresses, individuals with colds, flu, and other illnesses will stay at home instead of going out. This will reduce the spread of all contagious illnesses.

Think about other things that have changed in your life in 2020. You may not have been able to see some of your family members or friends during this time of COVID-19 as you are still doing. Now might be the time to do some reflection about that. I am sure you are missing your loved ones and friends with which you have great relationships. It will soon be time to be able to see them in person again and not just on the computer chat or telephone.

But think about some of your relationships. Have you been happier without some people in your life? Or perhaps life has just run a bit smoother without some individuals? When the isolation period is over, do you want these people back in your life? This can be an opportunity to think about distancing yourself from some people who might be a bit toxic. Perhaps you did not realize that until their absence. You can choose to remove them from your life completely or slow down some of your togetherness. Maintaining healthy relationships can be a challenge. If you are comfortable, discuss what you would like to change in your relationships.

Most people in close relationships will just bring it up a subject and resolve it. There are times when this can be a bit more of a challenge. I had a friend who used to ‘reopen negotiations’ with her husband. This gave a verbal clue that she wanted to discuss something very serious. It was a good way for them to get on the same page to start a serious conversation. It is a cue that works very well for many people. The conversation can be serious and even uncomfortable, but it lets you both begin it on the same playing field.

Not many of your relationships will be at this level of negativity. Most people have already surrounded themselves with family and friends who support each other. That means you emotionally support your family and friends as well as they emotionally support you. Perhaps you do not have negative feelings about anyone. For the most part, we will all be happy to return to some normalcy with family and friends.

Another area to consider is to work. You may have liked working from home. Perhaps this can continue. Others miss the social interaction of going to work and seeing a variety of people. Try to determine if you want to continue with your current employment situation, if you would like to try something new or if you want to return to your original setting when appropriate.

Many people have used this time of staying at home to improve their personal health. Think about ways you can continue to maintain your wellbeing on an ongoing basis. As things reopen, there will be the opportunity to go out and into old habits. Now is the time to solidify your commitment to yourself and your personal wellbeing. Make yourself be your priority.

As your life begins to change this year, think about how you will incorporate your activity, including pressure releases, healthy eating, and getting enough fluid. It is going to be very easy to slip back into old habits in a few months because they will seem comfortable and natural to us. Now is the time to think about how you will arrange your life in our next new normal. This will not begin to occur for several months. Planning now will help make the transition easier and healthier.

If you are returning to a workplace destination, you will need time to travel to and from that location. This may take time out of your day. That time may now be used for your activity or exercise of your body. You will need to do both, so something else will have to be rearranged for accommodation. Eating out with friends will radically change your diet. Something we have learned from sheltering in place is that eating at home is consistently healthier. Think about menu items that you will choose to maintain your healthy eating plan.

It is too soon to start to change your daily routine. That will not be possible until much later in the year. But thinking about how you will accommodate your new, healthier lifestyle will help you solidify the transition. Nurse Linda

Pediatric Consideration:

COVID-19 has severely altered everyone’s life. It has impacted the lives of children dramatically. Things that were taken for granted in raising children have been postponed. Many rites of passage have had to be eliminated. Tensions have been high for parents as they juggle working from home and childcare.

Childhood is a time to learn to get along with others and how to behave in social settings. With sheltering in place, play dates and schooling have become solitary activities. Everyday activities from the past like going to the park, therapy, the store with a parent or birthday parties have been eliminated from all children’s lives. Everyday activities are where children learn to interact and behave with others and in different situations. Time will allow these activities and learnings to emerge. Do not be surprised if your child does not behave as they have in the past as these activities will seem new to them.

The children’s vaccine for COVID-19 will not be available for a predicted year. As a result, these everyday activities might be delayed even further. For children with risk factors, the delay to routine life might be further stretched.

Maintaining a healthy relationship with your child is a good start at role modeling. Enacting good behavior at home sets an example. Eat together as a family, using good manners. Have family conversations letting everyone talk and respecting their thoughts and opinions. Share. Clean up after yourself. Practice good hygiene. Take turns. These activities will help your child adjust to reentry into society and school. Nurse Linda

Linda Schultz, Ph.D., CRRN, a leader and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years, and a friend of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for close to two decades. Within our online community, she writes about and answers your SCI-related healthcare questions in our Heath & Wellness discussion.