themighty logo

The 'Different Luck' of Living Independently as a Blind Person During the COVID-19 Pandemic

My “different luck” started the day before Saint Patrick’s. People over 65 became “the compromised,” “the ones most at risk,” or “the elderlies.” We heard “six-foot social distancing” and “COVID-19.”

I hadn’t planned for the end of normal as I knew it. I thought global warming would be what got us.

I am totally blind, 66, and I no longer travel outside independently. I haven’t had immediate family since 2003. Most of my help is my age or older or health-compromised. As a blind person, I can’t easily distinguish six feet away from someone. If I’m shopping, visiting, or going to an appointment, I walk with a “sighted guide” — holding someone’s arm. Sighted guides aren’t an option now.

My apartment building has around 100 units. I don’t know anyone in the building to ask for serious help, and there are all those surfaces I have to touch or touch without thinking, potentially being exposed to the virus.

I’ve gotten Lysol, bleach and Pine-Sol. I’ve stocked up as if for winter. The person who helps me at home has been amazing. Terry works housekeeping at the hospital. She isn’t afraid to come. We can’t observe the six-foot-rule, like when writing my rent check, which I must sign with a signature guide that she holds in place. She’s usually here about four hours per week. She does housework, reads mail, sees everything and shops.

At first, being without physical people and places to go was like wanting chocolate without having any. I listened to neighbors’ doors open and close and the little kid down the hall yelled a lot. I noticed elevator call chimes for our floor if I was near my front door. I began sneaking down for mail every other day, early in the morning.

Even before the coronavirus, I talked on the phone a lot. Systems like Livewire provide messaging, bulletin boards, entertainment and virtual friendships. My down-the-hall elderly neighbor called to tell me about free Showtime and we traded movie recommendations. I checked on friends and people in my Council of the Blind chapter.

I chose to catch up all the Braille Poetry magazines I hadn’t read. The first week, I read three. The third week, boredom arrived and I read one. I started a journal. There were news reports and stock market swings.

We have taken much for granted. Each day rules change. First they said no masks unless you were sick. Now they say wear cloth masks whenever you go out. The government feels less trustworthy.

On warm days, I washed outside balcony windows and watched (heard) people from a distance. They worked outside or went to and from their cars in the parking lot. It was fresh air and fun. But it mostly rains and is cold this April.

The only person I routinely see now is Terry, unless I encounter people on forays to the trash room or for mail or to the back door to get things. Last week, I one-day dared getting mail in the afternoon. I saw (heard) more people than I’ve seen in a month. I mostly stood still and let others figure out the six-foot-thing. Recently, I thought I heard someone sawing a tree! And I did hear trash collectors.

Do inabilities and absences become part of us? Will agoraphobia become more prevalent?

I am so comforted by oatmeal bread and peanut butter. Another friend brought my meds and several rolls of paper towels. Imagine being grateful to have toilet paper and lentil pasta. Should we become more frail to get additional help? I hope not.

No one could have imagined this world when we made new year’s resolutions. I now resolve to not put things off if I get the chance to do them.

Local poetry groups are using Zoom, so I can easily attend, perhaps more often than I like. Our Pittsburgh Library for the Blind that sends free audio books is closed. I will soon be out of novels. My only book now is a CD copy of an old Inspector Dalgleish novel a neighbor found at a local library book sale about six months ago. Thank God for it! I read it only at night as a sound source to get to sleep. I don’t ever remember not having books for more than two weeks. I suggested that a council member download books for several of us who don’t have BARD access.

Being a NASA nerd, I’m excited for America’s first crew launch to the International Space Station since 2011. Targeted for late May, it’s like having baseball back.

At 5:30 a.m. today, I checked Livewire, read telephone emails, put two casseroles together, and ignored cleaning the bathroom in favor of tip-toeing downstairs for mail. No people and I only got one postcard. Although I had previously received Braille bank statements which surprised me.

Coming back upstairs, I met a young man running down. I faced away from him, saying, “A person!”

“Good morning,” he said, adding, “have a nice day.”

I haven’t been past the back door of my building in six weeks. I am losing momentum.  But I’m lucky.

Angel brought meatloaf! I have cold cuts, little cherry pies and cauliflower rice. Angel’s mother-in-law made me a mask and a plate of homemade Easter candy. In my fridge, there are several cans of Long Island Island Iced Tea courtesy of Laura.

I have ordered Vitamin C to be shipped by post office mail. UPS leaves packages in the lobby and I would never find a package that way. Without easy access to office staff and UPS, I can’t order from many places. (Not even QVC’s shrimp scampi, heatable in a microwave.)

Many people with disabilities have more experience with isolation than the general public. Continuing to feel and be hopeful, useful and visible will take more than four-leaf clovers. We each have strengths more useful when forged together. Will, planning, patience and belief in ourselves are necessary to manage this challenging world — not to mention this different luck.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: