How has Covid-19 affected my life?

Photo of Deedee Levine taken by Miranda Hine, December 2019

Deedee Levine, born in Brooklyn, New York, 1935, has lived in Syracuse, New York since 1966. She is the widow of historian Joseph M. Levine and mother of Peter Levine of Tufts University and Caroline Levine of Cornell University.  A 1958 graduate of Barnard College, Deedee spent about 8 years in medical and educational research and  ten years at home or traveling with family. In 1978  she enrolled for training in primary education at the Froebel Institute in London. Her career began with a year of teaching in London followed by about twenty years of service for the Syracuse City School District.  In 1993 she received a grant from The US Department of Education to develop a curriculum in art history for children and in 1995 was awarded a Teacher-Scholar Grant  by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

This essay was written by Deedee Levine in response to a post published in the PanMeMic Facebook Group requesting the collective to share their personal accounts of how Covid-19 has affected their lives. This is Deedee’s view.

I have followed public health guidelines and thanks to the comforts of my home(s) and the kindness of friends and neighbors, I have lived at a safe distance from others since the middle of February, i.e., roughly 8 months.  My daughter has come to visit on two weekends during this period with her family but they too have been living in careful isolation and they have been following strict rules about masks and hygiene.  I have had to have work done in the house and in the garden more than once but have tried to consult on and participate in these activities from a distance and worn a mask.  I booked and took a business class flight from London, UK to Chicago, Illinois in July with a connecting flight in the regular passenger cabin three hours later to Syracuse.  With much to make me grateful, I have, nevertheless, lived in complete quarantine for the two weeks that followed.  After the next two months at home but for long daily walks, I made and kept two routine medical appointments.  Otherwise I have not gone out.  In short, I have been alone and isolating almost totally for almost three quarters of a year.

The major effect can be described as a cessation of social exchange and a big drop in cultural entertainment.  As a rule, I would be together with friends on at least two occasions in a week beside normal exchanges with neighbors, friends who live nearby, and family visits – I would normally have made one or two visits per month by train to Boston/Cambridge Mass to be with family and at least one to Ithaca, New York for the same reason.  I’d have spent weeks on end in New York City.  I’d have been to several exhibitions, plays or concerts during these excursions. Lastly I am missing the planning stage for an annual stay in London beginning in January including social and cultural opportunities available to me there. I am expecting to continue isolating until well into the new year.  A disappointing prospect.

Another effect I am caused to mention is the time I spend thinking back and marshaling the experience of a lifetime to apply to what people are experiencing now.  Certainly my childhood was a period when disappointment and depravation were part and parcel of our World War II times and the tragedies and fears were greater than now.  I was too young to understand but I was born in the depth of the depression and my family remained very poor even through the period of prosperity that followed the end of the war.  My parent’s generation spoke often of the losses they suffered from World War I and the tragedies that resulted from the 1917-18 flu.  My father was infected by the disease as a teenager and his hair never grew back. This was something we could see.  I value these memories at this time of crisis to use as a backdrop against which to measure the effects of a virus that has, so far, not struck any immediate relative or close friend – at least not severely.

Part of the experience I bring to bear in contemplation of where we are now, results from years I worked in public health.  I was the primary statistician in a family research unit at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.  I still retain my greater respect for preventive medicine as preferable on all dimensions to treatment options.  My experience in public health began just as the new Polio vaccine was finally offering respite to generations long fearful of the disease.  As children we had been kept in close quarantine every summer.  Children were most vulnerable to polio but we knew one man who caught the disease and we saw him disabled and become crippled before our eyes.  We could not play with other kids or go to public swimming places and we certainly never complained.  We did not want braces!

As part of my experience in Public Health I recall a visit we had from the Federal Office of Disease Control.  I am not sure what the agency was called at the time but it was within the then Department of Health Education and Welfare.   The lecturer fastened on his experiences in validating the Salk Vaccine. In one segment, he described the crisis that occurred after they had inoculated the first cohort and one boy got sick.  We heard how the officials held their breaths until that boy, as if in a miracle, got better.  He’d contracted something else but it was NOT polio. For the people in public health his fever had been a crisis.  Proving the vaccine safe had been in this as in other aspects, a hair-raising experience.   I do hate the casual way our leaders suppose that the COVID virus might be somehow magically prevented by some poorly tested potion.

And lastly I think often of the study with which I was personally engaged. Our unit was working on a contract supported by Mr. Black, owner of Chock-full-o’Nuts.  He, for family reasons, hoped doctors would develop treatments for Parkinson Disease.  Our data confirmed what other investigators had noticed which was the affected population at the time was not really one population of Parkinson patients but two.  We labeled the cause in first and larger group, ‘unknown.”  This, by definition, became the Idiopathic group.  These patients were marked by all the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease including late onset and unrelenting course.  The other patients met different criteria.  Their symptoms and disease course were the same but the group was characterized by earlier onset. It was discovered that these patients who got sick earlier were survivors of the 1917-18 influenza epidemic. I think the peaks of the two curves were about ten years apart.  Therefore, I spend a good deal of time on my own now worrying that people who recover from COVID 19 or in fact have it and display no symptoms may one day develop hardly imaginable diseases we will never have seen before.  Virus diseases can leave their mark.

Of course I never expected my four grandchildren to be in a world transformed by such a horribly and potentially dangerous thing or that our American leaders would take that burden on children and families so lightly. We had hard times during two world wars and many a crisis that followed but then there was America and there was hope.  One followed the other.

I’ve been recycled a number of times in my life.  Each new role has taught me to value those I love more than I knew before.  The effects of COVID 19 on my ties and devotions are harder to put into statistical form than other effects.  How can a country recover from its loss of hope and pride?  If we could restore caution to the minds of our leaders, (or replace rash and careless leaders with careful ones), I think America might thrive again.

Email: Deedeeleanardlevine@gmail.com


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