Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Around the year I was born, and well into my adolescence, women who were 66 years old were pictured like this, because, indeed, most of them looked and dressed and wore their hair like this. My grandmother did, although she never drove a convertible.

Me, age 66.

However, things change, and now 66 looks like this. Oh, and there’s a worldwide pandemic going on. And today is my 66th birthday. And to help reduce the spread of the virus known as SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2, I am socially isolating myself in my house. I’m making it feel less isolating and more celebratory by spooning up some Ben & Jerry’s brownie batter ice cream that one of my friends had delivered by a driver who dropped a bag on my front steps, rang my doorbell, and ran off before I could see who was at the door. Because that’s how we behave when we’re all socially isolating.

Do I know how to party or what?

I will not belabor the details of this epidemic, except to point out that people can die from SARS-CoV-2, otherwise known as COVID-19, also glibly referred to as ‘Rona. Which is why we’re all supposed to stay at home, wear masks over our noses and mouths if we do go out, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other humans, and wash our hands a lot, so we don’t catch it or spread it. Since doing my job as a home care physical therapist was getting increasingly dicey, it was fortunate that I had vacation time scheduled these last two weeks.

Today was supposed to herald my last weekend off before returning to work on Monday. But as things now stand, I won’t be returning to work on Monday. ‘Rona has pretty much gutted home health physical therapy, and a lot of other things. There are some folks getting in-person visits, and some other folks getting tele-visits by phone. But there are no elective surgeries going on, to fix or replace arthritic joints, for example, so no steady stream of post-op patients from orthopedists. And otherwise, when your own doctor doesn’t want to see you in person, but does a tele-visit instead, there’d better be a damned good reason for sending strangers to visit you at home, even if these strangers happen to be nurses or rehab therapists or nurses’ aides.

Needless to say, though, our home care patient census is way down. And I have a lot of paid time off hours racked up. And I was feeling more and more anxious about making home visits again next week and potentially exposing myself to more germs, despite the masks and the gloves and the hand sanitizer and the bottled soap and the paper towels and the aprons and gowns and shoe covers we all carry around as part of our home care tools.

And then I had a bit of a scare last weekend. I woke up on Saturday feeling weak, exhausted, and wobbly, with aching sinuses and a headache, and a dry cough, and some sniffles, and a slight fever. I definitely felt like I was coming down with something, but I figured it was most likely a severe bout of spring allergy symptoms, which would go away if I took an antihistamine. They didn’t go away, and after three hours of agonizing about whether I should or shouldn’t, I called our employee health COVID-19 hotline and got tested for the virus the next morning. And got the results 24 hours after that, which were thankfully negative. Negative, as we all know in the world of cancer, is indeed a really good thing.

But I still didn’t want to go back to work. I had a lot of good reasons not to, but two stood out. One was the long and late-term side effects of radiation treatment for my breast cancer, which left me with scar tissue on my right lung, years of fatigue, and a barrage of respiratory issues that finally resolved a few years after treatment. Most recently, it also may have contributed to the formation of calcifications in my right coronary artery, which showed up on a scan a year ago. Luckily, I have not developed heart disease or lung disease or high blood pressure or any other ongoing systemic diagnoses. But all of these can increase the risk of catching and having a severe bout of COVID-19. The other reason for caution was my age. Being 65 or older itself increases one’s risk.

So, I had at least a couple of good reasons to request a leave of absence, and yet, I was reluctant to play the age card. Not sure why, really. I don’t know what 66 is supposed to feel like, but I don’t feel like I’m 66. And I don’t act like I’m 66. And I’ve had no further signs of cancer since 2009. I suppose it hasn’t helped to hear all these stories about how courageous we health care workers have been through this pandemic. But I personally do not need to prove my heroism, thanks very much.

The cancer card: if you’ve got it, play it.

Finally I remembered something that happened while I was going through breast cancer treatment. Being overwhelmed and feeling like garbage back then, I’d forgotten to pay my credit card bill. So, a few months went by and I got a statement saying I was going to be charged a late fee. I decided to call the credit card company and explain, but I was reluctant to play the cancer card. Why? Because I somehow felt like a fraud blaming my negligence on cancer. Why? Because…I don’t know. But some part of my psyche kicked in to save me from myself and said, “Kathi, for goodness’ sake, you’re not ‘playing’ anything. It’s the truth! You have cancer, you idiot! Just tell them the truth!” So, I did. And they were lovely about it and erased the extra charges and gave me more time to pay off the balance. And I hung up and cried with relief.

So, I got a hold of myself and admitted that I didn’t want to get sick, end up in the hospital, and maybe die just yet, especially after surviving cancer. And all that could be more likely to happen because I was older than I used to be. And being older was not a crime, just the truth. And of course, my employer was completely understanding and even thanked me for volunteering to take a leave of absence. And I am enormously relieved.

It’s not the most exciting birthday gift I’ve ever gotten, but I’ll take it.


This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Friday, April 10, 2020 at 03:04 pm, filed under Life & Mortality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”

  1. Happy Birthday dear Kathi – not the times any of us expecting to be celebrating in – but you look fab!

  2. Hi Kathi,

    What a strange birthday, right? This is such an uncertain and scary time. Cripes, I still cannot believe all that has transpired in recent weeks. But here we are.

    I am relieved to hear you’re taking a leave of absence. I’ve been worried about you even though I know you’re very careful. And no, you do not need to prove your heroism. I’m glad your employer was understanding too.

    So glad that scare turned out to not be coronavirus.

    Great to read a new blog post. More coming perhaps?

    Happy birthday, my friend. 66 looks good on you!


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