Monday, April 6 – Doing More with Less

by Dara Mac, PEI, CANADA

Day 17. I woke up much earlier than usual today, saw that my son, Kai, had tried to call from China, so I reached out to connect with him on WeChat. He shared the lyrics of a song that his friend, Dash, had recently written about the “Invisible War,” the title of Kai’s forthcoming book about a Canadian’s experience of COVID-19 in Chonqing, China. It was a very moving, emotional way to wake up, while still bleary-eyed about the descending global pandemic. It brought back fond memories of a more sociable time when I made dinner for him, Dash and Galen, and they crashed at my house after their Root Sellars gig in Charlottetown. It’s been years now, and I’m hoping that a summer visit with Kai is still possible.

I climbed down the ladder from the loft of my tiny home to feed the cats and make a pot of coffee in the Bodum. Italian Roast JustUs beans roasted in Nova Scotia, the best-tasting coffee around. There’s no running water into the house, but I have lived this way for years now. Luckily, Kai gave our family the heads up about the Coronavirus, which gave each of us an opportunity to prepare and stock up on essential items. I had also been witnessing his 60-day self-isolation in China while experiencing mixed feelings about socializing here on PEI. Up until a few weeks ago, our government still had the wait-and-see attitude about 97 cruise ships set to land at the Charlottetown Harbour from April through to October. Even though the Japan cruise ship fiasco had shown everyone how easily the virus is transmitted on board like a floating petrie dish.

The first case of COVID-19 on PEI was announced on March 14. A woman in her 50’s who worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs had just returned from a Caribbean cruise. She arrived home asymptomatic and had not been self-isolating. The next week everything seemed to speed up. Kai shared a letter that his Uncle Vic wrote as a retired ER Doctor with some clear recommendations on how to flatten the curve. I shared the letter with my MP, and within minutes my MP responded to my email stating that he had forwarded Dr. Victor Wood’s letter to our Chief Medical Health Officer, who forwarded it on to the Premier of PEI. At the PEI daily news conference, strict measures and guidelines were immediately put in place. Restrictions on PEI include closing all non-essential businesses, restricted traffic on the Confederation Bridge as well as fines for not following Social Distancing measures. Everyone is encouraged to stay home unless it is absolutely essential. “Essential” business, though, has evolved to include liquor stores on PEI, not surprising given the high rates of addiction here.

Most of my career as a social worker and clinical therapist has been in the field of mental health and addiction. This is the beginning of year two of my retirement from front line mental clinical health services on PEI. Over the few years that I worked for PEI Health, things changed drastically with management’s slogan “Do more with Less.” For the staff, that meant doing two and sometimes three full-time jobs in place of one. In an environment that can be so intense, unpredictable, and sometimes emotionally draining, burn out is inevitable, not a question of if, just a matter of when. So, after I was pushed over the cliff, I spent four months in my tiny home with the shades down, barely speaking to anyone. So, this stay at home order from PEI’s CMHO is not something totally foreign to me.

Strangely, the Confederation Bridge restrictions are more of a comfort than anxiety these days. The CMHO and Premier have made it very clear that PEI being the smallest province with a dense population, would be like a cruise-ship-petrie-dish if community transmission starts here. I haven’t been to Charlottetown to a grocery store, gym or laundromat in 3 weeks and have no plans to change that at this point in time. So problem-solving and figuring out new survival strategies is the theme of the day. It certainly has taken away some of my focus on learning how to drum, which I now consider my full-time job. My local teacher and I are taking a break from lessons, but I’ve also been a student of online drum lessons for the past year. Progress is steady, and my passion remains strong! I recently read an article about the therapeutic value of drumming; I can certainly validate that.

My favorite regular foods are now all gone, including the yogurt, raw cashews, dried fruit, rice cakes. This is week three and I’ve just eaten the last frozen Montreal bagel from my tiny freezer. It brings me back to the days of my youth when we’d be handed a freshly made, sizzling hot paper bag at the Fairmount Bagel shop. They were too hot to eat but that didn’t stop us.  The storm chips were devoured on day one. I’ve started sprouting seed mixes, making bean soup, learning how to grow microgreens, and have also started seedlings for the outer garden (once the 3 feet of snow melts). Only one week into it and already, I was able to add some microgreens to my soup. I’ve been buying eggs, cheese, honey, and GF mixes from neighbors and local producers, sending e-transfers and picking up the goods left outside for me, so there is no contact. These are all things that I have wanted to do for a while and my new challenge – how many days can I go without shopping, without driving, without spending money. “Doing more with less” is now my very own personal goal and motto.