April 21, 2020

ROSENBAND | When Hospitals Become Our Battlegrounds

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When 7 p.m. arrives, my neighbors gather on their porches, banging pots and pans and cheering for doctors, like my dad, as they arrive home. It’s a sweet tribute. But in this period of social distancing, when every pursuit is a solitary one, I pinpoint those moments of camaraderie as my loneliest ones. I wait for 7 p.m., and when it rolls around I welcome a dispirited substitute for my father, void of his trademark optimism.

I quickly scan him up and down — he has a face shield and mask in one hand and a bag of pomegranate licorice in the other, a blank face, a few drops of dried blood on his sneakers, a loosely tied Cornell sweatshirt hanging from his waist  — and then I continue to stir a pot of butternut squash soup. “It felt like war today,” he says, and I just pretend not to hear it because the fact is, I don’t want to know.

IMG_5405It was only a matter of time before my dad would test positive. He came home with enough horror stories from the emergency rooms, enough late nights and early mornings spent in the hospital and enough heartbreak that my family couldn’t afford the naiveté to believe he would be unaffected by the coronavirus. And when my dad got sick, he got really sick. From across the house, I could hear him desperately gasping every time he moved between his bed and the bathroom. And yet, his only concern remained the fact that he wasn’t out there in the hospitals, fighting the good fight alongside his partners. I watched him crumble under his guilt and his diagnosis, and the best — or rather, only — care I could provide was a bowl of butternut squash soup that would be rendered as tasteless, set out for him six feet away.

The cruelest part of this common narrative of the coronavirus is that it’s not common at all. Every household has a story, but none have the same one. While some of your classmates are scared to go to the supermarkets, others of us are scared of going downstairs. As the coronavirus attacked my home, I didn’t tell anyone — even when they asked. Because, despite every benchmark of normalcy that has been abandoned, many of us still have not accepted this pandemic as our reality. We have to live “in” this virus before we can begin to understand what it means. Nothing feels real when it’s happening, and our homes have unwillingly opened their doors to a crisis of global magnitude.

Unofficial data collected by physicians at Stony Brook Hospital

Unofficial data collected by physicians at Stony Brook Hospital

When I made the decision to leave my apartment in Ithaca, I selfishly knew that I was making the decision to abandon the safest sanctuary I had. Living in my parent’s house, reminiscing about my home away from home, I can’t help but wonder: What are we going back to? A Bailey Hall jam-packed with eager oceanography students? A congress that can’t even agree on the day of the week? A refugee crisis at our southern border, fraught with human rights abuses? The objective of survival shouldn’t be to return to what we had, because what we had was not working. If we seek a sliver of silver lining, it is this: With this worldwide pause comes the opportunity to reflect, and to craft a better tomorrow based on the woes of yesterday.

Emergency Room at St. Charles Hospital, New York

Emergency Room at St. Charles Hospital, New York

The stories we will come to tell of the coronavirus will be the stories of what we prioritized. We have suddenly divided the nation into two: What our government deems essential and what it doesn’t, for whatever that’s worth. Many of our family members are entrenched in a war where our government labels them their soldiers. In just a few days, the adults we have always seen as our heroes have transformed into everybody’s heroes … and they shun the glory amidst the gore.

After all, we Cornellians wait all year for spring. There’s no sun that’s more delicious than Ithaca’s because we fought for it, and we know exactly how much it’s worth. We trudge through the anguish of winter because we are drunk on the belief that someday soon, Cornell will finally love us back. Ithaca will embrace us with her pent-up warmth and our worst days will be but a memory. A month ago, when we were all sitting in the sunny Arts quad reaping our first reward, we had a single story. Now, we look at each other on Zoom and have no idea about the worlds that our cameras don’t capture. COVID-19 sent Cornell students lost in the world we once thought we were in a prime position to take advantage of.

At the hospitals my dad works at, they blast “Here Comes the Sun” over the loudspeakers every time a COVID-19 patient is discharged. He would call to let me hear it, and for a fleeting second, I could detach from my own paranoia. I can’t wait to hug my dad again.

Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at odeyarosenband@cornellsun.com. Passionfruit runs every other Tuesday this semester.