During the worst of these times, I found great comfort in escaping mentally, almost always, to Cortona

Covid entered our lives in the spring of 2020. The first case diagnosed in Ireland was on the 29th of February, a Saturday. We had been expecting it of course. There was a national curiosity, a fascination with this foreign virus; but once that first case was confirmed here, Covid became a frightening reality.
We had all watched with horror the nightly footage from Wuhan at the end of January and then much more terrifyingly, in early February, from Italy. I knew Italy. I’d been to Bergamo, to Milan. Wuhan was distant, somewhere foreign and far away, Italy was a neighbour, a friend.  This was real, it was coming in our direction and we were helpless; as the spring mornings dawned ever earlier, the days brightening, nature awakening, Covid advanced into northern Europe. The hopelessness of Covid’s arrival was at odds with the hopefulness that spring usually brings. 
March and April were terrifying months: Cases of covid-19 were multiplying and death rates rose relentlessly. Our national public health emergency team (NPHET) held a daily press conference announcing cases and deaths, they continue to do this today;  a notification on my phone every evening.
We locked down in March except for those of us on the frontline who had no choice but to go out to work. As nurses, doctors, cleaners, shopkeepers, essential workers we had to keep everything ticking along. I’m not ashamed to say, I didn’t want to work. I wanted to escape from work, from the hospital. I felt hemmed in and frightened of what my job would become in this new reality. Our clinics were cancelled. Our rheumatology department was taken over by our neighbour, the Emergency Department on a Thursday afternoon in the second week of March. A white marquee tent was erected outside the ED, used for happier occasions in a previous life, it became the ghastly reception area for those arriving terrified, exhausted, struggling to breathe.
We all quickly became experts.  At first it was the Corona virus and then it was shortened to the snappier ‘Covid’. We are all now well versed in ‘r’ numbers, PPE, virus surges, social distancing, mask wearing, cough etiquette, hand washing for the duration of 2 renditions of the ‘Happy birthday’ song.
During those spring months, stories abounded, fables mostly, of what would become of us all. A colleague advised me that as a senior nurse I would be trained to ventilate patients in ICU. She loves drama and I resented her for scaremongering and spreading fear amongst her colleagues, but we were fearful, especially in those early months. As health professionals we had no choice, we had to work through this and we just didn’t know what was going to happen next. 
I kept trying to imagine life 6 months from then.  Would I get Covid from work, would I spread it to family members, would we all get through this unscathed?  There were so many terrifying possibilities and it was overwhelming to me at times. 
During the worst of these times, I found great comfort in escaping mentally, almost always, to Cortona.  To sunshine, the beautiful rolling countryside of Tuscany and Umbria; the sounds of early morning, birds singing, distant farm noises, warm sun caressing my shoulders, soothing my mind.  I was so fortunate to have those memories to escape to and to be able to plan a return when all this would pass.
Tuscan countryside
Vines, rolling hills and Montepulciano on its hilltop
Lockdown was different for everyone.  For some, it meant just that, locked down, locked in, isolated.  For parents of young children it meant realising their talents, or lack of, for home schooling.  For others it meant early solitary walks to work through dark silent streets. For some it meant the collapse of businesses, financial struggle.  For all of us it meant a great change in our lives and a fear of what the future held. 
I hadn’t realised what I would miss most of all in this enforced situation. For me, it was the absence of school children in the playground next to the hospital; sounds of their shrieks and shouts and laughter. As schools now re-open with trepidation, it is the hopefulness of school bags and shiny school shoes, scuffing newly fallen leaves on the ground that I am enjoying once more.  It is these familiar sights and sounds of autumn as the days shorten that bring shoots of hopefulness and help bat away the tentacles of hopelessness that Covid threatens.
While many lives have been devastated by this virus and continue to be, treatments improve and vaccines are being developed.  There is resilience amongst us all which I hope will allow us to continue to live our lives albeit with necessary restrictions and as I walk to work on dark mornings this autumn, I will continue to enjoy my dreamy Tuscan reveries.
Cortona at sunset
Alexia Kelly, 12/10/2020 08:28:49
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