How a grieving son, a displaced student and a retired nurse have found their way through 12 months of COVID-19

In the days before the coronavirus, when such things were possible, Bruce Hampson visited his father, Bill, at his long-term care residence several times a week. The elder Hampson always asked the same question of his son: Have you finished writing your book yet?Though it was a long-standing goal, writing the novel had always been relegated to the bottom of Bruce’s list of priorities, put off by more pressing requirements of the day-to-day. And so Bruce’s answer was always a variation of the same: It’s going, just slowly.Now, one year after the first coronavirus case was detected in Canada, Bruce holds his finished, published book in his hands, rereading the dedication to his father, who, though he has been taken away by COVID-19, understood something about life, time and the things that shouldn’t be put off.“This book is dedicated to the wonderful memory of my father, Arthur Lawrence (Bill) Hampson, and his extraordinary life,” the dedication reads. “Never satisfied with the common or the mundane, never showing fear, he was a true adventurer.”It’s a dedication that, by its existence, reveals a year that went nothing like the plan, for Bruce and people all over the world. As of Monday, it has been one year since Health Canada announced — on Jan. 25, 2020 — the first Canadian case of what would come to be known as COVID-19, beginning a pandemic journey that has reshaped everything. We faced the fear and uncertainty of the initial lockdowns. Then loss became a fixture of our lives, and of the news we read everyday. Isolation became a mainstay of our “new normal.”For Hampson, the loss was personal, and it came early. His father was the 21st Canadian to die of COVID-19, in March. It was a crushing experience that Hampson would watch repeated all across the country and the world. “The most haunting thing for me is the expression on his face,” Hampson said, remembering the video call doctors facilitated for him and his father before Bill’s death. “He had this blank stare and I see it almost every morning when I wake up.”“It said: Where are you, son?”Today, almost 19,000 Canadians have died of COVID-19. Studies have shown more Canadians are struggling with their mental health than ever before. A survey suggested that Canadians’ anxiety levels have quadrupled compared to pre-pandemic levels. Another indicated depression had doubled.The impact has been even more pronounced in front-line workers, whose lives were turned upside down by the pandemic.Though she retired in December, nurse Susan Sorrenti still takes patient calls from her home in Peterborough. The callers are worried that their headaches and coughs could signal the presence of COVID-19. She listens. She gives advice. She’s been there.It just wouldn’t feel right, Sorrenti said, not to be a part of this pandemic fight, this massive, global effort to shield one another from the virus and, where that isn’t possible, to heal. Or grieve.“If you can’t be a nurse during a pandemic, I respect that. But I can’t not be a nurse during the pandemic,” she said. “This is the show; this is when you’re needed most by the community. I can’t walk away. I just can’t walk away until this is over.”Sorrenti, 57, said she never could have imagined the way COVID-19 would stop time — how it would supplant all of life’s big and small considerations.She was one of those people who was all too aware that a pandemic might someday arrive. She was a veteran of the SARS crisis — one of the health-care workers who contracted the deadly disease that made her sicker than she had ever been before, and put all of her nursing colleagues on high stress, high alert. She knew another virus would eventually spread; it was only a question of when.It wasn’t until March that she realized COVID-19 was going to be much different than SARS — that its transmissibility would be far more widespread, more capable of overwhelming a health-care system that was already operating at near-capacity.“We didn’t know what was heading our way. Watching all these overwhelmed health-care systems — some of the best health-care systems in the world,” she said. “It was, I guess, the anxiety, the prequel (that said) this is what’s going to happen here.” Watching those early images of coronavirus destruction come in March and April was like seeing a tsunami coming — the fear was palpable and paralyzing to some. We now know that, in Canada at least, the pandemic has played out more like a slow-motion flood. The destruction is constant, everywhere and long-lasting. The end of the nightmare is promised in the form of a vaccine, but it’s uncertain how far off that respite really is. “When I’m talking to people on the phone who are calling me, I put myself right back to where I was when I knew I had been exposed to SARS,” Sorrenti said. “The anxiety and not being sure how it was going to play out.” It helps, she said, to have that mutual understanding on the other end of the phone.A year ago, we never could have imagined the ext

How a grieving son, a displaced student and a retired nurse have found their way through 12 months of COVID-19

In the days before the coronavirus, when such things were possible, Bruce Hampson visited his father, Bill, at his long-term care residence several times a week. The elder Hampson always asked the same question of his son: Have you finished writing your book yet?

Though it was a long-standing goal, writing the novel had always been relegated to the bottom of Bruce’s list of priorities, put off by more pressing requirements of the day-to-day. And so Bruce’s answer was always a variation of the same: It’s going, just slowly.

Now, one year after the first coronavirus case was detected in Canada, Bruce holds his finished, published book in his hands, rereading the dedication to his father, who, though he has been taken away by COVID-19, understood something about life, time and the things that shouldn’t be put off.

“This book is dedicated to the wonderful memory of my father, Arthur Lawrence (Bill) Hampson, and his extraordinary life,” the dedication reads. “Never satisfied with the common or the mundane, never showing fear, he was a true adventurer.”

It’s a dedication that, by its existence, reveals a year that went nothing like the plan, for Bruce and people all over the world.

As of Monday, it has been one year since Health Canada announced — on Jan. 25, 2020 — the first Canadian case of what would come to be known as COVID-19, beginning a pandemic journey that has reshaped everything.

We faced the fear and uncertainty of the initial lockdowns. Then loss became a fixture of our lives, and of the news we read everyday. Isolation became a mainstay of our “new normal.”

For Hampson, the loss was personal, and it came early. His father was the 21st Canadian to die of COVID-19, in March. It was a crushing experience that Hampson would watch repeated all across the country and the world.

“The most haunting thing for me is the expression on his face,” Hampson said, remembering the video call doctors facilitated for him and his father before Bill’s death. “He had this blank stare and I see it almost every morning when I wake up.”

“It said: Where are you, son?”

Today, almost 19,000 Canadians have died of COVID-19. Studies have shown more Canadians are struggling with their mental health than ever before. A survey suggested that Canadians’ anxiety levels have quadrupled compared to pre-pandemic levels. Another indicated depression had doubled.

The impact has been even more pronounced in front-line workers, whose lives were turned upside down by the pandemic.

Though she retired in December, nurse Susan Sorrenti still takes patient calls from her home in Peterborough. The callers are worried that their headaches and coughs could signal the presence of COVID-19.

She listens. She gives advice. She’s been there.

It just wouldn’t feel right, Sorrenti said, not to be a part of this pandemic fight, this massive, global effort to shield one another from the virus and, where that isn’t possible, to heal. Or grieve.

“If you can’t be a nurse during a pandemic, I respect that. But I can’t not be a nurse during the pandemic,” she said. “This is the show; this is when you’re needed most by the community. I can’t walk away. I just can’t walk away until this is over.”

Sorrenti, 57, said she never could have imagined the way COVID-19 would stop time — how it would supplant all of life’s big and small considerations.

She was one of those people who was all too aware that a pandemic might someday arrive. She was a veteran of the SARS crisis — one of the health-care workers who contracted the deadly disease that made her sicker than she had ever been before, and put all of her nursing colleagues on high stress, high alert. She knew another virus would eventually spread; it was only a question of when.

It wasn’t until March that she realized COVID-19 was going to be much different than SARS — that its transmissibility would be far more widespread, more capable of overwhelming a health-care system that was already operating at near-capacity.

“We didn’t know what was heading our way. Watching all these overwhelmed health-care systems — some of the best health-care systems in the world,” she said. “It was, I guess, the anxiety, the prequel (that said) this is what’s going to happen here.”

Watching those early images of coronavirus destruction come in March and April was like seeing a tsunami coming — the fear was palpable and paralyzing to some. We now know that, in Canada at least, the pandemic has played out more like a slow-motion flood. The destruction is constant, everywhere and long-lasting.

The end of the nightmare is promised in the form of a vaccine, but it’s uncertain how far off that respite really is.

“When I’m talking to people on the phone who are calling me, I put myself right back to where I was when I knew I had been exposed to SARS,” Sorrenti said. “The anxiety and not being sure how it was going to play out.”

It helps, she said, to have that mutual understanding on the other end of the phone.

A year ago, we never could have imagined the extend of the changes the virus would bring —but we were watching.

In February, all eyes were on a plane carrying 176 Canadians from Wuhan to their 14-day quarantines in Trenton, Ont.

Canadians watched with fear as the plane touched down from the destination which, at that time, was the viral epicentre and represented the risk of infecting others.

Myriam Larouche was on that plane, and she remembers the sense of relief of travelling from Wuhan back to Canada, where she felt she would be safe from the virus. After the highly regimented journey, which included stops by Chinese officials and orientation at an Air Force base in Trenton, Larouche told the Star she planned to sleep for 20 hours.

The fear associated with that incoming international flight was repeated to a lesser degree thousands of times over the course of the pandemic, as restricting travel became a key component of countries’ attempts to limit the virus spread.

To Larouche, it was surreal to watch the virus she thought she had fled spread to Canada, and especially take hold in Quebec, where she lived.

“Yeah if you compare (Quebec’s first wave) to Wuhan, I felt it was kind of the same thing,” she said. “We were here in this province, we were the worst in the country.”

Having been in the city that was the first epicentre of COVID-19, Larouche was introduced to the emotional toll of the pandemic early on. But then, as now, she has never let it rule her.

She’s still working on her courses online for her university in Wuhan. Travel restrictions permitting, she hopes to go back there in June, for graduation.

“I’m just waiting to see what will happen and we will go through it all together,” she said, “We’re relearning to appreciate people around us more. We couldn’t see nobody, couldn’t go out. We’re rediscovering our hobbies and our families.”

Hampson thinks of the pandemic time in much the same way.

He’s come to consider the past year not as a mark on a calendar straddling the years 2020 and 2021. This year defies the calendar. It will be over when the pandemic is done.

And that’s given him an appreciation for time. Time to dance a tango in his living room with his wife, or walk his dog around the park. And to complete his book.

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

Source : Toronto Star More