I live in a large condominium building in Center City. Our building takes great pride in its appearance, amenities and over all welcoming environment. But things have radically changed in the past six weeks. All of the beautiful furniture has been removed from our lobby so residents do not have a chance to congregate. Our concierge desk is surrounded by a large shield and visitors are carefully screened behind a Plexiglas barrier. Our gym, library, social rooms, pool, and programs are closed. Our restaurant is now only available for take-out.
Our residents are usually well-coiffed and dressed. Although it is now rare to see another neighbor, if I do see one it is obvious that the woman has not had her hair colored or cut for a number of weeks. It is striking how many of us have grey or white hair and are not natural blonds. Our nails are usually manicured, but now they look ratty and uncared for. Neighbors, if seen, are dressed shabbily where previously they took pride in their appearance. However, their faces are hidden behind masks or bandanas and it is often difficult to recognize old friends. Our building is very social. Many residents usually greet each other with hugs and kisses. This is no more. If we see someone approaching, we quickly move to the other side of the hallway. We used to have a number of congregant activities such as discussion groups, book clubs, exercise classes, etc. These are gone. People are holed up in their homes. Social entertaining has ground to a standstill.
I try to talk frequently to some of my neighbors, especially those who are frail or alone. They tell me that one day is like the next, that they lack energy, and that they miss social gatherings. Many folks spend their days in front of the television set, go to bed early and sleep late in the morning. They may spend their entire day in pajamas because no one sees them.
I am concerned about medical issues that are not being addressed. Although many residents are using telehealth services, they do not replace the personal visit with a physician. Residents are generally afraid to go to their doctors’ offices for minor health issues but we do not know how many of these might really be major. I am especially concerned about the effect this social isolation will have on our mental health. Humans are social individuals and are not used to being alone and cooped up in an apartment for a long time. We are used to touching and embracing our friends and family and having social discourse. It is especially hard for those folks who live alone.
Based on information in news reports, I think that that our current conditions may exist for possibly several more months. I am concerned about my personal and family’s physical and emotional well-being as well as that of my friends and neighbors. I have started to call or videoconference friends and family on a regular basis just to keep connected. We are even having virtual cocktail parties. I have also prepared some meals and distributed them to folks living alone. Although I am not an exercise fan, I am doing yoga three times a week and walking the hallways of my building with my husband. I have also watched some terrific series on television that really get me engaged with the characters. We are trying to eat healthy, keep in shape and not gain weight despite our sedentary lifestyle.
I believe that our health system has to develop strategies to cope with pent up demand once some of the restrictions are lifted. Social isolation in some form will continue for a while. We need to learn from the past few months and develop creative strategies that will serve our physical, social, and mental needs.