Written by Rick Blum for the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'
For more than a dozen years our monthly routine has been the same. Steve would motor up from Norfolk, while Jim cruised down the Pike from Framingham. Nick trucked in from Melrose, meeting up along the way with David from Reading and Paul from North Reading. Others drove in from Dorchester, Westford, Needham, Whitman, and a half-dozen other towns across metro Boston. Regardless of starting point, though, we’d all end up in one place – a restaurant centrally located in Newton – to enjoy a leisurely lunch, along with a boatload of banter.
Not in the era of the coronavirus. Not during a time when one inadvertent brush against a stranger’s hand, or one small breath taken after a nearby, uncovered cough, could result in a bout with COVID-19, which would likely not go well for any of us, to put it mildly.
Why are we more wary of becoming infected than most folks, though there’s plenty to be concerned about for everyone?
Despite our varied hometowns, as well as backgrounds – techie, teacher, banker, surgeon, electrician, to name a few – we all have two things in common: 1) we are all men (mostly over the age of fifty-five) and 2) we all have multiple sclerosis. Some of us were diagnosed a few years ago, others have been dealing with the vagaries of this autoimmune disease for more than 25 years. Most are on an immunosuppressant drug regimen. And a lowered immune system is definitely not a good thing right now.
However, the driving force that has brought us together these many years remains: a desire to share experiences dealing with the challenges of MS, and perhaps pick up some ideas on how to better cope going forward.
Faced with the possibility of a long hiatus due to restaurant closures, along with our desire to reduce exposure to the coronavirus (most of us have been self-isolating since early March), we have begun a new routine: drive-free get-togethers, i.e., online meetings. The upside? No more schlepping rollators and scooters and wheelchairs – which is standard issue for nearly everyone – into and out of cars and specially equipped vans. The downside? No more ordering up Reuben sandwiches or roasted Brussel sprouts (for the more health conscious among us). Lunch is now strictly a bring-your-own affair, which by first appearance consists of frozen goodies fresh out of the microwave, or maybe a PB&J and chips, or just a bag of peanuts to munch on.
So we have joined the Zoom crowd, which may take a little getting used to, but is far better than waiting until the pandemic recedes to meet again. At our in-person lunches, we’d typically go around the table to reintroduce ourselves (MS has a cognitive dimension as well as physical, so memories can get hazy), as well as provide basic information such as age, hometown, when first diagnosed, and current treatment modality. We also could bring up any pressing issue that we’d like to gain our peers’ perspectives on. These could range from deciding whether to change to a new DMT (Disease Modifying Therapy), to recommendations for wheelchairs, to choosing a new neurologist. They also, occasionally, touched on more personal issues around family or friends. Nothing was out of bounds.
Since online there is no table to go around, we had to adjust to simply jumping in when there was a lull in the conversation. Figuring out when and how to do this without overriding someone else will take a little practice. On our first try, we still covered all the basics, but, perhaps, not as detailed as has been typical. And the conversation seemed to peter out a bit sooner than when we were meeting face to face.
Still, I’d have to label our new online soiree a success. In fact, with the hassle of travel eliminated, we’ve decided to meet every couple of weeks, instead of just once a month. Foregoing a juicy Reuben for twice the time to chew the fat is a trade I’ll make every time.
Rick Blum has been chronicling life’s vagaries through essays and poetry for more than 30 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul, and, most recently, old geezer. His writings have appeared in more than 60 magazines and literary journals, as well as in numerous poetry anthologies. He is also a frequent contributor to the 'Humor Times'.