New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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When my husband and I moved into our building in Yonkers in 2018, we were told again and again – by our broker, by the co-op admissions committee, by just about every friendly face at the Fourth of July barbecue – that a sense of community was extremely important to the residents. We didn’t realize just how true this was until we got sick with COVID-19.
We assume my husband, Morty, picked up the coronavirus at the hospital where he works. Two weeks and two days after we began working from home, becoming best friends with Zoom, Webex and SimplePractice, he developed a nasty cough and took to bed. Since we had already passed the 14-day incubation period, I hoped it was allergies and not COVID-19. His doctor couldn’t confirm a diagnosis, but nevertheless, I kept my distance and upped our cleaning regimen. To protect our neighbors, we stopped leaving the apartment, even to take out the trash.
Thanks to a recent shopping frenzy, we’d hoarded enough food for weeks.
An email from the management company had notified us that someone in the building had the virus, and everyone I’d passed in the corridors (shimmying along the wall to maintain distance) was terrified they’d be next. Now that my husband was sick, I hesitated to tell management, even though they promised our names would be kept out of any communications. First of all, we weren’t sure he had COVID-19. Second, I didn’t see how letting everyone know would do anything but set off more panic. I decided not to say anything, hoping we could ride out the illness in secret.
But a few days after my husband fell ill, our downstairs neighbor called me because water was dripping into her apartment. Could the building send a plumber up to our apartment? I told her with a sigh that no one should enter because my husband was sick, possibly with COVID-19. A few minutes later, the building manager called us. He urged us to get tested and to stay inside the apartment.
I expected everyone to stay as far away as possible while we rode out my husband’s illness. Instead, we experienced a bloom of generosity and care from both the staff and residents. Our super came daily, sometimes twice, to drop off our packages and pick up our trash and recyclables that we left in the hallway. A volunteer shopped for the groceries we’d run out of – even going to a second supermarket when the first had sold out of Greek yogurt. Friends who live in the building hung gifts from the farmer’s market on our doorknob, and they supplied us with two priceless items: hand sanitizer and paper towels. Our downstairs neighbor called every few days to check on us.
As it turned out, it was just about impossible to get a COVID-19 test. The few drive-through centers in Westchester County were prioritizing patients who needed hospitalization, and thankfully, my husband could still breathe, despite his cough. By this point, based on his worsening chest pain, we were relatively certain he had the virus.
Just as he began to recover, I was hit with overwhelming fatigue. The next morning, I could barely lift my head. I made a video appointment with a doctor, who confirmed what I’d guessed: I, too, had contracted COVID-19.
Every day I woke up to a new unpleasantness. First, my clothes felt like sandpaper against my newly hypersensitive skin. Then I developed a sinus headache, though I wasn’t congested. I lost my sense of smell but, oddly, not my sense of taste: I could still discern sweet, bitter and spicy flavors, but my potent lemon lotion smelled like nothing. And I spent one restless night with pain in my legs. The one constant was exhaustion. My second novel is slated for publication in 2021, and my revisions were past due, but I didn’t have the energy to look at the document.
I knew the virus could migrate to my lungs and send me to the hospital. I knew I could die. But I managed not to worry about those darker outcomes. I was at the mercy of this awful bug, and though I slept a lot, breathed deeply as much as possible, took zinc and vitamin C and ate well, I accepted that the virus’s course was not under my control.
A friend who’d recovered from COVID-19 told me she was sick for three weeks, as were her family and friends. I despaired: I was a week in, and it had felt like a year. But soon I began to feel better in the evenings. Then one morning, 10 days after I’d first felt sick, I leaped out of bed, astonished and delighted with my energy. It was over! The next day, I went outside for the first time in 17 days. But I hadn’t felt cooped up, in large part because we’d been so well cared for. We felt immense gratitude for the kindness of our neighbors and staff. The strength of our building’s community wasn’t just something to brag about at parties; it was real, and it mattered.
Jonathan Vatner’s first novel, “Carnegie Hill,” about an Upper East Side co-op, was published in 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books. His second novel, “The Bridesmaids Union,” is scheduled for publication next year by St. Martin’s Press.
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