Jonathan Vatner in Building Operations on April 23, 2020
When my husband and I moved into our co-op in Yonkers in 2018, we were told again and again – by our broker, by the 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 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, he developed a nasty cough and took to bed. Since we had already passed the 14-day incubation period, I hoped it was just allergies. His doctor couldn’t confirm a COVID-19 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.
An email from the management company had already notified us that someone in the building had the virus, and everyone I’d passed in the corridors prior to our self-quarantine 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 confidential. First of all, we weren’t sure he had COVID-19. Second, letting everyone know might set off more panic. I decided not to say anything, hoping we could ride out the illness in privacy.
But a few days after Morty fell ill, our downstairs neighbor called me because water was dripping into her apartment. Could the building send a plumber into ours? I told her with a sigh that no one should enter our home 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. Volunteers shopped for groceries – even going to a second supermarket when the first had sold out of Greek yogurt. Friends who lived 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.
Just as Morty 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 that 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. I lost my sense of smell but, oddly, not my sense of taste. I spent one restless night with pain in my legs. The one constant was exhaustion. I knew the virus could migrate to my lungs and I could die, but I managed not to worry about those darker outcomes. I was at the mercy of this awful bug, and I accepted that its course was beyond my control.
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. It was over! I’d been inside for 17 days, but I hadn’t felt cooped up because we’d been so well cared for. We felt immense gratitude for the kindness of our neighbors and staff. Our co-op’s sense of 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 from St. Martin’s Press.
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