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Newsday Voices: Long Islanders' pandemic stories in their own words

The coronavirus has affected all of us over the last year. But we weren’t affected the same.

It’s forced many of us to embrace a new normal, one lacking many social structures and support systems that made our lives work. Some have lost work. Some have had to work harder than ever before.

Many of us have lost activities that once kept us happy or time with family and friends. Some have lost family and friends.

We’ve all read the daily news reports and pored over the positivity rates. We’ve watched the death toll creep up and heard about what the pandemic has done to local businesses. But behind those numbers are real people, people like these seven Long Islanders, who have agreed to share their stories.

Get to know them. They are our "Voices."

Meet our contributors

Jennifer Londino

Jennifer Londino

English teacher and caregiver

'We tell our father what he has told us for decades – to never quit despite the difficulties.'

Last March, while my father was undergoing radiation treatments for meningioma, he came down with a fever, tested positive for COVID on March 27, and by the 29th he was admitted to the hospital. Within three hours he was intubated and spent the next seven-and-a-half weeks on a ventilator, during which he suffered two substantial strokes that left him with full cortical blindness, memory loss and right-sided weakness.

His prognosis was anything but encouraging. He would spend nearly the rest of the year in an acute rehab and then a subacute rehabilitation facility fighting to come home.

On December 21 we welcomed our warrior home with open arms but not knowing what to expect. Due to his blindness he would need complete assistance in his daily activities. As he attempted to grapple with all that has happened to him, we, too, looked to find ways to create a conducive environment, a home where he could heal. We are not there yet. The obstacles seem insurmountable at times as we address the physical, mental and emotional issues.

He often questions why this has happened to him. Our answer? We tell our father what he has told us for decades-- to never quit despite the difficulties. There have been days we have wanted to quit as the road ahead feels quite daunting. But then we are reminded of the warrior who walks proudly through the home-- step by step, he tries and he endures. He continues to wake up and he tries to do more than the day before. Bob triumphs.

Jean Ann Garrish, Franklin Square, Office manager, for

Jean Ann Garrish

musician

'I was kind of angry she was asking me to love this virus, was she crazy?'

I couldn’t wait for the clock to strike midnight on New Year's Eve, so I could happily kiss 2020 goodbye.

After losing my mom in October, and the stress and anxiety that came with the pandemic, I yearned for the clean slate a new year seems to offer. And the end of a nightmare.

But as I sit down to write this, I’m obsessively checking my temperature and my oxygen levels, as it hasn’t been two full days since I’ve received my positive COVID results. I’ve had a low-grade fever for a few days, but my oxygen levels are in the high 90’s and aside from a weird feeling in my lungs when I breath in deeply, a symptom that the physician assistant who gave me my results said is common, I have no other issues.

It’s been over 10 days since I’ve been exposed, so I’m hoping this is as bad as it will get. But as a person who suffers from a very active imagination and anxiety, I know I’ll continue to check my vitals every hour. Somehow this will make me feel better and worse.

So now what? What do I do now that it turns out that 12:01 a.m. January 1st, 2021 wasn’t a miracle? I now know it didn’t magically change everything. I realize I have a choice to make. This morning I did a guiding meditation for healing on the Insight Timer app on my phone. The calm woman with what sounded like an Australian accent said for me to love my illness and to accept it, because healing can only come from love and you can only change things once you accept them. I was kind of angry she was asking me to love this virus, was she crazy? But I really want to be well, so I’ll bite.

In order for me to love something I don’t like I think I need to find some way to be grateful for it. So, what can COVID show me? For one, I’m reminded of how much love I’m surrounded with. My friends and family have been there for me 100 percent, dropping off thermometers and pulse oximeters, toilet paper and cold meds. Checking in all the time.

What else? Well, I can spend the entire day in bed watching movies I’ve been wanting to watch without feeling guilty like I normally would. I always feel like there’s something I should be doing at all times otherwise I’m not really living. But now, there’s nothing I can do, except to rest and heal. All I need to do is to take care of myself.

That’s another thing it’s showing me. Not feeling totally well makes me want to feel well. It’s a reminder that I only have one body, so maybe I should try to take care of it as best as I can while I can. I can’t wait to be able to walk 10,000 steps every day.

And what about acceptance? Coincidentally, I had chose a word to focus on in 2021. Guess what it was? You got it, acceptance. Be careful what you put out there, because now a few days into the new year I’m being asked to accept this, and I don’t really want to. But it seems like I have no other choice. And if it’s true that you can’t change what you don’t accept, I might as well get down to it.

I’m COVID positive. I have a temperature of 99.4 currently (yes, I've checked my temp two times since I sat down to write this), and I have to rest so that my body has a chance to heal itself. Was this how I expected to start 2021? Absolutely not. But that’s life. If 2020 has shown me anything it’s that everything is out of our control, except for our reaction to it, and I’m choosing to accept that this is where I am right now. I’m choosing to be gentle with myself. I’m choosing to accept where I am. I’m going to let my body heal. Tomorrow is a new day, one where I have no idea what will happen, but I get the opportunity to choose how I face that as well. I can only hope that once I’m well, I’ll continue to face each day with that same gentleness and acceptance, and gratitude for the love around me.

Joicy Salgado, Psychotherapist, Valley Stream, Newsday Voices: My

Joicy Salgado

mental health counselor

'Loss continues to be in the forefront, and yet hope peeks in.' 

If we ever thought life had ups and downs, then 2020 was a compressed lifetime.

My 2020 began with a trip to my hometown in the Andes in Peru, as well as to my husband's warm hometown in Central America. It was a very deep ancestral connected trip. I loved every minute.

We came back already concerned as every airport worker in El Salvador had masks on. When we landed at JFK, it was as if nothing was happening. You can imagine our confusion.

Pretty much after that, the theme of loss became apparent. As a mental health counselor, I was going through the motions with my clients. They looked to me for support and guidance, and I believe working with them, even virtually, was very comforting. My work became the constant fixture in a fast-changing world.

In my personal life, I lost many family members and friends due to COVID. Some recuperated, thankfully.

For 2021, I am looking forward to spending time with family, to continue developing clarity, community, and spaces in which I can continue to self reflect and engage in fruitful conversations. The past few days have been hectic, globally, nationally, and personally. Loss continues to be in the forefront, and yet hope peeks in.

Emily Scott, 21 year old Long Island native,

Emily Scott

student

'After the Tower comes the Star.' 

Honestly, I thought 2020 was going to be my year: I was scheduled for weight loss surgery, I was turning 21, and looking into summer internships.

Needless to say the first and last items on that list did NOT happen, since March 2020 changed everything. However, the year allowed me to mentally and spiritually grow.

While at home, I picked up my astrology and tarot studies, and finally started therapy for the first time in seven-ish years.

As for 2021, I tell myself this: after the Tower comes the Star. In tarot, the Tower depicts the fall from grace, as a lightning bolt strikes a tower, setting it on fire as two individuals fall from it. It is the ultimate disaster. The card following the Tower is the Star, and it depicts a woman cleansing herself and the Earth with water from a pond. The Star signifies hope and a new beginning, and that’s what I hope 2021 is for all of us; a new beginning, the rainbow after the storm, the victory after the battle.

Alyse Freda-Colon, at her Huntington home, Friday, March

Alyse Freda-Colon

psychotherapist

'It's such an odd time; like the entire country was put in a 'time out.''

My 2020 started off promising: I had my 50th birthday in January surrounded by everyone I love. I had restructured my private practice and I was so excited for the new year .. and then BOOM! Everything changed.

It took a few weeks to figure out how we would all adjust to living in a little bubble, which we did, and I was able to transition my practice to entirely online doing tele-health, which has turned out to be fantastic.

My son has now been doing college from our living room, as Oneonta was one of the first schools to shut down this past fall with huge positivity rates of COVID. All in all it's been such an interesting time, and for our family, the slowed down pace and hunkering down piece has been nice. Our family has been healthy, which of course we are hugely thankful for.

I used to take spin class at New York Sports Club four days a week, so when the shutdown happened, I splurged and bought a Peloton, which has been the greatest outlet for me. And a few weeks ago, we were finally able to adopt a dog, who has infused our home with fun and love.

It's such an odd time; like the entire country was put in a "time out," where there were no more social obligations, things we thought were necessities became less so and we learned how to be resilient and take things as they come. I think that will be the greatest lesson of the pandemic: that there are alternative ways of doing your job, that maybe doing less is OK, and that it is OK look at how you prioritize things and make adjustments going forward.

The state of our country is an absolute mess right now and I only hope that things calm down and that people remember what our country is supposed to represent. So I'd describe 2020 as completely wacko with some surprising gifts as well.

Daniel Pedisich, Huntington, Newsday Voices participant.

Daniel Pedisich

restaurant owner

'It is obvious that the culture of dining out has changed.'

I own Konoba Huntington restaurant, in Huntington Village. We opened in February of 2019, and prior to that, I owned Bin 56 Wine Bar. "Konoba" is the Croatian word for "tavern" or "wine bar" and I was also in the past an importer of wines from Croatia. The inspiration for Konoba was the success of the Croatian team at the World Cup in 2018.

We were open for almost exactly a year when COVID hit and I knew right away that this would never be the same again the moment dining rooms were closed on March 16, 2020. Social norms were going to change and that would be the end of packing people into restaurants for many years. It has continued to evolve, and it is obvious that the culture of dining out has changed, most notably, I think outdoor dining is here to stay.

Lyrikah Rodrigues, New Hyde Park, Student, I'm a

Lyrikah Rodrigues

student

'When I look back at the year, I find it difficult to say I’ve accomplished much.'

As a young adult just starting college, I feel like the onus is on me to offer more positivity and hope to the people around me. I feel the responsibility to have the most energy and enthusiasm and drive for life in comparison to the other adults in my family. However, this could not be more opposite from how I felt on Day 1 of 2021.

That is not to say that when I was younger, I was not a bright, imaginative, and optimistic child. However, this time around, I was not as excited for the new year as I was unable to picture a future, let alone a bright and happy one.

Many people on social media were welcoming the end of 2020 as though, like in some fairytale story, the world would magically change, the pandemic would vanish, and life would return to normalcy. I feel that we humans are the only species that are so controlled by time, so obsessive and hypnotized by it. The rest of nature does not follow a schedule as strictly as we do, hence I knew that 2021 would not bring much relief, not right away at least.

True enough, with the political tensions rising to a boiling point, we barely lasted a week into 2021 without a historic moment being made. If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of my grandfather due to COVID-19 have taught me it's that time is precious.

Before we know it, it’s almost one year since we’ve been "on pause." It’s been eight months since I lost my grandfather. When I look back at the year, I find it difficult to say I’ve accomplished much.

I don’t want to take things for granted again. Who knew that something as easy as breathing would be under so much risk?

This year, I’m looking forward to taking small steps toward larger goals: graduating from college, furthering my education, developing my writing skills, giving back to the community, and finding a purpose in life so that I can be that bright, optimistic kid, while simultaneously having a good grip on reality.

I’m looking forward to accomplishing a lot, just as my grandfather did, and in doing so I hope to carry on his legacy of being well-rounded and well-established in the community.

We recently asked our contributors: What was the moment you realized this pandemic would change your life? See their responses.

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