This St. Patrick’s Day certainly feels better than last year’s. Celebrating the “luck of the Irish” was the furthest thing from my mind in 2020. In fact, for those in the field of aging services, “luck” took on an entirely different meaning. Our guidance (or our curse) was, “it’s not if COVID-19 will hit, but it’s when.” That was the way we operated for four months until the actual first case landed on our campus. During the months of waiting, preparing and steading ourselves for what might happen, we learned a lot about ourselves.
We learned we can adapt and change in a moment’s notice. Our culture is what sustains us, and our team kept coming back in spite of the unknown. We watched as long-term care communities across the country were blamed and persecuted for not only letting COVID-19 in, but for spreading it as well. We were even known by some as super spreaders because of the communal setting in which we serve seniors. At the time I paused and thought of this Irish saying, “I complained I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.” In other words, perspective and a steady voice were incredibly important; not to introduce fear, but to stay positive. To this day I still keep this in mind…not in a sense of “things could also get worse,” but rather, “appreciate where you are. “
For weeks we would say, “We got lucky again,” until that saying meant nothing. We all learned and realized COVID-19 was going to force its way in, despite our best efforts; luck had nothing to do with it. Following the first case this summer, we quickly found ourselves wondering if luck would ever be on our side again.
In early August we found ourselves in shock as the derecho ravaged parts of Iowa. For some of our colleagues this meant not only did they have to evacuate their damaged communities, but they had to do so while some of their residents had tested positive for COVID. Double whammy. I had several calls with colleagues, and the “Why me?” mentality was there but it was never spoken. It was understood. I again was reminded to be thankful.
Then, in the middle of the night in August of 2020, Friendship Haven has its own disaster, albeit not a natural disaster but one that certainly created an emergency. A sprinkler malfunction basically caused our beautiful Kenyon Place to flood, requiring us to evacuate 52 people. Our resilient Kenyon Place residents were forced out of bed in their PJs and told they could not return to their homes. We felt like, “What’s next?”
We felt like “What’s next” for several months as COVID also made its unwelcomed home here for a few weeks. All the while, our team came back every day, and our residents kept smiling in spite of living through a disaster during a pandemic. We were not alone. Many people living and working during the national emergency have found themselves dealing with life’s emergencies as the pandemic raged on.
This week we welcome our first Kenyon Place residents back home. The move-ins will take several weeks. Residents of Kenyon Place, our independent apartments, have been very patient and understanding, and when we fully reopen, they look forward to welcoming more neighbors to their building. They will be sporting, “I survived the flood of 2020” masks, a friendly reminder that even during times of crisis humor, a positive attitude and resiliency can make all the difference in the world.
The silver living in all of this should teach us to appreciate each day. As for this thankful Norwegian during this St. Patrick’s week, I continue to try and keep things in perspective and offer a smile. After all, my most cherished Irish proverb isn’t about luck, it remains “Do not resent growing old. Many are denied the privilege.”
Julie Thorson is president and CEO of Friendship Haven