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#FrontStepProject: Anne & Carl

Anne and Carl met in Omaha, Nebraska, 22 years ago. In 2000, they moved to NE Minneapolis and then bought their home in Columbia Heights in 2003.

I was very excited to converse with someone who had been in Columbia Heights for more than a handful of years! I asked Anne what she’s thought of Columbia Heights as it’s changed over time. She acknowledged  that the demographic of her neighborhood has changed a bit. Her neighbor only recently moved out at the age of 95, at which point she was still mowing her own lawn. Now that home is being rented. Anne has noticed a couple houses being sold and bought multiple times on their block. All of this has resulted in a diverse neighborhood which Anne and Carl love. They regret that they don’t get to know the next door renters as well as the owners.

Anne and Carl are childfree, just like my partner and me; however, like my partner and me, they have a few “furrbabies” (my term, not theirs). They have 2 cats they call “The Johnsons” named after the man from whom they adopted them. They also have a bulky and enthusiastic black lab named Rocky, who cannot be done justice in an article. He needs to be met. I have never felt so welcomed upon arrival until Rocky greeted me at the socially distant photoshoot.

Anne works as a hospice nurse. Let’s just stop here for a moment and say that she educated me a LOT during our phone interview. There are a lot of misconceptions about what hospice is and I had all those misconceptions. Firstly, Anne says that hospice isn’t necessarily a “place” of care people go to. For instance, Anne is a traveling hospice nurse; she goes where the patients are, wherever they are. Secondly, receiving hospice care doesn’t necessarily mean “you’re about to die”. To be indicated for hospice care, two physicians need to hold an opinion that a patient may die within 6 months. That’s quite the prediction to make, so it’s not surprising that many folx “graduate” from hospice care. Anne has been with her clinic for 14 years. Anne switched to hospice work most recently in March to serve during this pandemic. Before that, she had been working as a triage nurse (and, before that, more time in both hospice and palliative care). Her work can involve such things as helping patients complete their advanced directives, their POLST (physician order for life sustaining treatment), or even serve as a notary public. She also deals directly with patients dying of COVID19. Anne says that over half of her patients have been tested positive for COVID19 and she anticipates most will survive. However, she did acknowledge that she’s had 9 patients within her team’s care who have died of COVID19 (they usually have 30 patients per team). Anne has noticed that those with COVID19 who end up dying typically have pre-existing, underlying diagnoses including dementia or other memory care related issues. She hypothesizes that a vector for the spread of COVID19 in these facilities may be due to their inability to understand the need to stay in their room and reduce contact with others.

Due to a general shortage of N95 masks even in hospitals tasked with working with COVID patients, staff has been using surgical masks. Emerging evidence is showing that surgical masks are just as effective as N95 masks with the exception of those working directly with patients on ventilators. Carl still insists that Anne wear an N95 mask while working with COVID patients or in facilities where they live even though the N95 masks are hard to find. However, people in Anne's life have sent her N95 masks for her to use in her work, which she appreciates. At work, she wears her N95 mask, her work mask, her face shield, and a gown. She has a routine when she gets home from work: takes off her "COVID shoes" outside, strip once inside the house, get into a robe, and jump straight into the shower. Her husband, Carl, follows behind, picking up the discarded articles, wiping off door handles and the like. Carl is another kind of hero in supporting Anne so she can be the hero for the rest of us.

Speaking of heroes, I asked Anne what she thought about all the healthcare hero worship, especially after reading this article entitled, "I'm a Health Care Worker, and I Didn't Sign Up For This." She responds by telling me a story. She was with a patient for five hours the other day, caring for him while he was dying. She connected him with his family by phone to say goodbye. Wearing her N95 mask, her surgery mask, and her face shield, she held her phone up to the patient's ear so he could say goodbye. Later frustrated, she thought, "I am with this patient for 5 hours. I'm not being provided the N95 masks and you're telling me it's okay. I'm right in his face and you're telling me it's OK. I don't believe it's OK."The good news is they are finding that with the proper protection, even using surgical masks, anecdotal evidence is showing workers aren't getting sick in significant numbers. Though with Carl's insistence, Anne has been re-using her (non-work issued) N95 masks, one a day, letting them disinfect during her non-traveling weeks. Despite her frustration with this situation, she is trying to make the best of it, saying, "whatever this is, it is".

Anne has also enjoyed some silver linings in her work. She gets to help patients connect with their families when they're otherwise isolated. She also was able to facilitate patients contacting a chaplain, a musical therapist, and a social worker all on video chat. The musical therapist played classical music for patients. The Chaplain prayed for those who asked for it. However, Anne says it's hard to use her work phone for these connections since these patients are infected. She says people don't realize how distressing this is to nursing facilities. She sees the desperation in the faces of the nurses at these care facilitates. Aides are terrified to take care of the patients. It is weighing heavily on the nurses. Anne says she looks into the workers' eyes and they say, "help me".

Ah, but this article wasn't just about Anne, right? There was some other guy, too, I think. Carl?Yeah, Carl. Carl ended up being laid off as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic. He had been working as an environmental consultant, part of which involved technical writing and editing. He is 59 years young and Anne is 48, so Carl is seriously considering making this his opportunity to retire early as it appears to be financially feasible for their home.

For Anne and Carl, things have been different for them as a couple. There have been some days where Anne has slept in another room, afraid she will infect Carl.He bought a spare TV and otherwise prepped the extra room just in case Anne gets sick. Though, they both have resigned themselves to the fact that if Anne gets sick, they're both going to get sick. They've been using their free time at home to garden, installing their vegetable garden last weekend and beginning their flower garden this week. They take the lovable Rocky out for walks every night. They've been seeing a lot more people outside in their neighborhood, folx they hadn't met yet.

One thing that Carl and Anne are sad about is missing out on using their old VW Westfalia '85 camper van. They love going out camping for one or two nights nearby and they're not sure that's going to be a possibility this year. They also don't have any immediate family close by, so they usually travel to Arkansas and Colorado every year to see them. They doubt that's going to be a possibility this year, too. They will also really miss out on college football. Go Cornhuskers! Go Gophers!

In general, Carl and Anne are just working to make their lives as normal as possible. They acknowledge the privilege they have in having the money needed to keep food on the table, pay their bills, and mortgage. They've been enjoying gardening by buying their plants from Pletcher's in New Brighton. Anne also wants to enthusiastically promote Que Viet in NE Mpls. They have the BEST EGG ROLLS ever. Anne also seconded a previous #frontstepproject individual's recommendation of Brothers Taquería in New Brighton. She says portions are small, so order more than you think you want. Not a problem for me, Anne.

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