Pandemic decisions: Bailey’s, bubbles and bikes

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters   

“We humans are wired to pay attention to urgent threats, and so this global pandemic captures our attention in a way that a distant threat like climate change does not,” as the Harvard Business Review reminds us. And while my own attention was being captured in ruthless fashion this past year, I had to make a lot of decisions, both big and small – based on how COVID-19 was affecting my life.     .          .  

Think of some of the decisions you’ve had to make since the pandemic began back in early spring.  Some may have been made hastily, perhaps based on panic (which explains those early days of toilet paper shortages).

Other decisions, however, may be slowly unfolding only now.

Dr. Art Markman is the author of that HBR article and also Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, a podcast co-host of NPR’s “Two Guys On Your Head”, and author of the book Bring Your Brain to Work. Here’s how he explains our decision-making processes this year:

“Panic makes people want to act right now to avoid a threat, but the decision to act should be based on deliberation, sober reflection on data — not in reaction to a headline or a tweet. Fast judgments are generally biased toward action, so you need to slow down to be sure that quick reactions are actually warranted.”

Dr. Markman also lists some key reasons why so many of us find decision-making during this particular crisis to be so challenging:

First, there is a looming present threat (COVID-19 is real, and spreading rapidly).

Second, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this virus (we’re not good at understanding future trends that involve accelerated growth).

Third, people have very little control over the virus spread (yes, we can wash our hands, stay six feet apart and wear masks, but the choices other people are making are completely beyond our control, which can “create anxiety and a desire to do something to re-assert that control”). As Dr. Markman says:

“Threat, uncertainty and anxiety can combine to lead us to make short-sighted decisions.”

He cites the phenomenon of doom-scrolling as an example of an anxiety-producing choice. We crave more information, so we spend more time online looking, looking, looking for news updates – even when we know that consumption of negative news causes us even more stress and anxiety.

One of the basic early decisions my immediate family had to make was to agree on how close – or far apart – we needed to be from each other to create a safe “family bubble” of exposure.

Luckily, my grown kidlets and their families live close by, but back in mid-March, we made the joint decision to keep our distance. Changes made in those early days included:

no physical contact with our darling 5-year old Everly Rose.  I could watch her from afar (learning to ride her new bicycle down the back lanes criss-crossing our neighbourhood, for example) – but no more hugs, no more sleepovers. That lasted for two months during the pandemic’s first wave, until our province managed to “flatten the curve” and public restrictions eased up a bit. Not snuggling with her was heartbreaking for me.

-I ordered my first face mask on Etsy

-I taped red paper hearts to my windows and joined my neighbours at 7 p.m. each evening to bang pots and ring bells to show our appreciation for all healthcare and essential workers

no in-person shopping in stores (or, how I discovered curbside pick-up, no-contact take-out, and home delivery so I could keep supporting local businesses)

-only phone appointments with my doctors

-our family dinners together on Tuesdays were replaced by weekly grocery deliveries from my son Ben, who rang the doorbell and waited out on the sidewalk for me to retrieve the bags he’d dropped at my door. We’d chat outside for a while, and then wave goodbye until next week’s delivery.

no more big gatherings with friends. But staying home didn’t seem like a hardship to me, by the way. As I like to say,

“I’m not STUCK at home. I’m SAFE at home.”

-my favourite gift for my April birthday (inspired early on by astrophysicist Dr. Summer Ash) was the biggest bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream I’d ever seen, for the express purpose of adding a creamy dollop to my morning coffee – until the pandemic, a tradition reserved only for Christmas morning breakfast.

-I updated my will (in case my worst fears came to pass, I resolved to make my will and my wishes expressed in Advance Directives as clear as possible for my executor and my family to handle). See also: Being of Sound Mind: It’s Time to Update Your Will

But one of the most drawn-out decisions over all these months will likely seem like the most unimportant compared to the far worse realities so many others have suffered in 2020 so far.

It was, however, a big one for me. I decided to give up my bicycle.

A once-keen cyclist (whether commuting to work or daytrips with my cycling buddies), I had not ridden my bike for years because of an injured knee that’s worsened over time. My bicycle remained locked up in oblivion, dust-covered, flat-tired, ignored – a sorry sight indeed.

And at least once a year, my neighbours on our condo Strata Council have politely urged me (yet again) to remove my unused bike from its much-coveted reserved spot in our building’s bike storage room. I resisted their requests, though, because, after all,  I may be well enough to resume cycling one day, some day, it could happen, who knows?

Gloria Liu wrote in Bicycling magazine about the day she said goodbye to her own bike:  

“It’s emotional. Not like saying goodbye to a piece of equipment, but to a trusted companion. When you hand it over, you can’t help but recall everything that happened to you on this bicycle, and maybe some of the things that happened in between, too. A bicycle embodies the person you became while you rode it.” 

So getting rid of my bicycle was an emotional decision for me. It meant the definitive end of the old me, and the realistic acceptance of the current me.

But I was tired of facing reality, of facing yet another loss in a string of things I have loved doing that I can no longer do. And I had never NOT had a bike. Until now. See also: The “Loss of Self” in Chronic Illness is What Really Hurts

It took me nine months, but I decided to donate my bicycle to a local bike-sharing non-profit group. As much as I didn’t love the idea of getting rid of my beloved bike, I decided to love the idea of it being enjoyed again. In a way, this felt like I’d finally freed that bicycle to ride on to its new life.

As Dr. Markman confirmed:

“In times of (relatively) slow-developing existential crises like a pandemic, it is best to take your time when making decisions rather than acting on gut feelings.”

Image:  Arek Socha, Pixabay

Q:  Do you recall your own reactions to the early pandemic decisions you made?


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  I wrote lots more about adjusting to life as a heart patient in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease , published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2017.  You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).


See also:

-Other Heart Sisters articles about living in the time of COVID-19

Learning to live with “infinite losses” in chronic illness

The familiar self, the unfamiliar self and the recovery of self

Four ways we use online info to make healthcare decisions

Making heart-healthy decisions: are you on autopilot?


19 thoughts on “Pandemic decisions: Bailey’s, bubbles and bikes

  1. I support all pandemic restrictions, but it’s been tough on me and my family.

    My Mum’s 95th birthday was only celebrated by phone due to lockdowns. My son’s wedding was postponed and then took place with most of us family and friends watching on zoom. We have 2 young grandchildren who will probably be at least a year older when we see them again than when we last saw them.
    I had cancer surgery alone. My husband dropped me at the hospital door, then picked me up there when I was discharged. The same with 6 weeks of radiation and chemo. I have only been out for medical reasons and no one has been here.

    I’m lucky that my husband is able to get groceries at the supermarket’s Monday 1-hour early opening for shoppers at increased risk. We order online for contact-free delivery of non-food items and occasional dinners.

    It’s a good year to be taking it easy and convalescing, but a lonely one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Jenn – your list is a good example of how profound the big changes to “normal” life have been in 2020 – e.g. not being able to spend time with our darling little grandchildren in person. It’s the unexpected but necessary experiences – going through your surgery, chemo and radiation by yourself – that seem the most distressing to me. That kind of ‘alone’ is clearly not “normal” in our society – yet it has become perversely normal now – and for understandable reasons.

      We had a sudden death in our family a couple months ago, at which point we had to learn all about the “normal” traditions that usually surround funerals – which were simply no longer possible…

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


      1. Carolyn, I’m sorry to hear you had a death in your family. It’s especially harsh to have a loved one die and to not be able to get together for physical and emotional support. Whatever rituals we follow normally help us to mark and survive this sadness.

        I don’t know how I forgot to mention that my daughter was suddenly widowed in March when her healthy husband had a ruptured aneurysm! She was left alone, thousands of kilometers away from any of us in her immediate family. Her brother flew to be with her for a week, then had to return home and self-isolate for two weeks. Excruciating for her, it was terrible for us all.


        1. Oh no! That’s so sad, Jenn. That’s the kind of “unexpected” crisis that’s so tough to get through even at the best of times (Compared to scheduled and planned events, even weddings or birthday parties that are sad to miss at the time, but far more easily celebrated belatedly some other time). My condolences to your daughter and to your whole family on this tragic loss…. ♥


  2. Doom scrolling” — so there is a name for what I have been doing for months! I haven’t been able to figure out why I just can’t stop reading the news on my iPhone and iPad, sometimes for hours a day.

    True, since I had to quit my part time job in July, I’ve had very little else to do with my time, but it’s not like I can’t find other things to do around the house. My hubby is alarmed and a bit annoyed at this behavior, I think, but with the election and COVID news it’s become an obsession or an addiction — it’s like a soap opera or a riveting novel that I just can’t put down until I find out how it all comes out!

    I think it’s a bit better since the election — at least we know how that finally came out. Hoping the holidays will give me more useful ways to fill up the time at home. Nice to know this isn’t as abnormal and unique as I thought, although none of my friends seems to be doing this! At least I’m well-informed …

    So sorry about your bike Carolyn. I know that must have been a hard decision, not unlike giving up driving a car I suppose. Perhaps you can invest in a nice exerbike so you can still get the cardio you need? I have a recumbent exerbike that has really helped with that. Very comfortable to use and I have some knee troubles too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Meghan – YES there IS a name for what you have been doing! I too sometimes find myself in that seductive doom-scrolling downward spiral, yet I know it’s not good for my mental health!

      For example, I find myself examining the daily Exposure Alerts on our local CDC website that lists all incoming domestic and international flights identified as carrying a confirmed COVID-positive case onboard – even though I’m not flying and don’t plan to be flying AT ALL – yet I seem to be obsessed with who all of those infected passengers might be infecting as they move from the plane to the aiport, the baggage carousel, the taxi, the restaurant, their families/friends, etc etc etc before they were finally identified as positive…. You’re right – it’s like a soap opera!!

      I might look into one of those recumbent bikes – but really, nothing matches riding a bike with the sun and wind on your face . . . Maybe I’ll have to invest in a heat lamp and a fan too… 😉

      I have found two activities that work as effective distractions from doom-scrolling: jigsaw puzzles (my puzzle-mad friend buys these 4 at a time and passes them on to me when she’s done!) and reading, especially biographies that have absolutely nothing to do with pandemics. Today, I’m finishing up Kitty Kelley’s biography of Elizabeth Taylor, which would not normally be part of my must-read list but I have not been able to put this book down all weekend! I plan to go right back to it now in fact.

      Take care, stay safe… ♥


  3. Thank you for your bike story Carolyn. I gave up my bike last December when I saw the information about the SpandexDads Bicycle Group collecting bikes and having them checked over at Oak Bay Bicycle Shop and then given to kids/adults that needed one!

    I dropped mine off at the Bike Shop and they were happy to get it! I remember the feeling of loss, but just knowing that someone else will love it made it easier! I had only taken it out of my parking spot in the apartment building twice to go grocery shopping in the past year…. so it was time to give others my spot!

    I wasn’t as comfortable riding it on the roads as I was when I rode it daily to work either. I hope this encourages others to do the same!

    I’m coming up to 5 years since my Open Heart Surgery to have my Aortic Valve Replaced. Thank you for your Articles and your timely information! We need you more now than ever as our Women’s Heart Group has disbanded at RJH in Victoria. No more encouraging monthly meetings for Women Only.

    Thank you to Rose and Barb for hosting these meetings. It was a great help to us women while recovering from our surgeries or encountering the scary diagnosis of Heart Surgery required.

    Was so good to know we were not alone! We were the only WomenHeart Women’s Group in Canada. Hopefully we can bring it back!
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary Lou – I love that name (Spandex Dads!) and also what Oak Bay Bikes (and other bike retailers) are doing to recycle good bikes.

      I’m not surprised of course that the in-person WomenHeart support group has temporarily disbanded because of the pandemic – but it will be awesome when that group is once again able to meet at the hospital!

      I know that this group was a true labour of love for both Barb (now retired from her longtime cardiac social work role) and Rose (no longer working in cardiology) – but I hope another qualified group leader will emerge once the pandemic precautions have been lifted.

      There is another option out there (not nearly as wonderful as in-person, but…) the online Virtual Support groups run by WomenHeart are still being offered every month (for example, on December 9th, 8p.m. EST the discussion topic for heart patients will be “Heart Healthy Holidays”. More info about upcoming dates can be found here.

      Take care Mary Lou and stay safe… ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The hardest impact of the pandemic isn’t necessarily about a decision I made, but it has been profound. I’ve had a series of very difficult medical issues in the last six months and been hospitalized four times. The hospital won’t let any family/visitors in, so I’m left alone.

    I’m usually pretty okay with hospitalizations, but these are profoundly lonely and scary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my… Four hospitalizations in six months? And each one with no family/visitors to help support you? I suspect it feels even worse precisely because that ‘no visitors’ decision has been made FOR you, not with you. Although it makes perfect sense from a public health perspective – to help stop the spread of the virus within hospital and protect other patients and staff – it’s so hurtful for individual patients…

      Take care, stay safe…. ♥


  5. The biggest impact COVID has had on my life is not being able to work at the daycare where I was/am a substitute teacher. I love those kids, but can’t take that increased risk of catching COVID with my aged parents I help take care of and my impending surgery. Oh, and of course, having the surgery postponed due to the hospital having so many cases of COVID.

    I understand how emotional giving up your bike was. It sounds like you gave it to a great organization where it can be useful again.

    Liked by 1 person

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