From The Top – A Year I’d like To Forget

Balancing fear, safety, reality and life in a COVID-19 world

By David Zurfluh

January’s jokes of 20/20 vision and what a clear year this would be lost their humor this spring, as it suddenly turned dark and cloudy for almost everyone.

This year will be the measuring stick to compare how bad future years will be and past years were. In 2020’s first two months, we lost two very prominent Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) figures — former senior national employee Russ Mank (Air Force colonel), who held numerous senior level positions, and former National Director Jim Russell (Marine Corps major). More deaths of past and present PVA leaders followed, and by November that figure was in double-digits.

I personally lost my brother-in-law, who was an Army veteran, to cancer. Two people with whom I served on local neighborhood boards also died. I’ve been to too many funerals and memorials this year. I don’t want to repeat it.

Then, a virus that started in China — the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) — suddenly moved front and center by early spring. My wife, Marilou, and I started a normal Washington, D.C., trip at the end of February, marked by crowded airplanes and airports, only to come home two weeks later wearing masks in nearly empty airplanes and airports. We were afraid to touch anything or engage with anyone and didn’t know what COVID-19 really was. 

After getting home and starting lockdown procedures, we learned of people in our PVA family contracting the virus and dying from its effects. To date, hundreds of PVA members have tested positive for the virus, and their deaths are under 100. Thousands of veterans and Department of Veterans Affairs staff have tested positive. More than 200,000 deaths have occurred in the U.S. overall from the virus. Personal protective equipment, social distancing and constant hand washing have become the new normal.

In March, the country and world started to shut down. PVA was no different. Commuting to work was replaced by web conferencing/telecommuting. Large group events started being pushed back a month or longer at first, then began being postponed a year or canceled until further notice.

The first significant event canceled for PVA members was the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado, followed by the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Oregon, the PVA Healthcare Summit + Expo in Florida and then most in-person Veterans Day activities in Washington, D.C.

PVA’s annual convention and fall Board of Directors meetings were done virtually for the first time in the organization’s 74-year history.  The new PVA Executive Committee was voted in virtually during the convention for the first time in PVA history, as well.

I can’t begin to quantify the psychological damage this virus has caused on humanity. It has stressed couples, families, friends and acquaintances to the brink. How many times did you cancel family or public gatherings out of fear of the unknown? Did you avoid strangers for fear of the virus? Have you been afraid to go to your work or chapter office because of the virus? Are and were you afraid to go to a medical appointment because of the virus? Did you cancel a trip/vacation because of the virus?

There are many other questions we can ask, and the reasons we did what we did to avoid contracting this virus are justifiable. But how do we balance fear, safety, reality and life when it comes to living with COVID-19?

All of us are navigating uncharted waters right now and getting hit by waves of information that range from clear to convoluted to everything in between. The key is to gather what you need to set sail for a better place.

That place is within view in the form of vaccines and better virus testing and treatments, but it’s slightly out of reach for now. On the other hand, I’m confident more than ever better days and a return our past lifestyles/work styles will come back again!  

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