Outbreak Wisconsin chronicles people’s journeys through the coronavirus crisis, exposes failing systems and explores solutions.
Last summer Beverly Blietz spent her spare time driving for Uber in the northern Wisconsin tourist mecca of Door County. She shuttled visitors between hotels, campgrounds, bars and restaurants, and said she absolutely loved talking to people while driving them around. At the time, she was 84.
She described her Uber experience in a text message as “SO MUCH FUN!!”
This summer looks markedly different for Blietz, who unexpectedly found her movements restricted — due to her age, the virus, and the rules of the independent living facility where she lives in Sister Bay, Wis.
Blietz, 85, moved into an independent living apartment at Good Samaritan Society – Scandia Village in November 2018 to be close to her husband Bruce, who had been admitted to the skilled nursing facility that May for around-the-clock care. The switch from their four-bedroom house on 12 acres to a 680-foot “compartment” — as she calls it — was a huge lifestyle change. Her husband died last year. They had been married for 65 years.
She said the adjustment to widowhood and senior living was hard, but because she could still drive and was living in an independent unit, she still felt like she had her freedom.
When the pandemic arrived, that all changed.
“I learned for the first time that my so-called ‘independent living arrangement’ is indeed governed by nursing home rules. I’m not only quarantined, but my environment is completely locked down, and the freedom I’d hoped and planned for, was not to be.”
Since the pandemic hit, isolation has set in. All group activities and meals have been canceled, and visitation is restricted to “essential” visitors. There are daily health screenings for all residents and employees. No more running out for errands: Groceries and prescriptions are picked up by volunteers and delivered to residents’ doors. For those who can’t drive, there is no way to leave.
The restrictions remain in place even though Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order has been lifted. The rules have been particularly challenging for Blietz, who is used to a lot of human contact, including with her son and daughter, who both live in neighboring towns.
“I’m a hugger. I hug trees, animals, strangers. And, I tell people I love them because loving others is something that makes me feel loved.”
Blietz understands the restrictions and said she greatly appreciates the staff at Scandia. Still, she thinks about how many years she has left and how much the lockdown has diminished her quality of life.
“While I’m realizing that life will never be the same for anyone, I worry about how many days remain for me on earth, and I grieve for the time that’s being wasted, and my opportunities that are lost.”
She battles mood swings. Sometimes she has trouble sleeping. She said it’s hard not having something to look forward to.
“At the outset, my resentment knew no bounds, even as I’m aware of why. The leash just doesn’t fit. I keep telling my adult children that while we don’t have control over the virus, we do have control over our attitude towards our circumstances.
“I practice what I preach. Getting control of myself and my disappointment is very challenging. And I’m really tired of reminding myself to act like a grownup.”
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.