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The Pandemic through CAREGiver Pia's eyes

While this is the first time many of us have experienced a pandemic, for CAREGiver Pia, this is the second time her life has been impacted by a coronavirus. Pia was teaching English and living in China during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004. She knew about the outbreak well before many of the locals as she checked World Health Organization website weekly. It wasn’t until February 2003 when the locals were made aware through signs on apartment buildings and light posts. The signs notified them of the new disease and included instructions to wash everything using vinegar and water! There were no instructions to socially distance, but in many of the larger cities, even before SARS, locals regularly wore masks and gloves for protection, and since Pia knew that it could be spread through contact and droplets, she stayed away from large crowds and tried to keep her distance much like we are doing today.

Pia faced an added challenge in China, because as a non-national, many targeted her as having the disease. This was in part because of a news broadcast that featured an American with the virus in a Chinese hospital – they never featured any Chinese people in the hospital so many believed that it was only the foreigners who had the disease. Consequently, only foreigners were required to have their temperature checked before using public transportation, and the locals were vocal in their fear of Pia having the disease. To protect herself from this unwanted attention, Pia went and bought herself a bicycle instead! No one could travel outside of China anyways, so even if she wanted to go further than her bike could take her, she was not allowed. Coming home to Canada was certainly out of the question, and if she did make it back home, she was told she would be quarantined in a Vancouver hotel for three months. Pia felt quite safe staying but was surprised at the strange mannerisms of the locals who sneezed and coughed without concern for where the germs landed. This was their normal she said, as they were never taught to cover their mouth and weren’t instructed any differently after the SARS outbreak.

Pia was not allowed outside of China but was still able to travel within the country. During their May break, Pia and a few other international visitors traveled to a place called Tupan in the Taklamakan Desert. There were no trees or streets around, but bizarrely there was the occasional pedestrian crossing! On their journey, Pia and her friends were stopped by officials in white “moon” suits wearing facemasks and goggles. They asked to see the permission letters that were required to leave town, took each of their temperatures, and Pia remembers them using a wand (like they use at airport security) and needing to lift her arms up, down, then one leg, then the other, and turning around – making for quite the show! Then, to top it all off, with the sun beaming down, each of them along with their vehicle were sprayed with vinegar only to find they were not able continue to their destination because the car itself needed a permission letter in order to travel. Pia found the humor in the situation, and still called the trip a success.

Finding the humor and staying positive is one of Pia’s greatest strengths and certainly helped her as she faced unique challenges living abroad. Pia recalls that in neighboring Kazakhstan, the government told everyone that if they took a shot of whisky in the morning, they would stay healthy – if only it were that easy! People spun their own stories because the information was not made available, and the Chinese government was not trusted by the locals to provide the answers they needed. Pia encouraged her local friends to follow the instructions from her doctor back home, including not to touch the goats and chickens that often joined them on their bus rides. She is grateful that during this pandemic we have been given a good understanding by our officials of what is happening in our city, province, country, and around the world and feels safer because of this.

In China, Pia told me her focus was to put a smile on the faces of the children she taught at school, and here in Canada, Pia finds joy in focusing on the job she loves, caring for seniors. To stay positive, she recommends cleaning the house, getting your papers organized, and feeling the relief of having all those ‘end of the list’ items crossed off. Start making Christmas presents, she says, organize your pictures into albums, try different recipes, and always find a reason to smile.

“It’s all the way you look at it. I do not have time in my life not to be positive and not to see the bright side because it’s a lot more fun! This is my life, and I only have one and I want to make the best of it.” – Pia, CAREGiver

Author: Stefanie Story, Scheduling Manager at Home Instead Senior Care

With varied experience working both behind the scenes and in direct contact with different age groups and their families, Stefanie's background helps her engage with each person and caller in the office. Stefanie started her career with Home Instead Senior Care working as a CAREGiver where she worked with clients of varies needs. 

About Pia: Pia started her journey with Home Instead Senior Care in 2015 and is a valued member of our CAREGiving team. Pia’s reliability, compassion, and patience help her to connect with a variety of clients and she consistently provides them with the care they need and deserve.


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