In the last few months, everyone’s definition of a normal day has changed. This change has permeated simple tasks like grocery shopping, making them feel like a gamble. It has changed how we experience each other from a minimum of six feet away or via video conference rather than with the intimacy of touch and physical presence.
When crisis strikes, as humans, we adapt. This pandemic was clearly no exception.
It is something that nearly every person globally is or has experienced. I was feeling the weight of it myself. I was trying to understand my new realities. In most respects, I was hoping they were temporary, but in others, I was trying to learn from them. While I was physically somewhat alone, existentially, I knew I was not alone. My fellow Oklahomans were going through the same: hurting, enduring, learning, hoping and adapting to this new norm.
In times of social distancing or quarantine, the mere nature of it requires us to remove ourselves from others’ experiences. The forced isolation has the ability for so much to be lost in the storylines that define how our global society handled this time of crisis. I wondered if there was a way to help others see this adventure of sorts, as it was being experienced by others and how they met this challenge of the time, to recognize that we are all in this together.
Oklahomans are a resilient people. We weathered the weight of the Great Depression. We took a bombing that shook us in ways we never expected and used it to fuel a strength that compelled our state to new heights. As an Oklahoman, I had no doubt that we were prepared to confront this pandemic and persevere.
I began this photojournalism project to ensure that our experiences and strength was preserved in yet another trying time. I wanted this project to be candid. I wanted it to be authentic. This journey is Oklahoman. It is their words, their stories and their raw experience viewed through the lens of my camera.
Gus Pekara, Oklahoma City
(Interviewed April 22, 2020, with his wife Emily)
We have self-quarantined since March 12. On March 15 I began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. On March 16 I contacted my primary care doctor. He administered the COVID 19 test in the parking lot of his clinic the next day. I was also tested for flu A and B and for strep, both with negative results.
Unfortunately, it took 13 days to get the positive COVID-19 result.
My doctor stayed in touch with me daily, and my wife gave me the TLC I desperately needed. The severe symptoms lasted for a week. My symptoms gradually disappeared, and I have been fever-free since March 24. Fortunately, my wife never experienced symptoms and later tested negative for COVID-19. We continue to monitor our temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and oxygen saturation levels frequently.
I had heard that plasma from a survivor might help those inflicted with the virus. I registered with the Oklahoma Blood Institute, took a second COVID-19 test which came out negative, and on April 15 donated plasma.
This is our 41st day in quarantine. We have passed the time with jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Zoom visits with family and friends, meetings with organizations by Zoom or conference call, cooking and cleaning, working on projects around the house, and sitting on the patio to get some sun and watch the birds. When I was ill, our daughter and neighbors picked up groceries for us. We have gone shopping ourselves for food twice since then. We also treated ourselves to curbside pickup of food at a couple of our favorite restaurants. Another treat was to get in the car to visit family, staying outside and at a distance.
The most important thing we have learned is that we can enjoy each other’s company 24-7.
Dany Varghese is a freelance photographer in Oklahoma City. His photo-documentary series “Life In Quarantine” expands on the project launched on his Facebook page Dany Varghese Photography. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coronavirus Storytelling Project is a collaboration between the Oklahoma-based Inasmuch Foundation, the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Watch to help state journalists who have been furloughed or displaced as well as those in struggling community news organizations. The Inasmuch Foundation has pledged $50,000 to launch the project and provide five $500 grants to those accepted into the project each week for the next four months. Apply here. Stories and photos are available for republication with appropriate credits. To republish, contact Mike Sherman at email@example.com.