Reporter’s Notebook: 2020 felt all too familiar

Charles M. Kelly

Pandemic frustrations are familiar to those who have struggled with chronic or serious illness

I recently had a telephone chat with a friend who self-quarantined at the time of the first California stay-at-home order. She is at high risk for the worst consequences of catching COVID-19. We’re both looking forward to vaccines being available to the general public.

My friend pointed out that most people aren’t used to worrying about getting a disease all the time.

True, that. Most people aren’t accustomed to the constant concerns that afflict those who lived with chronic health problems before COVID.

Wearing masks—maddening. Social distancing—frustrating. Business and restaurant closures—annoying, unfair, and mighty expensive.

Yet for me, 2020 felt familiar. You see, I knew I was mortal before I could read. I was born with a heart defect. Three doctors were in the delivery room to ensure that both my mother and I survived my arrival. It was not certain I would live to reach puberty. (Spoiler alert: I’ll be 60 in April.)

Avalon residents and visitors find it maddening to wear a face mask. I found it maddening to take spoonfuls of seven different vile-tasting liquid medicines before bed 365 days a year for the first 14 years of my life. But the E-ticket we call life comes with a price tag—chronic irritation.

People find pandemic restrictions maddening. I found it maddening to visit a different doctor at least once a month, every month, 12 months a year, for the first 14 years of my life. I spent much of my “free” time in waiting rooms for the dentist, the eye doctor, the general practitioner, the cardiologist and later the ear-nose-and-throat specialist.

Maddening. Frustrating. And expensive for my parents.

And then there were the close calls.

Once, my mother and I were waiting in an examination room GP’s office when I stopped breathing. Another time, I was running in a race in a Compton park near our house. I reached the finish line. The ground rushed up. I put out my hands to break my fall. I closed my eyes. I woke up in a hospital.

Maddening. Frustrating. Unfair. Expensive.

I must have been 5 or 6 when I had the cardiac catherization. After the procedure, the doctors told my parents that they should schedule open heart surgery. But my heartbeat failed to return to normal. My parents were asked to sign papers authorizing electric shock. My heartbeat returned to normal. The doctors told my parents my heart condition would heal on its own. I spent two or three months in a rented hospital bed in my living room.

My mother was convinced I would die. My father was convinced the doctors didn’t know what they were doing and were too cowardly to admit it. (You two were mighty melodramatic.) Good thing my parents scheduled invasive medical procedures for the summer break so my education wouldn’t be disrupted. Which of course was maddening, frustrating and unfair. But also pragmatic.

My family had no choice. There was no place to run because the threat was something inside me that we couldn’t see.

Then came annual CT scans for half a decade. Frustrating, expensive—and part of my “deductible.” Not right. And expensive. (Talk about chronic irritation.) The way it was.

And then the lockdowns of 2020.

For now, it’s maddening. It’s frustrating. And it isn’t over yet.

But I don’t think it will last forever.

I base that opinion on a familiar feeling.

Charles M. Kelly is associate editor of the Catalina Islander. He’d rather read your opinions than write his own. Email Charles at (and please CC him at