Millie Chethik thinks she just might be able to learn Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano because, these days, she explained, she has plenty of time to practice the challenging piece. While most Midpeninsula residents started sheltering at home on March 17, Chethik has been voluntarily hunkering down inside her Palo Alto home ever since the earliest coronavirus cases were confirmed in Santa Clara County.
"I've been kind of in isolation, really, pretty much," the 80-year-old said during a telephone interview. "My husband recently had a surgery, so he's vulnerable. And it was his wisdom that really made me take this seriously.
"He was the one that said, 'Millie, as my caregiver, I don't want you to expose yourself to groups.' So the first thing I did was I wrote to my choral director, and said, 'You know, I can't come to rehearsal.'"
Her current schedule has her on a very different pace than her typical routine, which included social activities almost every day of the week. Chethik said she was a regular at events at the senior center, an active participant in her book club, performed in a choral group and participated in a slew of other activities.
She tries not to think too much about being confined at home.
"I think it takes its toll, but you know, you try to do other things to work around it," she said.
Chethik said she's turned to the internet for socializing.
Her book club now video conferences its meetings over the internet to discuss the latest titles.
"It worked well. You know, it's socially distancing but still connecting," she said.
Chethik said she's trying to coordinate the same set up for other activities, as well, such as her neighborhood's homeowners association meeting and possibly activities that were typically held in person at Avenidas senior center prior to its temporary closure.
Chethik said when she does leave the house, it's typically to shop for necessities or to take a walk.
"When I have to go shopping, I just try to wash my hands as often as possible and just generally keep away from people," she said.
She's also learned to call stores ahead to schedule her shopping on days when the shelves are restocked.
"It's scary because (I'm) in the high-risk demographic," she said. "You don't know how many years you have left anyway, and you don't want to go this way."
Even though she and her husband are living behind closed doors, she doesn't feel as if they are all alone.
"My neighbor knocked on my door the other day and said, 'Are you guys all right?' You know, he is very worried, and it was very kind of him to stop by and ask," she said. "I don't know, maybe people are being kind in the beginning, but then if it gets really, really nasty, things may change."
Chethik said she's never experienced anything like this in her lifetime — not even during the polio outbreak in the 1940s.
"I had polio when I was 4 years old, but I was too young to understand," she said. "My mother was trying to do everything she could to keep me out of harm's way. She kept me away from public swimming pools … but it was such a bad epidemic at the time, and they didn't have any vaccine until a few years later."
Chethik said her friends all have had different takes on the coronavirus outbreak.
"I had one friend who said, 'You're just germ crazy,' and I had another one who said, 'You know, you shouldn't leave the house,'" she said. "I think we have to believe in the scientists, what they're telling us. Not the politicians.
"It's a scary situation. We'll get through it, I'm sure, but it's very scary. And who knows how many people will die in the meantime."
Find resources for seniors during the coronavirus crisis here.
This profile originally appeared in the April 3 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit PaloAltoOnline.Atavist.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.