Corona Stories: Karen.

Every person has a different Corona story to tell. I talked to some of them to gain some understanding. To imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe you’d like to imagine yourself in their shoes too. I’ve asked each person to put a photo to their story. Anything that they feel encapsulates their Corona experience. 

‘I want to look good and I want to feel good’.

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Karen is a customer advisor in Boots (a pharmacy and beauty shop) on Baker Street in London’s West End. Initially, after lock-down on the 23rd of March, ‘nothing changed’ in the shop. Social distancing rules were put in place in the second week; lines were marked out with tape on the floor and printed messages were posted on the doors explaining the rules to customers. Five customers were allowed in the shop at once. The rest waited, for the most part, patiently outside.

‘Social distancing seems to go over people’s heads. The shop was very quiet. All the nearby office buildings were closed, but when people did come in they came up very close, or shoved their phones in my face, showing a product they were looking for. I had to ask people to keep their distance all the time. Sometimes people came in when they were coughing or feeling unwell. They paid no attention to the notices on the door. When I asked them why they were in the shop, they said they didn’t know what else to do’.

In the third week staff were given PPE – gloves and face-masks and perspex screens were placed around counters. So-called sneeze screens. ‘One woman stood to the side of the screen. I asked her to stand behind it. She was very abusive and swore at me. It was the security guard’s day off. My manager came over to protect me. She was asked to leave’. Karen didn’t feel threatened, but she just couldn’t believe she was being given so much ‘grief’ when she was putting herself at risk and providing a service.

‘The biggest stress factor was the distancing thing. If I was putting stock on shelves, customers would reach over me to get something. Most people never gave me a chance to move. If they’d asked I wouldn’t have minded. Before lock-down some products – soap and hand-gel – were unavailable and the amount of products people were allowed to buy was restricted. Each customer was allowed to buy only two cough or cold products. That was very stressful – policing people’s shopping. And people never read the notices and constantly asked for products we didn’t have. We had to say the same thing over and over. Every time we received hand-gel we’d sell out within twenty minutes. Paracetamol we didn’t have for days. Most people were OK, and one or two were really nice and said things like ‘thank-you, you’re doing a great job’ – that meant a lot. But the whole thing bought home to me how stupid and unpleasant people can be’.

And then Karen received her shielding letter. She’s in the “at risk” group and must stay at home for the next 12 weeks. The letter was not a surprise but still it shocked her. ‘It bought home how severe this virus is. We’ve had so many things recently – bird flu and SARS and I thought that two or three weeks down the line Corona would be over and done with. But it was also the realisation that I could be in serious trouble’.

‘I’m being very careful. Sometimes I just think I’m in the same situation as anyone else. If anyone catches it, it could be potentially devastating. But when the weather’s so nice, I really want to go out and knowing I can’t makes me frustrated. All I can do is walk around these four walls and watch TV – and I’m trying not to watch a lot of TV to avoid all the Corona stuff. This sounds selfish’.

‘I think it’s still important to do things for yourself. I wouldn’t dream of skyping without washing my hair. Sometimes I think I’m not putting that top on – it’s for going out in – but there is no going out, no nice things. Staying in is the new going out, so I put it on. I want to look nice and have something nice for dinner when my husband comes in. It’s important for my own state of mind.

She thinks there are some positive things about house arrest. ‘It’s learnt me to be a better baker. It’s made me realise I’ve got a lot of junk. It’s shown me not to be afraid of things. Before I used to look at recipes and if I thought it was a bit complicated, I’d think, I’m not doing that. Now I think what the hell. I’m a bit braver.

10 thoughts on “Corona Stories: Karen.

  1. Thank you to all these people who put themselves at risk doing their jobs to provide us all with necessities. The least we can do is respect the rules and acknowledge their bravery 🙂

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  2. I think so too. But I also think it’s just about respect for people in general. Just taking a moment to be considerate. In all this slowing down, some people still seem to just want to rush, rush, rush.

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  3. Those are horrible experiences for Karen, being there to assist people while putting herself at risk, of all things. Ungrateful customers! I hope the human race will come out of this braver, less spoiled, and less selfish! And more aware of fellow humans and the environment! Is that asking too much? 🙂

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  4. Thank you so much for this post! This week I am so grateful for being able to see Karen. I think we just need more and more of these stories so that we remain thoughtful of one another…

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