If any of these people had been told that their lives would change from one day to the next, perhaps none of them would have believed it. But it did and brought about a new reality that only in fictional movies could we predict something similar.
Three months after the first outbreak in in Wuhan, China, on 11 March, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 epidemic was reaching a stage that could “be characterized as a pandemic”.
A few days later, institutions, schools and companies began to avoid concentrating so many people in the same place. The situation led to the voluntary closure of almost everything in the country, and on 2 April, the government formally issued the State of National Emergency. The country closed its borders by land and air and ordered its own lockdown, allowing only the strictly necessary to guarantee the well-being of the entire population, as was the case with health, food, and security.
With completely different functions, we met the people who multiplied themselves in roles to comply with our social procedures. With very different work processes, the truth is that the pressure became the same for almost everyone and the weight of responsibility increased like never before.
Most of them are completely confined. They are at home, life has changed to the same address and now routines take place between areas in the same place, without transportation, traffic, or delays in arriving at work. However, the noise started to duplicate because, in addition to the rhythm marked by the adrenaline of the work they are forced to carry out, there is the task of being home teacher and daily manager of the house, where Zoom meetings, lunches and dinners with the family, get mixed up in the brain that requires silence to be able to organize all the drawers of a cupboard already turned inside out.
We talked to the real people who commute between the Faculty and Santa Maria Hospital, who coordinate areas, people, students or treat patients, without extra support at home, have a family always close to them and waiting, waiting for support in class, meals, affection, in fact, waiting for everything, as usual. But now, without help.
These people, I am told, were only asked to stay at home, but is it so easy to stay at home?
Pedro Marques - Communications advisor to the Board of Directors of the Northern Lisbon University Hospital Centre, married with 2 children
What were your first thoughts when you heard that we were going to enter a State of Emergency?
Pedro Marques: Not to fail as a parent; not to fail at work; not to fail as a husband. Repeating this maxim every day to myself and realizing that this is not a zero-sum game, not thinking that everything will be perfect, but that the most important thing is to reach the end of the game with all the balls in the air.
Never before has it been so important to find a functional balance between family/ personal and professional life as in the past two months, with online classes for two school children, living with Zoom meetings, professional phone calls or the preparation of announcements amidst screaming kids playing or simply having tantrums exacerbated by the total confinement.
When did you realize what was really happening?
Pedro Marques: It was the middle of March and the closure of the schools, followed a few days later by the entry into force of the State of Emergency. It coincided with the first admissions of Covid patients to Santa Maria Hospital – Northern Lisbon University Hospital Centre (CHULN). In a house with two people working in institutions linked to health, and without any family support - the distance and health care of our parents created an unbroken isolation, new routines were put in place: most of the days continued to be spent at the hospital, responding to a huge wave of media interest, to the duty to inform people who were scared at home and show the huge work done by CHULN professionals; but now everything had to be managed according to my two children, who had to stay at home 24 hours a day looked after by someone who also faced great professional requests.
All this sprinkled with the fear of bringing in the infection. Clothes had to be washed as soon as I got home from work, I took several daily showers, disinfecting objects that come from outside, taking care in the contact with family, and creating rules that were internalized automatically to try to protect those around me.
But I cannot fail to make an important caveat: despite some logistical difficulties that this process may have brought, they are in no way comparable to those of thousands of health and other professionals who had to continue in their jobs to help patients and keep the country running, in the face of a virus of which little was known and with terrifying examples from nearby countries; or to the reality of thousands of confined families, who lost jobs and income.
And my reluctance in talking about some problems felt in this period is even greater due to having contacted daily those who are providing direct assistance to Covid patients, where I only saw professionalism, selflessness and always kindness, despite all the uncertainties and anxieties they might have on a personal level. Given this, my small difficulties are almost nothing.
Dora Gonçalves – technical assistant, secretary of the University Dermatology Clinic, single, two children.
What happened in your life when you were told that the schools were going to close and you had to be confined at home with your two children?
Dora Gonçalves: When I received the news that the schools were going to close and that I would be in confinement with my children for 15 days, as initially expected, I didn't think much about it, because the priority was to protect my children and myself too.
I admit that, over time, and it has been almost 2 months, it has become more and more tiring. My son João (13 years old) has videoconference classes, which in itself was a challenge, since we only had one computer and I am telecommuting, so we both needed to use it. But, with the help of his grandparents, we got around the situation. The homework requests sent to João are huge and most have very short deadlines. I feel very proud of my son, as he has succeeded to manage the situation well, with commitment and a good mood.
My other son, Miguel, 4 years old, demands attention 24 hours a day (yes, he still wakes up a few times during the night) and does not understand why his mother has to work, if she is at home. He keeps doing the work that his teacher sends him, plays, watches television (more than desired), but I need him to be engaged in something so that I can work. Tantrums happen more and more often and sometimes I feel like I am the worst mother in the world. I try to go out with him a few times so that he can run or ride his bicycle a little, to spend some energy and feel more peaceful and happy, always ensuring proper distance from anyone we come across in the street.
Going shopping always makes me anxious, because I can't take Miguel with me and I leave him with his brother, who, despite being grown up, is still a teenager and the fear that he gets distracted always lingers. So I try to go only once a week and take as little time as possible.
João Paulino – Coordinates the Faculty's Purchases team, married, 3 boys (João Pedro - 12 years old, Afonso - 7 years old and Tiago - 5 years old).
What happened to your life when you were told that the schools were going to close and you had to be confined at home? You even had one of the kids at a school with Covid...
João Paulino: The first news of a COVID-19 case at João Pedro's school came on a Thursday, and in the face of all the distress and uncertainty we decided not to let João go to class the next day.
During the weekend, we became aware of several cases and tried to determine what contact João could have had with these children/teachers.
On Sunday, close to midnight, we received a statement regarding the closure of the school. At that point, we had to make several decisions regarding schools and our other two children.
We decided not to take any of them to school any more. As indicated by FMUL and as a precautionary measure, I was confined with the three boys. We realized in that first week that we had to create new family management routines. We designed a schedule with study, leisure and family time to mark the days and minimize anxiety, and break with usual routines, given the reality experienced. We opted to shop at local stores, purchasing food for at least 3/4 days in order to reduce the number of times we went out. We informed family and close friends that we were not going to receive or visit people. We started promoting video calls, having even celebrated Afonso's birthday with about 20/25 family and friends via zoom.
Following the order to close schools in Portugal, there was communication and a more assertive approach on the part of schools, and a new teaching methodology was created, to which we have adapted.
João Pedro is in grade 7 and has zoom classes in the morning, Afonso is in grade 1 and has zoom classes twice a week with the teacher and Tiago receives weekly proposals from the school for activities adjusted to his age group to be carried out.
The three carry out activities in the virtual school and attend the tv school.
Our routine is working in chaos. We try to plan everyone's schedules in the best way, but there are times when these times overlap, which complicates the execution of tasks, not only mine, but also Marta's and the children's. It becomes more difficult to establish a working schedule, given that situations that are more complicated at a technical level are mostly carried out after hours. There are times when I have to flee to another room in the house to answer phone calls. The weekly FMUL zoom meeting is held in Afonso and Tiago's room, since they are doing activities, one in each room .
Pedro Mendes – works in the Administrative Areas unit, married and father of a 2-year-old baby.
Pedro, I in your case I venture to ask what you are not doing yet… What have been your great challenges?
Pedro Mendes: There are three of us at home: father (me), mother (wife) and daughter (two years). The mother continued her daily job (health professional) and the daughter started to have her father as the only company.
The biggest challenge was that the Zoom sessions overlap with some of my daughter's routines, something that always made me very apprehensive. With classes always starting at 8:00 am, and with the need for the mother to leave home before this time, I am always concerned about not waking her up, but the telephone contacts with the lecturers and the start of classes led, in most cases, to the shy cry when waking up and noticing the mother's absence. So we were alternating with getting up as early as 7 am, so she understands what is happening and not be surprised about the situation. Getting up early is not, in itself, a punishment, but my daughter has a difficult relationship with the bed and only gives in close to sunrise.
As the days progress, the challenges continue. From mealtimes and counting minutes before the nap is due before the afternoon class starts (unfortunately, I had to break the nap in bed routine and committed the sin of letting her sleep on my lap. It was the only solution I found to be able to receive calls from the lecturers and start classes). The tablet has become an improper friend at many times of the day (I lost count to dozens of hours of screen exposure). Hygiene at critical moments is demanding. I had a very funny situation, which ended up being resolved. In the middle of a class, the Internet connection here at home went down while I was literally changing a nappy. Fortunately, the connection was resumed a few moments later and the platform itself automatically recovered the session. Both due to the concern about the actual disease and to the concern to be present to support the classes, the number of walks carried out during these two months can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
At the end of the day, after the mother arrives home (complying with all the hygiene rules and circuits we have established), the meal is taken and both of them will resume the evening's fight (between 6 pm and 9 pm, depending on the mother’s shift). I sit down at the computer and try to respond to all the requests and responsibilities that we all have, despite the current context, until prohibitive hours. The routine starts again at 07:00.
In return, I am very grateful to be able to take care of my daughter at this stage and to be able to accompany her on a very important touchpoint of her development. Despite not yet building sentences, she has already learned colours, plays hide and seek and catch. A future Marta, for sure! We train the Good Morning song, the routine of making the beds and have created a very good connection to the Swiffer.
His name is Tiago Barroso, he is 8 years old and currently in year 3.
I wanted to interview him to understand what a child feels about a world turned inside out. The reverse caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was announced to him, but no, it was not his mother, nor Professor José from the school, “I saw a news story and that's when I realized about the virus, it wasn't anyone who explained it to me”, he explained calmly while trying to understand what I want from him. Tiago is the son of Sónia Barroso, who works at the Faculty of Medicine and is in charge of coordinating two areas and managing a team of 3 people. Sónia, in addition to being a single mother, manages various activities at professional level, calendars, objectives and goals. She also has a home where time is needed to organize it, ranging from meals to taking Happy (the dog) to the street. And she has the added role of assisting Tiago in his distance learning.
Let's go back to Tiago, who doesn't hide from anyone that his great passion is football, an activity that leads him to train every Wednesday and to play on weekends.
Actually, Tiago doesn't train nowadays, because he has to be confined to his home, but this is not a drama for him because he always has something to do.
He tells me that between lunches offered by his grandfather (another great passion) and those made by his mother, he takes several breaks, for meals, to play, and to watch TV. "My mother is always working, but sometimes she makes lunch, and I help her set the table, and also tidy up the house".
If I asked you to explain what is going on in the country and in the world, would you know how to tell me the reason for being at home?
Tiago Barroso: Yes, I can explain. The days we are living in are very bad. This virus contaminates a lot, there are many people who go out to work, like doctors and it is difficult for them to return to their homes. People see each other in the distance... It is a bit confusing to know that doctors are not going to see or be with their families.
And is this situation almost over?
Tiago Barroso: No. This will take a long time, but I don't know how long…
Is it good to be home?
Tiago Barroso: I am not happy to be at home, because I miss my friends and my teacher José, I love being with them. And school classes are needed, taking classes on tv school is different because we can't ask questions.
When I asked him about his routines, he got up and showed me a full schedule. "My day starts at 9 am, look.." He tries to show me the timetable of each subject, English, Portuguese, mathematics and environmental studies, but his mother interrupts him, saying he does not need so much detail, the great importance of that schedule is that it was Tiago who established it.
Among a full schedule of classes, some scheduled and rescheduled at the last minute, there are still zoom meetings with friends, a ball game of or two in his room with the sponge made ball, because this football at home has limits. He knows the rules well, but he also likes to change his position in the game, which is why he sometimes looks at his mother's work, gives his opinion and gives suggestions about what is being done.
Sónia Barroso - member of the GAPIC, coordinates the Planning and Quality area, single mother with one son, Tiago.
When you realized that we are all going home, what were your first personal and professional reactions?
Sónia Barroso: My main concern at professional level was to talk to my team and see if they all had the conditions for teleworking. I also ensured that contact would be maintained through daily meetings at a distance and that the excellent work and team spirit would remain. So it has been, and I thank them all! There was also the concern to define a teleworking plan, organize the activities of my areas and distribute tasks.
On a personal level, the main concern was getting home, talking to my son and trying to explain to him that his life and our family life would change, telling him that like in everything, there is a good side and a less good side, but as always , we would always be together!
What does it mean to be a single mother raising a son and giving him lessons, while coordinating a team and conducting work, while managing all the house routines?
Sónia Barroso: Previously, my day-to-day life was divided between being a woman, mother, legal guardian, a professional and coordinator of a team. The big change and challenge was the isolation, being deprived of the usual contexts and being with the family 24 hours a day, for 2 months now. At first, it was chaotic and frustrating, because, wrongly, I was trying to fit my so-called “normal” days into an atypical situation. Then, observing my son and his ability to deal naturally with a situation that is not controlled, I realized that the key is to accept and fit things in. So, I changed routines and schedules. For example, I wake up at dawn to do the things that give me the most pleasure to start the day in the best way - sport, something I used to do at the end of the day.
Psychologically speaking, are you going to return the same as you were when you went home?
Sónia Barroso: Of course not! When I return to FMUL, there will certainly be some fear, but I trust the security measures that are being developed and implemented by the Faculty. I am also apprehensive as to what I will find… Colleagues, students, lecturers and researchers will be there, but I will miss seeing their faces, their expressions and especially the smiles hidden behind the masks.
However, this whole situation should be a lesson for all of us! For me, it made me stop for a while to reflect and realize that sometimes it is really necessary to “do a handstand” with our life, see and feel the world from another perspective.
Catarina Sousa Guerreiro – Coordinator of the Degree in Nutrition Sciences, mother of three, lecturing and giving consultations.
Professor, how do you manage all these lives in one role?
Catarina S. Guerreiro: I shall describe it as… challenging…
In the last 2 months, like many other women, I had to play several roles: mother, university lecturer (and also basic education, kindergarten and day care teacher...), coordinator of a higher education degree, trying to submit research proposals to FCT, nutritionist with consultations via the Internet, in addition to many other issues inherent to the family context. There have been stressful moments. My computer's microphones and cameras during some classes and meetings revealed a little bit of the hustle and bustle of my home. But I thought so many times... it could be so much worse. In fact, I’m only asked to stay at home…. Safe with my family. Just that.
Ema Geraldes – Member of the ATI (Advanced Training Institute), has been supporting classes
Ema, how was it to manage the role of mother of a baby with the support to classes and managing a home and telework?
Ema Geraldes: In the beginning, it presented itself as something very challenging and soon it was confirmed as being difficult to manage. It was not easy to admit, despite still having her “little naps”, and one tries to take advantage of those times. Still, generally speaking, a one year old child requires some extra attention, in addition to already “crawling” about the house, trying to understand how to “perch” on everything, trying out things, like, for example, the first attempts to stand up alone and start taking her first steps.
It was not easy to admit, but still with little experience of combining telework, support to classes via videoconference, playing the mother role, and managing the home, even with the support of my husband (who is also teleworking), I had to make the decision between “giving up” teleworking and dealing exclusively with my daughter and domestic management, or continuing to ensure teleworking tasks by asking for support from a family member, even if this implies traveling (as you know, I am not from Lisbon and I have a family background here) and that this person has the availability and predisposition to “abandon” her life indefinitely.
Fortunately, I got the valuable support of a family member (grandmother of the baby), which also facilitates the domestic management of work. But, I cannot fail to mention, this whole situation is not just negative things, because despite the aforementioned, my daughter is not a child who is bored at being home for a long time and she doesn't seem bored to be with her parents. I have to admit that it has been a very rewarding time when it comes to monitoring the development and growth of my baby, which fills our hearts and which, otherwise, we would not be able to guarantee the monitoring and presence in her small major victories.
We start to go back to the routines, are you ready? Has anything changed in the way you look at things?
Dora Gonçalves: I admit that returning to normality scares me a little, Miguel's kindergarten may open on 1 June, but is it safe? It does cause some insecurity, however, he needs so much to be with friends, to get back to his routines.
João will stay at home and if I go back to work, meanwhile, he will be alone all week at home, all day, left to himself.
I feel like returning to normality, but on the other hand, it will again be a readjustment of routines and a new adaptation to a new reality.
I think the feeling that should prevail is the hope that everything will go well.
João Paulino: I feel prepared within several limits, not mine, but of the others. The part that I'm most afraid of is related to other people's non-compliance with the rules, that scares me a lot.
We have to be able to see the positive aspects of this situation, we spend more time with the children, being present in the new discoveries and realizing how much they grow daily. That is a huge change in the way we face the days.
Every week, there are new support and social interaction initiatives, anticipating that the change in the lives of people may require another type of support, help to reflect, or brief behaviour analysis.
In the last few weeks, the Crisis Office of the Regional Health Administration of Lisbon and Tagus Valley (ARSLVT) indicated that anxiety, insomnia and somatic manifestations were the main complaints of those who resort to Mental Health helplines, in the context of Covid-19. And, despite being individually under pressure, the fact is that when we ask for a hard reflection on these times, the pattern that stays is resilience and gratitude, because it could always be worse.
The Psychologists’ Association has been promoting awareness and support campaigns for the whole of society, which has been subject to changes due to Covid-19.
It is never too much to remember that there are several approaches, we leave just a few suggestions!
End of Lockdown (organisations) - https://www.ordemdospsicologos.pt/ficheiros/documentos/covid_19_desconfinamento_gestores.pdf
End of Lockdown (country) https://www.ordemdospsicologos.pt/ficheiros/documentos/covid_19_desconfinamento_pais.pdf