Confusion, Disappointment and Change Are Part of the COVID Journey
DEXTER -- Donna Kraft-Smith was one of many Mainers taken by surprise at the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus was making its way across the nation, Kraft-Smith was busy operating her Therapeutic Body Work Learning Center in Brewer, her own massage therapy practice in Dexter, and planning a road trip with her husband, Henry.
“It didn’t seem like it got real for us in Maine until March,” she said. “Up until then the President was even saying it was a hoax or whatever.” It was not until President Donald J. Trump addressed the nation on March 11, and Maine had its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on March 12, that many Mainers took a more somber look at the pandemic. To Kraft-Smith, it felt like things just “blew up.”
At first, she continued to try to run her therapeutic massage practice, stepping up already stringent cleaning standards. “I am always trying to keep everything as clean as possible, not just with COVID-19, but there are other things that people might transfer to one another,” she said. Then, because she planned to go on vacation, Kraft-Smith stopped seeing clients.
Kraft-Smith has 12 students this year at the Therapeutic Body Work Learning Center. The 500-hour course runs for 14 months during two intensive weekends per month. Fortunately, she decided to cancel the late March session even before Governor Janet Mills ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, effective March 25.
“We could have made that last class, but I really felt it wasn’t a good idea,” said Kraft-Smith. “There were too many of us in a room, coming from all different places.”
Even at home, there was confusion about how to proceed. “We were planning a road trip to Florida,” she said. “My husband and I went back and forth on it, and decided we weren’t going to go because we would pass through so many states and would be stopping at rest areas, gas stations. We decided if things got worse, we would be with people we didn’t know and we would not have a doctor, so it just didn’t make sense to leave -- and within a couple of days, things blew up.”
With her practice and school closed as non-essential businesses, Kraft-Smith continues trying to work with students, who are about halfway through their training. “I am doing some online training, but not everyone can use Zoom, and now they are saying Zoom has some issues. Because some people live remotely, it’s challenging. I’m trying to do some by Facebook and email. But they can only do the academic work; they can’t do the hands-on. We have to wait until a time that becomes safe.”
No students have registered for the new session beginning in September. “In the meantime, I’m expected to pay rent,” she continued. “My space out of Dr. Reddy’s building in Dexter, they said I didn’t have to pay rent until I started again, but the Brewer space, which is more expensive…I could defer rent, but he is still expecting me to pay that [back] rent later.”
Kraft-Smith is hoping that if she doesn’t qualify for Maine’s unemployment program, she might qualify under the new federal program. “I believe I may be eligible for up to $600 a week for up to four months, but the state does not have this site up yet,” she said on April 3.
Henry is retired and draws Social Security, so the couple does have some income. He is also experiencing health issues for which surgery may be required, but “doctors don’t’ really want to have you come in now,” she said. “They are doing a lot over the phone to postpone that. I’m sure a lot of other people are struggling with this now, too.”
Even if Kraft-Smith could work now, she wouldn’t. “I’m not scared to death that I’m going to die from [COVID-19], but I’d rather not get it,” she said. “I have no choice. I have to keep up. If I just go down, it’s not going to work. I am the only one who can go back and forth to town, can walk the dog, can really help him.”
To keep her spirits up, Kraft-Smith is connecting with students and friends on Facebook. “I have that to look forward to, and like everyone else, I’m trying to accomplish things that I don’t usually have time to do because of work. And I allow myself some time to be sad and to be afraid – but then I dust myself off and just keep going.”
Kraft-Smith has also been a yoga instructor, and is certified in Reike. “I practice my deep breathing all the time,” she said. “I’m aligning my body, and doing some stretches – probably not as much as I could, but I have a lot of other things I need to be doing. It’s not just yoga on a mat. Yoga is a lifestyle, so the things I’ve learned to keep myself calm are helping a lot.”
Kaft-Smith said that massage clients unable to see their pracrtitioners should be stretching “always!” and may benefit from online yoga, meditation and exercise classes. But, she cautioned, “When talking about people with a lot of chronic pain and stiffness, sometimes the videos out there are too much. You always have to be mindful of where that place is that your body says ‘that’s enough.’”
She’s also giving some thought to the future. “Eventually this is going to end. It may change my career. I’m thinking about other things I could do. Everyone isn’t going to want to just jump back in and have a massage until they feel safe again.”
There’s also the issue of job loss, and that folks may not be able to afford a massage – or the online classes Kraft-Smith is thinking about offering. “I could teach mediation and yoga online. Self-massage is something I’ve been thinking of offering.”
Kraft-Smith said anyone interested in possible future videos or massage can contact her at email@example.com.