By JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

“During the pandemic…” You may often hear these words in our new spring. As most of the lucky ones, many of us imagine we have escaped the worst of this virus, even though we despair when we think of those we have lost and of the devastating rise of cases around the world.

When I think about the effects of this past year-plus, the dominant word in my considerations is “gratitude,” certainly not for the suffering it has entailed, but for the positive personal reminders of having survived, for living where I do, for my friends and family, and for the blessing of freshly experiencing now the things we missed. I am aware even more strongly of being near such amazing medical care and community support. Stressed, under-equipped and protected, our medical and emergency service professionals made it through this disaster with energy, courage and faith. I hope our attempts at gratitude have been clear to them.

Sometimes we take for granted a non-crisis reality. Despite occasional complaints about cost and availability, we have access to physical and mental sanctuaries in the Wood River Valley when we need them. I have always respected my caregivers, wishing I’d had more ability in the sciences to have joined them.

Recently, for the first time in my life, I called 911. I was hideously sick with what turned out to be a different virus, one that attacked my gastrointestinal system so severely I could hardly walk. After I dealt with my family being away, I realized how late the hour, and was so flummoxed that I couldn’t even manage to call faithful friends. Instead, I called St. Luke’s for advice. When they heard my age, I was instructed to hang up and immediately call 911. After I was taken to the emergency room, I was tested for a ream of possible problems and given time to calm down, hydrate and rest safely. All the professionals I encountered, from the paramedics to late-night doctors and nurses, were kind, caring and consistently alert to my comfort, explaining that I should not feel “guilty” for being there, but could rely on them.

Even the handsome, strong, and concerned paramedics displayed a sense of humor, a quality I admire more than most. In my feeble but usual talkativeness, I smiled through my mask and told them that I ought to call 911 more often if I could be surrounded by such hunks! (I’m sure they have heard this kind of riposte often, but they laughed anyway, which made this ham feel a bit better.)

When I returned home the next morning to my frantic doggies (who had to be kept in my bedroom all night), I was filled with gratitude that I was not diagnosed with something much more serious or a condition from the ravages of growing older. I am working on better emergency plans and lists, and have added the people I often forget to honor to my gratitude list.

So, thank you all, my true “heroes.”

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