“Rebecca Alexander volunteered shortly after Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed for mental-health professionals to help counsel first responders traumatized by the covid-19 crisis. A New York psychotherapist, she has taken calls from a young nurse who had trouble sleeping because she was haunted by the sounds of dying patients gasping for breath. A doctor described getting instructed not to intubate anyone over eighty on the day his mother turned eighty-two. A pediatric nurse who specialized in infant diseases recounted her lack of training after being abruptly transferred to caring for adults in acute respiratory failure. Several confessed their own extreme distress at pushing the limits of their bodies physically and emotionally. ‘Constantly being on the front lines is taking a toll on them,’ she told me.
“What none of the people pouring out their problems to Alexander knew is that she is legally deaf and blind—and has her own deep fears about how the new coronavirus threatens the estimated 2.4 million Americans, and millions more across the globe, who, like her, rely on touch to communicate, navigate, and care for themselves. ‘When you don’t have vision or hearing or both, you rely heavily on other senses,’ she said. ‘For us, that other sense is touch.’ But touch is now the most prevalent means of spreading covid-19.