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Lessons From One Columbus Man's Year In Isolation

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Bob Grove
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Bob Grove during vacation to Emerald Isle, North Carolina in 2018 - one year before he was diagnosed with leukemia.

When the order came to shelter in place, in the hopes of flattening the infection rate of COVID-19, I immediately thought of Bob Grove.

He’s a friend, has been sheltering in place for over a year. In March 2019, Grove was diagnosed with leukemia, and from that moment on, he has spent most of his time either at the hospital or at home.

"I had a bone marrow transplant. I’m in remission,” Grove says, praising his doctors at the Ohio State University James Cancer Center.

Even though doctors say the cancer is nondetectable, his immune system remains compromised. Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, he couldn’t go out in public.

But Grove's attitude is positive: “For the most part, I feel pretty good. I’m housebound... but I’ve read more books.”

Hundreds of books. 

“I tend to be interested in lots of stuff. Gardening is a big thing. I’m really interested in history," Grove says.

His curiosity is limitless. Maybe it’s because he was a science teacher for 38 years. Maybe because he’s a proud Columbus native who loves local history.

Grove has always been that guy at a party you hope to find yourself next to, having a conversation with. It’s inspiring.

“I’ve always been a big reader. I’m not necessarily a light reader,” he says. “I waded through last summer re-reading the five volumes of Winston Churchill’s History of World War II, not exactly a light read.”

While Grove has been in isolation, he’s done what most of us have learned to do over the past few weeks. He organized his books and shelves, he fixed a few things, he enjoyed the good weather on his back porch.

But what sustained him, really kept him going, was following his curiosity and opening a book.

“Books are very therapeutic,” Grove says. “I don’t have to think about anything, and I’m transported someplace else and distracted.”

There’s some evidence that reading is indeed therapeutic. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex by Dr. Davis Lewis suggests that reading only six minutes per day could reduce stress levels up to 68%.

Why does reading reduce stress? Part of the reason, psychologists report, is that reading lets you enter an altered state of consciousness where you let go of the details of the here and now and can follow what interests you. It's like a curiosity field trip.

And the good news is you can read whatever you like. Grove loves textbooks, but novels, articles, even kid’s books will do. Six minutes is key, longer is better and uninterrupted is best.

So what’s Grove's advice for us, enduring a mere few weeks of isolation compared to his year inside? 

“This COVID virus thing can really overwhelm you if you spend too much time watching news or online, on Facebook, it can become pretty daunting,” he said. “Go out and get a book list and sit down and read a book.”

Six minutes. Uninterrupted. Follow your curiosity.

Cindy Gaillard is the director of local content for WOSU TV.