I thought I did all I could to keep my family and myself healthy and safe during this pandemic. I stayed home. I left only to get groceries, and kept a respectable amount of social distance from other shoppers in grocery lines But I still fell ill at the end of March.
My husband is a health care worker. When the coverage of the virus grew louder on the nightly news, we scrambled to find N95 masks to protect him and his coworkers. There were none on the market.
The medical facility he works at began asking patients to wait in their cars instead of the waiting room. Any sick patients with symptoms of COVID-19 were evaluated virtually and sent to a facility with the capability to safely treat them if needed.
Even with all these protocols in place, he came home one night with a fever. And that’s when life changed.
Both parents fall ill
He isolated himself in our bedroom. We stopped using towels in the bathrooms and started using disposable napkins. We used disposable plates and utensils in hopes of staving off any further transmission in our house. I wiped down handles, light switches, countertops, faucets and handrails. I was constantly cleaning.
Four days after my husband developed his symptoms, his test results came back. He was positive. That same day, I developed a fever.
I tried not to scare my kids, but with fever, fatigue and severe body aches, I was obviously ill and they knew now both their mother and father were sick during a pandemic. I wished we hadn’t consumed so much news at that point; stories about previously healthy people on ventilators, alone in hospitals. My youngest asked us if we were going to die.
This is when we leaned upon our faith. In our faith tradition, it is believed that life and death is written. Basically, when it is your time to go, whether by a virus or a car accident, it’s time to go. We talked about being relatively “young” and “healthy.” I smiled, but deep inside I remembered the thousands of young and old in hospitals worldwide.
We taught our kids to trust in God, and now was the time to remember that trust. Quietly, my husband and I discussed wills.
As my symptoms progressed, I scoured the internet for information about the virus. There wasn’t much to go by. Since the virus was new, there weren’t many people discussing their experiences and there weren’t many studies.
From the CDC website, I learned that many people regress in the second week of their illness, and median ICU admissions occur between days 10 and 12. I started my countdown, hoping and praying.
Daily routine disappears
I have three daughters — 15, 12 and 11 years old. To say that this experience hasn’t been hard for them would be a lie. One day, they were in school busy with academics, practicing for a new volleyball season and communing over lunch with friends (albeit with a bottle of hand sanitizer and strict instructions to wash their hands before and after eating). The next day, along with millions of American school children, their lives changed in an instant.
Every normal aspect of their daily routine had disappeared. Uncertainty filled the air. We considered sending them to live with my parents, but my kids could have been asymptomatic and inadvertently pass it to their older grandparents. So, that wasn’t an option.
Though my symptoms were stronger in severity than any flu I experienced before, the hardest part was being separated from my kids. We were living in the same house but couldn’t be together. The three of them ate breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. We tried to find ways to connect. My youngest devised an ingenious way to send food upstairs with a pulley system using a laundry bin and yarn.
After they finished online school, they’d turn to screens. Like millions of moms, I can’t stand to see my kids stuck to a screen. From a separate room, I tried to entice them to work on a puzzle together, to pull out a board game or to play outside in 40-degree Michigan weather, but eventually I gave up.
In the evening, we FaceTimed and watched the same shows “together.” At night, from behind a closed door my youngest asked if we could hug her. We told her no.
Surviving and thriving
I know I have a lot to be thankful for. It could have been much worse. At least we had a home to shelter in, food to eat and an immune system that fought.
I wanted to share my story to give hope to other families. Many people get sick but many also recover. Yes, it can be lonely and scary. The unknowns are plentiful, but life changed for my family and in some ways for the better.
My kids saw community in action. They witnessed friends leaving food and groceries at our door. They heard phone calls and saw messages from concerned family and friends checking up on us. These kind gestures filled us with warmth.
We learned to slow down and take things day by day. I was like many other moms rushing through the day, trying to complete my to-do list before becoming a chauffeur for all the extracurriculars.
That all stopped in a day, and yet life still goes on. I used to put every activity on my phone calendar. My phone still rings to remind me that it’s my turn to drive for a game or that conferences are in an hour. In the end, all that mattered was that we were well.
It’s been more than 20 days since our lives changed. According to a nurse from our local health department, I don’t need to self-isolate anymore. We are still at home though because of the shelter in place orders, but we are together.
I hope we can all do our part to keep each other safe. It’s a new reality though, helping each other, by staying apart