When COVID-19 started spreading from China to the United States in mid-February, I’ll be the first to admit was 100% unbothered by the prospect of it affecting my family or me. I distinctly remember a vivid conversation over dinner during a wok conference at Purdue (in hindsight, should we have gone to this conference? There’s really no telling.) with my boss as we watched the scrolling ticker fly by, the number of U.S. cases ticking perilously upward.
At this point, it was almost mid-March, and my husband and I were still fully gung-ho regarding our Spring Break trip to Florida. Within days, though, everything would change. By the end of the weekend, our conversation had transitioned from, “We’re definitely going. Since so many people are canceling, the drive will be a breeze!” to “There is no legitimate way we can make this trip.” Bummed out and a bit defeated, we canceled. By mid-week, our twins’ school had shut down, by the end of the week, the toddler’s daycare provider had proclaimed that she had come down with every classic symptom of COVID-19 and would be shutting down until further notice. We braced for the long haul, with no idea what lay ahead.
By the middle of the next week, I felt like I still had it mostly together. My husband (we’ll refer to him as B), who works in a bank (with a steady stream of customers in and out ALL.DAY.LONG), was still working. I could work from home when needed and a VERY gracious boss who told me to focus on doing whatever I needed to do on the homefront. That said, I jumped into trying to homeschool two second graders, potty train a two-year-old, continue working full-time, and oh yeah, packing our house because we had just sold it and had to move in 30 days. At this point, though, I thought I had it all together. “I have GOT this,” I thought, a bit too smugly. By the end of the week, however, both B and I started feeling pretty crappy. COVID still really wasn’t on my radar at this point – this felt like a sinus infection coming on. By the end of the weekend, my head was constantly pounding; my chest felt like an elephant was jumping up and down on it, and I generally felt like crap. B came down with body aches and a bit of a cough by Sunday night. Out of an abundance of precaution, I made him go to the doctor Monday morning, as he’s considered high risk (diabetes and high blood pressure), and if this WAS the Rona, I didn’t want to mess around with it! He was able to get a test Monday morning. Because I’m not high risk and didn’t spike a fever or have a cough, I didn’t qualify (come to find out, it didn’t matter how many symptoms any of the remaining four of us came down with, no one else could get a test. Total failure, Indiana, but that’s a whole separate post). As the week went on, and we kept waiting and waiting and waiting for his test results to come back, B continued to get progressively worse. By the following Tuesday, when he spiked a fever and couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the couch without becoming completely exhausted, I broke down in crocodile tears and insisted we go to the hospital.
Let’s talk about the most terrifying thing in the world: Loading up your three young kids in the minivan and dropping your husband off at the front entrance of the Emergency Room. You can’t drop your kids off at Nana’s so they don’t have to see their daddy walk into the hospital, not knowing when he’s coming back – remember, you’re all in quarantine. You can’t hold your husband’s hand as he’s sick and terrified of the unknown. So yes, here I am, a terrified wife, dropping off my sick, terrified husband at the hospital, while our terrified children sit in the back seat and watch him go. It was a banner day. A few hours later, B calls to say that he’s now been diagnosed with double pneumonia, has now had a second COVID-19 test (because over a week later the first results still aren’t back) and has been told by the ER doctor that he’ll be in the hospital for “a few days.” A few days turned into six days. We spent most of our days talking via Google Duo, trying to make each day as normal as it could be. The kids made pictures on giant sheets of paper that a friend who works at the hospital graciously delivered for us to decorate his room. We were terrified one night when B’s oxygen stats dropped, and he was whisked to progressive care in the middle of the night. Through it all, though, I was eternally grateful that he remained in the hospital until it was evident the pneumonia was starting to clear. It was only at the hospital, where he received the most amazing care by a tremendous medical staff where I KNEW he was safest. Had he been at home and gone into one of his frequent coughing fits, and his O2 levels dropped like that, I would panic. My sister-in-law, a former medic married to a firefighter, became our medical liaison. She speaks “the language” and would call the hospital every morning and night for a long discussion with his morning and night nurses and then conference call with our family to disseminate the information. This was the BEST – I don’t think we could’ve made it through this without her, and I will be eternally grateful. Following his release from the hospital, he was ordered to 10 days of quarantine at home, where most of our conversations were had through a closed bedroom door or through the master bedroom window, as we had a few warm days and he could watch the kids play in the back yard. We even pushed over the kids’ picnic table to the window one warm day, and he set his dinner up on a tv tray so we could enjoy dinner as a family.
I’d like to say that I handled this whole situation with grace and patience. To be honest, though, the last two months have been the darkest of my life. I hate to say it, but it’s always been exceedingly difficult for me to sympathize with those who have anxiety and depression issues. It’s not that I don’t feel that these issues don’t exist; I certainly do. Having never suffered from anxiety or depression, however, it’s hard to relate. I now know how crippling anxiety feels. In the last few months, my kids spent more time watching tv or playing tablets than I feel comfortable saying. I spent hours scrolling through my Facebook feed because I just didn’t have the energy or motivation to do anything else. In times of a crippling international pandemic, the media is both your best friend and worst enemy. I spent far too many hours reading horror story after horror story about the C word. I found myself Googling things like “Coronavirus and chest pain” or “Coronavirus with no fever” or “pneumonia and coronavirus death rates.” It only served to make the awful anxiety that much worse. When I finally had the chance to go to the doctor myself (after both a teledoc appointment AND an immediate care visit), she asked if I felt like I needed medication for anxiety. I said no, as I felt that, at that point, the worst had passed. Looking back now, I probably should’ve taken her up on the advice. Though I feel 1000% better now, mentally, I don’t think I’m giving either my kids or my husband my best. The long term mental health effects of the Corona crisis will be felt for years by individuals nationwide; of this I am absolutely certain.
The fog is starting to lift, little by little, though, and for that, I am grateful. B has returned to work after more than a month off. What I have dubbed “the move from hell” is finally complete, and we are all moved into our new home (although we are living amongst boxes in every room – but I’m giving us grace and patience and unpacking a little at a time). We have been blessed in that both of us have received 100% of our pay through this whole ordeal.
Oh, yeah – and the COVID-19 test I was able to take a month later? It was negative. As was the antibody test, I was able to take to find out if I’m a carrier of the virus. Now, I’ll just walk around praying I don’t get this deadly virus. Don’t mind me; I’ll just be over here terrified that I’m going to catch a virus that could potentially take me away from my husband and family forever. I’m fine. Everything is fine. We’re all ok.