It started as a cough. At first, we thought nothing of it except that it was our 15-year old son’s normal fall cold. He gets a bad cold every single year and it always starts with a cough and then a stuffy nose. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except that this cold was about a month earlier.
Besides the cough, our son was fine and continued to get up to do his online school. Over the weekend, we hosted our usual small “bubble” of friends at our house, one of my daughter’s friends and our neighbor, the small group who we have been hanging out with since the pandemic began. We told them about Max’s cough but honestly thought nothing of it. We live in a city of a million people and out of everyone we knew, only one person in our circle of friends had tested positive for COVID. It still felt like something we only read about every day in the newspaper but that hadn’t truly reached us.
Like most of my family and friends, we have spent the past eight months following all the Covid rules and living a pretty boring, isolated life. We wear masks everywhere (thankfully it is a state mandate), my husband works from home, we don’t go out to eat indoors at a restaurant, have not flown anywhere, don’t go to the gym or do anything considered risky. We have hardly socialized with friends except for outside, socially distanced. Since March, we have basically lived a very sheltered, limited life and have only allowed our small bubble inside our home. The only risk we took was allowing both of our teenage kids to play outdoor sports. I had felt as a parent that so much has been taken away from them, and sports was the one thing they had left. The risk was small since they were outdoors but it was there.
Despite all the precautions we took, somehow Covid made it to our house, and when I got the call from our doctor that my son tested positive, I was completely shocked and terrified.
We were so sure that it wasn’t COVID that we almost didn’t get him tested. We knew no one in our community who had Covid (except one), no one at my son’s school, no friends in Minneapolis or even in the US. Covid was something we only read about in the news. But somehow, my son got the virus and to this day we will never be exactly sure how he got it. Our only guess is sports.
After the initial shock set in, I went into panic mode as I began to frantically call my “bubble” of friends and my family to tell them the frightening news. My son wasn’t that sick but my fear was the rest of us in the family would get sick. We knew that we had to all get tested as soon as we could however I soon discovered what a nightmare getting tested was. And this was well before our numbers moved from roughly 1,500 cases a day to almost 6,000 positive cases a day just last week in my home state of Minnesota.
For my daughter, getting tested was no problem. I called her pediatrician and they got her in right away regardless of whether or not she had symptoms. For my husband and I, it was a bit of a nightmare. After calling around, we found that many places would not test us without clear symptoms. I heard from some friends that they even had to lie about having symptoms to get tested even if they had been exposed. Other clinics required first a video screening call with a doctor to access your symptoms and then an appointment for a test. None of those solutions would work and I was shocked at how hard it is to get a test in a major US city eight months into the pandemic.
After further phone calls, we finally learned of a drive up testing site at a hospital and made the drive there later that afternoon. The line of cars was so long that they had to have patrols directing the cars. Again, this was mid-October well before our peak of positive cases and testing needs right now. The line of people who wanted to get tested was so long that they had to close the entrance and turn people away well before the closing time. We waited over two hours Inside our car until we finally got to the top of the line, rolled down our window and got a very uncomfortable nasal swab crammed up our nose. Little did I know how risky it was for both of us to be in the same car together for over two hours without a mask on! That I would learn later.
Once we got home, the waiting began.
We isolated my son Max in his bedroom which was not a bad place for a fifteen-year-old to be for the next ten days. I brought him breakfast, lunch and dinner to his closed door, and he was only allowed out of his bedroom to use the bathroom that no one else was allowed to use.
The next morning, my husband woke up feeling like he’d been run over by a truck. He was exhausted, had the chills and nasal congestion. It was obvious at that point that he too had Covid but of course the test results weren’t back. Thankfully, he was able to start isolating right away in our basement where he would live for the next ten days with only a short break to the bathroom.
I was frantically trying to “run the ship” and deliver meals outside of closed doors, wear a mask 24/7 in my own home and use antibacterial wipes to touch every single item touched by my son and husband. Meanwhile, we had no food and were running out of wipes, Tylenol and hand soap and it was time to get some help. I sent off a few frantic text messages to some of my friends and also did a few online grocery delivery orders so we would have food for the next two weeks that we would be trapped in the house on quarantine. I tried not to panic and told all my friends to not give me a single “bad” story about Covid and the horrible things that can happen. Yes Covid can have mild symptoms in children and even adults. However, I have learned that Covid effects every single person differently and you can no way assume that you will have mild symptoms.
I went to sleep that second night on the pull out coach in my office, completely exhausted and honestly a bit scared. What if my husband got worse and scarier yet, what if I got it? Who would take care of the family?
By day three, we finally got our test results. My husband of course tested positive and was suffering flu-like symptoms, and my daughter tested positive as well with a headache and fatigue. However, surprisingly enough my results came back negative. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I the sole caregiver had been spared until I realized that two days before I had sat in the car with my husband for over two hours waiting to get tested for Covid. Never did I once think of wearing a mask or going separately. That would mean I was exposed again and would have to be re-tested 5-7 days after that exposure to my husband. So the crazy wait began again.
Meanwhile, life was insane, preparing all three meals for my husband, son, and daughter and delivering the meals outside of their closed doors. I was the one who was isolated now since I had to keep clear of them or else my quarantine would be 14 days after their ten days of quarantine. That would be 24 days total of quarantine and it just was not possible. I could hardly manage two weeks let alone almost a month! So my number one goal after ensuring everyone was not too sick was keeping myself healthy. Those ten days were scary, isolating, exhausting, and lonely. On day seven after the car exposure, I went to another drive up testing site and got my nose swabbed again. By this point I thought for sure I had it. I had a headache, was exhausted, a sore throat, and heart palpitations. I once again awaited the results to find out again I was negative. It must have been all the stress that gave me Covid-like symptoms.
The only time I could leave the house was with my mask on to walk the dog. Thankfully it was unseasonably cold outside which meant there were not many other people walking around. When I saw someone, I simply walked off in the street to keep my distance. I felt like I had a huge scarlet letter on my chest, with a huge letter C. While most of my friends were incredibly caring and worried about us, some of my acquaintances acted as we had done something wrong and had not followed the rules. I instantly knew who my real friends were. They were the ones who dropped off meals and wipes and soap. They were the ones who checked in with me over the next two weeks to make sure we were ok. They were the ones that gave me the strength to get through an incredibly stressful experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
After much hesitation, I decided to share my story with my community on Facebook and to take some of the stigma off getting Covid and what to expect if you do. In the aftermath of our harrowing experience I wrote:
Often I wonder….was this really ME? We all have lost so much these past 8 months of the pandemic. For me, I’ve lost a huge part of myself. I have stopped following my dreams of seeing and experiencing the world. I’ve stopped writing. I haven’t seen my extended family hardly at all and it has been so hard. Yet we still have a roof over our head, food on the table and our family. 2020 has by far been one of the toughest years in our world. A global pandemic, injustice, riotings, and hate. Sometimes it is too much to take.
Yet, when I look at this picture, I remember there is a strong woman somewhere in hiding. There have been so many challenging mountains to climb in this journey of life. For me and for everyone. I hope I see this woman in the picture again someday soon. She is missed.
Our two weeks came to an end just in time for Halloween. It felt like a godsend. Halloween is my daughter’s favorite holiday and although this year it was certainly going to be a different one with the pandemic, she was thrilled to be able to go out and do a “socially-distanced, mask-wearing” Halloween.
We learned from the Minnesota Department of Health that my family would be immune to getting and passing COVID for 90 days (this is the current CDC guideline). It was bittersweet.
A few weeks after Covid left our house, it has become apparent that our state and country are far into a second wave which will most likely be more brutal that the last one. It is heartbreaking and hard to accept all the mistakes we have made in trying to tame this beast and I personally am ashamed by the lack of leadership and credibility of our government. So many lives have been lost and so many lies have been told. I wonder how differently the pandemic would have played out if we had a president who actually believed Covid was a threat and how many lives we could have spared? The number of cases and deaths in our country is an outright disaster and embarrassment to our democracy.
Like much of the world, Saturday I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I finally saw a glimmer of hope that things will get better. It felt good to have hope once again after so many years of despair. Those who have followed my blog know that I am a strong believer in protecting the planet, our fellow human beings, and the utter importance of human rights for all people. I have tried hard not to discuss politics on my blog as it is such a divider in our world and I do respect everyone’s right to believe what they want even if I strongly disagree. For me, 2020 will be a year that goes down in history and not for its good things but for its ugly upheaval and pain. Yet I can lift my face to the sky and finally see a ray of light once again. And that is enough to keep me going.