It’s been four months since the first symptom. Since the world lost it’s mind, and is still trying to find it.
They say he almost died. They say he was very lucky for surviving. They say he was very unlucky for getting so sick. They say a lot of things.
In Houston, TX, Harris County, one of the most populous counties in the country, he was the 30th person to test positive for COVID19. In other words, he was one of the first. I‘m an overachiever, he must get that from me.
He’s 42 years old, meditates regularly, has eaten a ridiculously healthy diet for over eight years, and is in the best shape of his life thanks to all those jujitsu classes… those damn jujitsu classes.
“I want to compete,” he said months before.
“Ummm, ok” I manage to imitate the reaction of a supportive wife while the pessimistic computer in my brain runs through all the different permutations of him getting hurt or killed for no good reason. He’s a software engineer so most injuries can be overcome with voice recognition tools. Technically he can still earn a living with a broken hand or even a broken neck. Our life insurance is enough to allow me to stay home with the kids until they go to college. I’m not going to win this argument, so I decide not to have it. I keep my supportive mouth shut while I secretly think it’s a waste of time and money for two grown men to roll around on a gross mat and “win” at being a big, tough MAN.
He tells the boys about it. “Daddy’s going to compete!” At six and eight years old, they stared at him blankly and started talking about video games. I kept my mouth shut.
He added the event to our shared calendar. I pictured a local event taking place at his local gym. When I clicked on the location, I saw it’s an HOUR drive away. I kept my mouth shut.
When he spent hundreds of dollars on private coaching, I kept my mouth shut. When he spent hundreds of dollars on new gear, I kept my mouth shut. He practices nearly every day. He’s so damn excited.
When people in the US started getting nervous about the virus in early March, I kept my supportive mouth shut. When he said he wanted the kids to watch him compete, I kept my mouth shut. When we drove an hour and pulled up to the GIANT event center with a packed parking lot, my stomach dropped. I had no idea it was going to be such a big event. It’s March 8th. It’s spring break. Nothing has closed down yet, life is normal… and yet, my stomach keeps dropping. I don’t like this. I don’t like this. But I lather my kids in hand sanitizer and keep my supportive mouth shut.
March 11th, he doesn’t feel so good. They say it just sounds like, “classic flu symptoms. Take a bunch of ibuprofen. Get some rest.”
We cancel everything, all the spring break plans with friends and family, kids are heartbroken. They don’t say it, but everyone thinks we’re overreacting. He distances himself in the guest room and bathroom. “Boys, don’t touch Daddy! We don’t want to spread germs. Here, watch this video; it shows you how you’re supposed to wash your hands. Don’t touch your face! Oh god, don’t pick your nose!” I spray, I wipe, I cook, I clean, I wait.
He has an amazing immune system. I’m usually the sick one. When we pass a cold around the family, I’m sick for a solid two weeks, he’s over it in two days; it’s REALLY annoying. I’m the one with health issues. I’m the one who has mysterious inflammation issues and is in too much pain to stand up past 5pm every day. BUT sometimes it gets into his chest. In the 17 years I’ve known him, he’s gotten a bad cough a few times. Enough to make him go to the doctor and get it checked out. He has a history of mild childhood asthma. No big deal. He’ll be over it in a few days - always is.
A few days later, he’s fine! He’s over it. No big deal.
Then he has a bad night. The days are OK but the fever comes back every night. The cough gets worse. He’s a big guy. At 6’3” and 230lbs, when he coughs it feels like the whole house shakes. He’s up, he’s down, he’s better, he’s worse. I can see why this thing spreads. I spray, I wipe, I cook, I clean, I wait.
Only a few people in Houston have this new virus and most of them are from cruise ships or have been traveling. Spring break is extended at least a week. The kids rejoice. A few things here and there are canceled. Then the rodeo is canceled! My oh my, you know it’s bad when Houston’s precious Livestock Show and Rodeo is canceled. That’s when people know it’s a big deal. That’s when the grocery shelves start looking bare.
A week later, the teledoctor says it’s time for a chest x-ray. When he goes to the doctor, they have just gotten their first batch of COVID19 tests. They jab a stick up his nose until it feels like they’ve hit brain. I spray, I wipe, I cook, I clean, I wait.
Two days later, he shoves his phone screen in my face, “PRESUMPTIVE POSITIVE.” The look on his face is wild. The kids are in the room. I’m washing dishes. I calmly say, “OK.” We make all the awkward phone calls and texts to everyone we’d been around in the last two weeks. It’s not many. I’ve never been so happy to have overreacted to something. Everyone is polite and asks how he’s doing, “Oh, he’s over the worst of it! He’s got that great immune system remember. Me? Oh, I’m fine. Just a little tired from taking care of a third child all week. hahaha”
I run to the pharmacy to pick up some asthma medication for my husband. After I sign for it, I look at the pharmacy tech and say, “Make sure you sanitize that, my husband has a cough.” She looks at me like I just shat on the sidewalk.
On the drive home, I feel one, literally only one, weird, short breath. It’s nothing. It’s nothing I would have even noticed had we not gotten that test result today. It’s all in my head.
The kids are in bed. His coughing gets worse. It comes in fits. He can’t talk much. It’s getting harder to breathe, especially when he lays on his side. He’s all alone up in the guest room. I don’t like him being alone. If he needs to call 911, he won’t be able to talk enough to tell them our address. Maybe I can sleep on the floor outside his door? Maybe we should just give up on this distancing thing and have him sleep in our room next to me? Maybe I should stay up all night and make sure he never stops breathing.
We compromise. He sleeps in the living room, partially sitting up in a recliner so he won’t roll onto his side, and I sleep on the other side of the room on the couch. But of course we don’t really sleep. Sure, nights are worse, but this one seems worse than the others. But is it? Or does it just seem that way because now we know. I text my parents. I’m scared. For the first time, I’m really scared.
Morning comes. Mornings are always better. But this morning isn’t. This morning he looks grey. He calls the doctor. They say his pulse ox isn’t low enough to go to the hospital. That doesn’t sound right to me. I decide it’s time to call in the big guns. I have a distant relative who is an ER doctor at one of the best hospitals in the city. He’s a really nice guy but I don’t know him very well so I’ve never played this card before. It’s time to play it. He talks to my husband, listens to all his symptoms, and tells him to get to the hospital as fast as he can.
OK, great… but HOW?
He’s too sick to drive. An ambulance would only take us to the closest hospital, not my relative’s hospital. Obviously, calling a car service would be irresponsible. We’ve been working so hard to distance ourselves from him for 11 days and now we’re just supposed to all get in a car together? I can’t think straight. No sleep. I’m scared for my husband but I’m also scared for my kids. I decide to outsource the decision making again and call a friend who is a doctor, and a mom, and has been keeping up with us this whole time. She’s lays it out for me and gently tells me what I need to hear, “Honey, your kids have already been exposed. Just get in the car and drive.” So I put masks on my kids and drive like hell.
Our relative calls it in and tells us where to go. We drop him off at a special entrance, away from the public. There is a doctor in full PPE waiting for him. “Kids, say goodbye to Daddy.” I drive home in a daze. We had let the kids have their screens in the car, a rare treat, so they’re sedated and don’t really know what’s going on. My relative tells me when I get home I need to do a full decontamination. We all change clothes and shower, and I scrub the house from top to bottom. I spray, I wipe, I cook, I clean, I wait.
But I’m so tired. I cough a few times, but I don’t “have a cough.” I just didn’t get enough sleep last night.
They immediately give my husband a chest CT and the infectious disease doctor tells my husband, “It doesn’t look good.”
Over text message -
Me: “Wait!? What did the doctor say? Tell me exactly what the doctor said. Those can’t have been his exact words.”
Husband: “Those were his exact words.”
I have to think this doctor doesn’t speak English as a first language or isn’t from our culture because the words, “It doesn’t look good” should never be uttered by a doctor unless they are on a TV drama and the story arc is about to kill off the patient. I spray, I wipe, I cook, I clean, I wait.
Finally, the doctor calls me and answers my 1,387 questions. “Bottom line, he’s young and healthy, he’s expected to recover. The next two days are crucial. We don’t know what works and what doesn’t, so we’re hitting him with everything we’ve got. But I need to set your expectations about something. I need you to understand that there are no visitors allowed.”
I respond with some polite version of, “Duh.” I’ve been treating my house like a hazmat site for the past 11 days. At this point, I know all about this stuff.
“No, but, I need you to understand that there are no visitors… no matter how bad it gets.” Silence.
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I hadn’t thought about that. This was mid March, there hadn’t yet been articles and documentaries about people having to watch their loved ones die via FaceTime. I had been so worried about the logistics, that when I saw my husband walk into the hospital I didn’t realize that it might be last time I would ever see him in the flesh. The timer for the pasta goes off. I thank the doctor and drain the pasta.
I sit on the floor of my closet. It’s far from the kids’ room and has some sound proofing thanks to my overzealous love of fashion. I call my mother in law and tell her about her baby.
The kids’ school sends out an announcement that a parent has tested positive. The shit hits the fan via Facebook and text messages, “Who is it? Who is it? Who is it? How dare they expose my child! They must not have been very diligent about distancing themselves when they got symptoms. How irresponsible of them! Who is it? Who is it? Who is it? Sure it’s been 14 days since they were even at the school but isn’t that convenient. I bet the school and parents waited to tell people until now! Who is it? Who is it? Who is it?” I feel like there are people with torches and pitchforks circling my neighborhood, trying to find my house.
I’d been so focused on what was going on inside my house I didn’t know just how much people had lost their minds, that random Asian people were being attacked. That well educated people were asking their HOAs to list the houses of virus patients so they could avoid those houses on their walks around the neighborhood.
I shiver a little. I can’t sleep.
The next day. It’s official. I have a cough. No fever, but definitely a cough. I give up on any attempt at trying to distance myself from the kids. They rub my feet to try and help me feel better. I spray less. I wipe less. I cook less. I clean less. I wait. And I plan.
I have my eight year old film me loading the dishwasher and the washing machine. In case I become too sick to do it myself he can watch the video to see how to do it. They can make a few meals themselves but I show them a few more. Friends drop off groceries. My family has one of my many twenty-something year old nieces on standby to come get the kids and take them to another house, just in case I have to go to the hospital or get too sick to care of them. I triage every hour of the day, planning for the worst. I regret having put off making a will.
My husband isn’t any better but he isn’t any worse. That’s a good sign they say. They say a lot of things.
The next day, I’m coughing more. My husband improves! He’s starting to get grumpy. That’s a good sign.
A few days later he’s continuing to improve. I’m coughing so much I can’t sleep. I don’t tell my parents how bad it is but I do tell my doctor. They want me to come in for a chest x-ray. No, I can’t bring my kids. Well, how am I supposed to do that?!
I get creative. I have my sister babysit my children through an open window while standing in the driveway. I set up their “comfy spot” by the window with pillows and all their screens and toys. I pack an ice chest full of food and drinks so they don’t have to go into the kitchen. There is a sight-line to the bathroom so she can see them. They’re not allowed to go anywhere else in the house. They’re not allowed to run or roughhouse. I try to let them know how serious it is without scaring them. I tell them they can have ice cream if they follow all the rules.
This gets their attention.
I don’t show them that I’ve packed their overnight bags. I don’t know if the doctors will read my chest x-ray while I’m there and tell me I need to go straight to the hospital. I don’t know if my kids will have parents to take care of them that afternoon.
After my x-ray, they say they’ll call me in a few hours. I go home. I thank my sister. I take a shower. I hug my kids. I get a phone call. My chest x-ray is clear. A few minutes later, I get another phone call. My husband is being released; I need to go pick him up. My kids have parents that afternoon after all.