On a Tuesday morning on our vacation week, my husband and I woke up with painful headaches. We had plans to paint the living room that day, but when we tried to get up, we were both overcome with head and body aches. I’d never had a headache like that, even compared to the painful headaches through much of my pregnancy with our daughter Eloise. It felt almost like there was pressure and tension prodding from every direction inside our skulls. We also felt sore – as if we had spent the day before running a marathon. It felt like every cell in my body was both exhausted and throbbing.
Later that afternoon, the chills started. While we watched our 18 month old daughter, Eloise, playing with her toys, we layered on the blankets. It wasn’t enough. We could not get warm. I kept thinking, I hope this is just a bad cold. Eloise is fine! I can still smell and taste! I don’t have a cough or a sore throat! We’re in our thirties! Young people don’t get this sick from COVID-19 This is definitely just a bad cold. That same day, our fevers started to rise quickly. At that point, we still didn’t think we had Coronavirus. In retrospect, I feel silly for thinking it couldn’t be Coronavirus, but I think we may have also been in denial that it could have been a possibility.
We were the people who were sanitizing groceries and packages. We were the people who rarely ventured to a store and did almost all of our ordering online or with curbside pickup. We were the ones who turned down friends and events. We were the ones who were angry when we saw people not wearing masks properly. We kept our circle small (which had only included who we needed for childcare). We weren’t the people who were going to get sick with COVID-19. It was scary, but always very far away from us. When people we knew got sick or tested positive, we immediately went into judgement mode. Why weren’t they more careful? Are they anti-maskers? Do they not believe this virus is real? Don’t they even care about their families? Are they not sanitizing things? Yuck. I do NOT want to be near them.
And over the long days of high fevers, chills, coughs, and delirium, my mind was plagued with the judgements I had placed on others. Inside, I was bursting, “I am not like them! I am not one of those people!” but our test results came back positive.
COVID-19 is an emotional virus. Every day over the following two weeks, I frantically texted and called my parents: “Does anyone have a headache? Is everyone okay? Can you give me updates? I’m so worried.” If I had more energy, I would have been sobbing. I felt sick to my stomach every single moment with an aching pit of worry. I could barely sleep, I didn’t want to eat, and I felt constantly nauseous. I’m still unsure how much of that was COVID-19 related and how much of that was my anxiety for my loved ones. My existence was wracked by endless questions that fueled my terror: What if I had unknowingly exposed someone after I had been exposed? How could I live with myself if I get someone else sick? How could I live with myself if our baby gets sick? I could never forgive myself. How do we take care of our daughter if she isn’t sick? How do we take care of her if she is sick, and we are feeling this weak? We wanted to crawl out of our skin. We were embarrassed, scared, angry, so sick, and so tired.
When our symptoms started, we began obsessively checking Eloise’s temperature every chance we could. It got to the point where I was rechecking it two or three times within the same few minutes because I was so afraid I misread a temperature (and my brain fog was bad). At first, Eloise was fine: silly, playing, snuggling, and in good spirits. We thought that she was going to be fine, but we still struggled to figure out how we could parent her without getting her sick. How do we feed her safely? Comfort her? Change her? Do we wear gloves? It felt impossible.
Then, three days after we started having symptoms, Eloise’s temperature spiked to the highest her fever has ever been. We gave her Tylenol and I called the on-call doctor at her pediatrician’s office with a lump in my throat. I felt like a bad parent, and I was terrified. There is nothing like watching your child suffer and being unable to take the pain away. There are no words for the fear that comes with knowing your child has the virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
We carefully treated and monitored her fever while following the doctor’s orders and repeating her instructions to me: “We have to treat this like it is any other virus.” I held her nonstop. I kept a hand on her chest or side to monitor her breathing all night long. I would fall asleep for only minutes at a time, each time jumping with the same repeating night terror that she wasn’t breathing, or her temperature was burning up, or that she was screaming for me. But she is a strong-willed girl, and she braved through three days of fevers with enough energy to play and snuggle on the couch. She isn’t able to tell us how she is feeling yet, so we hope that she had no other symptoms. As the week went by, Eloise started smiling. It was then that the gravity of this virus hit us: for days, we didn’t remember seeing our happy girl’s smile or hearing her laugh.
My husband’s symptoms cleared up quickly after Eloise, but he lost his sense of smell after a few days and still doesn’t have it back, four weeks later. We both have days when we’re hit with the headache or exhaustion, and I think we will probably be dealing with that for a while. It took about two weeks for me to build the energy back up to even stand in the shower. I was napping multiple times a day because I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open. After the second week, I started to feel better, but then developed a bad cough and trouble breathing. Coronavirus has aggravated my asthma – which for all of my life has been a non-issue, triggered only during the spring when my allergies are bad. It has been four weeks, and I am still struggling to make it through the four hours between inhaler puffs. Every single day, I hope and pray that there are no long-lasting effects for our daughter.
I share our story because even now, as people who could potentially test positive for the next 90 days, I still feel a silly sense of denial that we had it. It just doesn’t make sense to us. Even now, we defend ourselves when we tell our story, but it doesn’t matter. It took one unexpected exposure, one freak incident, to get three healthy people sick. COVID-19 doesn’t care whether or not you believe it could happen to you. It can happen to anyone.
Sometimes I think young people and children think they’re immune to COVID-19. It reminds me of this: when you’re a teenager, you have this sense of invincibility that bad things couldn’t happen to you. You take risks and don’t often think of the consequences. You feel you are smart and savvy enough to handle any challenges you may face. You stride through life with the confidence that no matter what is thrown at you, you’ll be fine.
I think many people look at this virus through faraway, unshakable lenses. You think of people who tested positive and barely had symptoms, or chance moments where no one gets sick at a gathering. You think you won’t get it because you sanitize or clean or “trust” the people you are with to do the same. You remind yourself that you’re young and healthy and you can handle anything thrown at you. But COVID-19 carries risks – some of which I don’t know that we’ll know the consequences of for a long, long time.
To me, to my family, to those who helped us through some of the most challenging days when all I thought was, I can understand how easily someone could die from this, it is not worth the risk. One slip up, one incident, one unknown exposure can change everything.