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My COVID Story: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been absent for a while. My podcast, The Fringe, has been dark for two weeks and my contributions to this site have been minimal. The bad news for my trolls is I haven’t been sacked (yet). The truth is, my whole family has COVID-19. Yes, we traveled for Thanksgiving and saw a small number of family members. Our total number was under the recommended number. Technically, we were in compliance with the guidelines. We also comply with all stores that require masking and social distancing even though we think it won’t stop a virus. We comply because everyone around us is insane with fear. We aren’t sure if we contracted it from a family member or from a grocery store but the Sunday after Thanksgiving my oldest child, 14, started having symptoms. I immediately decided to have her tested and keep everyone home from school until I got the results.

We live in New York and if my child has a runny nose she can’t go to school until she gets tested. It seems like overkill but if it keeps the schools open then I want to do everything I can to help because my children need school. By Monday morning, daughter number two, 11 (we’ll call her Eleven from here on), was having symptoms too. I took them both for a COVID test ordered by our doctor. Here’s an interesting factoid about getting tested: You can’t just go to a testing center in New York and get tested. You must have an order from a doctor to get a COVID test. How this squares with the constant mantra of “more testing” I’ll never know. They don’t make it easy.

The test was uneventful. It wasn’t pleasant but the girls were champs and no one cried. I was not tested. I was 99% sure their tests were going to come back positive and I was right. One of the things I was not looking forward to was dealing with the health department which I then knew was inevitable. Would they show up on my doorstep and inspect my house for the appropriate isolation locations? These are concerns that I had because our legislature passed a draconian public health law last year allowing the health department to incarcerate anyone (including minors) in the case of a public health crisis. Laws like that tend to make people paranoid and distrustful of government.

The Stomach Flu Road Trip from Hell

In the interest of keeping my exact location a mystery to the would-be stalkers out there, I’m going to be purposely vague about who I spoke to. It’s unfortunate that I have to be careful like this because this is a rare occasion that I would praise a government office. It’s too bad you’ll never know which one, but don’t worry, I’m going to make sure they know how grateful I am. The county health department called me the same day I received the positive notification. I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient they were in contacting patients. Not only were they timely, but the nurse assigned to our family was very helpful, kind, and thorough. She checked on the girls’ symptoms and asked if we would need any groceries delivered since the whole family would be under isolation orders from the state. We have wonderful neighbors who jumped at the chance to pick up groceries for us so I didn’t need to take the help offered by the county, but it sure is nice to know they are offering that to people under quarantine. To contrast, the New York State contact tracing people were not very organized and kept contradicting the orders from the health department. They should probably stop that. I quickly stopped talking to them and began only communicating with the health department.

Once you get that positive diagnosis you are locked down. I had to think of all the things I could possibly need for the next 10-14 days and order it from Walmart. Walmart grocery has changed my life. I highly recommend it. Even when you’re not quarantining, doing a drive-by to pick up two weeks worth of groceries is heaven. I thought it would be fun to introduce the kids to TV dinners, which they have never had. I ordered the classic Hungry Man fried chicken with the dessert that is only good in the oven. They changed it from cherry pie to a brownie, which was a little disappointing but the kids loved it. In fact, my youngest, 6, told me that I’m the best cook in the world after he ate his. I may never cook for him again.

COVID is no fun. The girls were quite sick with a low fever, muscle and nerve pain, and a headache that was hard to control. Advil and Tylenol did nothing for the pain. I finally discovered that ice packs were the key. As long as they had ice they were much more comfortable. By Tuesday, Mr. Fox was down for the count. They all spent most of the time sleeping. By Wednesday night something bad was happening with Eleven. She began to say she had a terrible stomach ache so I called the doctor. While he was on the phone she started to wail. He did a few tests with her like “jump up and down” which seemed crazy but we managed to do it. She jumped once and then hit the ground crying. He sent us to the hospital.

I thought that if COVID-positive patients are going to the hospital there must be some protocol to follow so I called ahead to let them know we were coming. There was no plan. “Just walk in,” I was told. So we did. There was no COVID waiting room or isolation room for COVID-positive patients. I found that to be odd, to say the least. They checked us in and then moved Eleven and me to a room in the ER that we were told not to leave. Before nurses could enter the room they had to spend five minutes gearing up. This was particularly frustrating because by this time Eleven’s pain was at a ten and she had no pain relief and was crying and screaming. It’s awful to have to stand there and do nothing when your child is in pain. It took them an extraordinarily long period of time to get her a painkiller. Finally, morphine was administered and an ultrasound was done. Appendicitis. What rotten timing.

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We were transferred to the largest hospital in the area with a pediatric surgery unit. Eleven would have to have surgery immediately. By this time it was around midnight. I tried to follow the ambulance but I was pulled over by the police because my “safety inspection” is overdue, or something. For real. I was nervous the police officer would think I was drunk because I could barely put words together to explain the hospital situation because I hadn’t had any sleep since Sunday. Did I mention we got a new puppy?

The day we returned from Thanksgiving, we had made arrangements to pick up our newest family member, Archimedes Ruckus. He’s an 8-week-old German Shepherd baby. He joined us the day the symptoms began. Not only was I caring for three COVID patients but I was sleeping on the couch next to a whiny puppy who needed to go out every hour. My neck muscles were very angry with me over the couch situation and had decided now was the time to seize up and cramp. Did I mention I’ve also been in physical therapy for rotator cuff tendonitis for the last five weeks?

As I was pulling over to the side of the road for the police, I thought they must be tracking me or something! “She’s broken quarantine! Get her! ” Luckily, it turns out that’s way beyond the capabilities of our law enforcement. The officer apologized after hearing I was on my way to the hospital for my daughter’s surgery and she let me go.

I expected that when we got to the famous university hospital where all the COVID patients are treated someone from the COVID response team would come to check on Eleven or at least examine her. Pediatric COVID patients are rare so I thought someone might want to take a look. That didn’t happen. There is no COVID team! They’re just treating it with any doctor on the floor at the moment, hacking away at symptoms like one plays Whack-a-Mole at an arcade. It doesn’t inspire confidence. I wasn’t sure that the appendicitis wasn’t related to the COVID but every surgeon and nurse and doctor I spoke to insisted it was just a bad coincidence. Evidence after surgery showed that it had, indeed, been building up for a while. Eleven’s white blood cell count showed no signs of viral infection by Thursday.

We were in the hospital for one night and discharged. Unfortunately, I had no sleep again because of the neck pain that would not stop. The nursing staff was kind enough to give me hot packs for it. Right before we were discharged I began coughing. I brought Eleven home and Mr. Fox carried her straight to bed. Fourteen’s symptoms had worsened after taking care of the puppy for the night. Mr. Fox was exhausted as well, having overdone it while I was gone.

I went back to puppy duty. Sometime during the night I went to lift the dog out of his playpen and aggravated an old lower back injury and ended up collapsed on the floor crying. Normally, this is an injury I would seek therapy for from a massage therapist or a chiropractor, but under isolation I just accepted that this is my life now, full of pain and misery and piles of poop.

And then I lost my sense of taste and smell. My COVID symptoms weren’t so bad. I had a cough and some chest pain for a day. After that, it was just a cough and fatigue. I slept as much as I could between cleaning up puppy accidents. But losing taste and smell hit me hardest of all. I can’t stop thinking, “What if I’m one of the ones who doesn’t get it back? Have I smelled my last rose?” That’s depressing af.

As of today, the girls are recovered from COVID, though Eleven is still recovering from the surgery, and both of them regained their sense of smell and taste. Mr. Fox is mostly recovered though his smell and taste are still gone and I am also recovered but in the same bland hell of anosmia. That’s the worst part of this. The rest of it wasn’t even as bad as the last flu I had (which my editor reminds me was much funnier than this episode). And if you’re wondering what happened to Six—nothing. The kid is like Superman. He never got it.

The question everyone wants to know is: Do you regret going away for Thanksgiving? I have mixed feelings about this. I regret getting COVID at this moment when the stars were aligned against us in so many series of unfortunate events that came along with it. The timing was extremely bad, but I had no way of knowing that. I always thought we would get it at some point and was comfortable with taking that risk in order for life to continue on in as normal a fashion as possible. It’s a highly contagious virus that needs to burn itself out. Avoiding it forever is impossible. The only reason I would say I regret going is that the puppy and appendicitis put us over the top and into a situation that I still feel I might not survive. If we had just had COVID and nothing else, it would have seemed a lot less severe. I also might have been more afraid of COVID if I had known that the doctors who are treating COVID patients are so devoid of any knowledge about this virus. The shoulder-shrugging in the hospital was maddening. No one knows anything. That’s the truth of it. And basically, there’s no treatment to make symptoms less severe, or if there is, it’s not being handed out to nobodies like us. If you get COVID, you’re on your own.

Different departments in the hospital also treated us differently. The emergency department and pediatric unit were very careful with PPE and protocol and took pains to avoid us when possible while the surgical staff was far more relaxed. I got the impression that nothing scares surgeons. We felt less like lepers with the surgical staff who did not fuss at Eleven for her mask falling beneath her nose while she was writhing in pain. They were unflinchingly professional and competent and I am in awe of what they do with such expertise. They can remove an appendix through a tiny cut in the belly button in an hour. Amazing.

I also learned that my daughter’s hospitalization was counted as a COVID hospitalization even though it was appendicitis that sent her to the hospital and she was never treated for COVID in any way. In fact, I had to beg someone to come talk to us about the COVID symptoms. Had I not done that, we would never have seen anyone regarding COVID. If you still don’t think the numbers aren’t padded, I don’t know what to tell you to break the programming.

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But a word about the best of it: Our neighbors and friends have gone to heroic lengths to make us comfortable from picking up groceries to dropping off get well cards and gifts for the children, a dozen holiday donuts, scores of ready-made meals, and fresh fruit. One of our friends flew in our Chicago favorites from Portillos and Lou Malnati’s. We have been spoiled by generosity. Keeping up with hungry children when you’re sick is a Sisyphean task and the kindness of our friends has made it so much easier. I now have a refrigerator full of yummy things to grab and eat. All that remains to be done is to wait out the remaining days of our quarantine and book a massage. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on a heating pad and trying to care for the puppy without hurting myself again.

While institutions and “experts” have failed us spectacularly during this pandemic, our neighbors and friends have risen to the moment, stepping in with support and generosity. I can’t thank them enough. It makes me proud to be an American.