Getting COVID: Two Years into the Pandemic
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
You know on New Year’s Eve, when we sing “Auld Lang Syne” and imagine that most of our troubles (certainly, not all–let’s not be greedy) are far behind us… And in the back of your mind, you’re kind of already rehearsing tragedy. Preparing what you cannot imagine is coming next.
That’s a good way to describe the feeling that I had on New Year’s Eve this year.
Sure, this year is going to be better. I toast my glass of water (because age has made me incapable of processing alcohol… Like, at all).
I suppose it’s a small feat to have managed to have made it to nearly two years into the pandemic before contracting the virus.
But that all came to an end this past month.
Mark it down: January 2022 will go down in my memory as one of the least enjoyable times of my life.
Wednesday, January 5th
After two days of remote work, I drop four-year-old Henry at daycare and drive in to work for an in-person work day. Because now, we have two different kinds of work days: 1) remote and 2) in-person. I park my car and head toward the COVID testing site, which is a free service offered by my university. The line–normally minimal over the last few months–is 30-people deep. Not a good sign. I don’t have symptoms of COVID, but I figure I’ll get tested since we plan to have people over on Saturday, January 8th for breakfast. And this Omicron strain is going around.
While I’m waiting in line–NOT KIDDING–I get a call from the daycare.
Henry has been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID. He needs to be picked up within the hour. He can return if he tests negative on a COVID test five days from exposure. Or he can quarantine for 10 days.
I hang up and start looking for a COVID test appointment on Sunday, January 9th, but nothing is available in the nearest 50 miles until Monday, January 10th.
As best I can, I try to adopt a neutral attitude about being home with him January 5th-10th. I encourage Doug to stay at work while I stay with Henry. I let Henry paint and use Play-Doh. We use tangrams and crayons, building blocks and Legos. I break out Tablet Time as a last resort. We get through it.
Monday, January 10th
Rapid-test appointment for Henry at a local CVS. We take his backpack and coat because I’m going to drop him off as soon as I get the negative test result.
However, it might be a few hours to process the results because of the backlog.
No problem, I think. I’ll take him to a park even though it’s 15 degrees. He has energy to burn off.
Henry runs from me to different trees in a field, over and over again while I stand there in the cold, refreshing my phone, waiting for the test result to come in.
New Test Result Received.
I clicked on the link.
POSITIVE, it reads in giant red letters, as if to tell me, NO, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
My first thought? Honestly?
F***. How many more days of quarantine NOW?
I do not think, Oh no! I don’t want to get COVID!
Instead, I think, Sweet Jesus. How many more days of full-time parenting do I need to survive? I am not cut out for this.
Henry has no symptoms. I feel fine. I’ve been around him for five days. I’m vaccinated AND boosted. I decide that we are going to skate past this plague because we are prepared.
I call the daycare with the update.
Well… now that he’s tested positive, he can return 10 days after his positive test result.
SAY WHAT NOW?
So that means… the daycare director shuffles papers on her desk. He can return Friday, January 21st.
10 more days? Seriously? Should I NOT have tested him?
Gone is my positive attitude. I’m going to be home, working, with this energetic preschooler for the next 10 days. Doug cancels his travel to a conference in Las Vegas and says that he will work from home and help. This helps, but my mood is still in the toilet.
I miss My Life.
Tuesday, January 11th
Doug develops a fever. Muscle aches, pains, weakness. He can’t move. It’s up to me now to take care of Henry, work, check on Doug, and keep the household going. Henry still has no symptoms. We wonder if it could be COVID, but we have our doubts. We are vaccinated AND boosted. Probably the flu.
We do not play with tangrams or building blocks. We don’t paint or play with Play-Doh. When Henry isn’t sitting with Doug in the TV room, he takes his tablet and crawls underneath the desk where I work and curls up in his “cave.” Using his finger, he “colors” in pixels of a unicorn with a flowing mane for hours upon hours. It’s now Endless Tablet Time and I have zero Mom guilt.
Every now and then, Henry taps on my leg to let me know that he’s ready for me to tap the last pixel of the picture that he’s working on. Together, we watch as the single tap sets the picture into an animated replay of his coloring. His face lights up and in moments like that, it’s hard to be upset that he is home.
But then, I remember all the times I’ve yelled, Listen to me!
And it all comes rushing back.
Wednesday, January 12th
Doug gets a doctor’s order to get tested for COVID and flu. By the end of the day, I’m wondering if I am feeling rundown from carrying the load of the whole family… or if it is something worse. I go ahead and look to schedule a COVID test. The first one available at a CVS in the nearest 50 miles to my house is Sunday, January 16th.
Thursday, January 13th
I skip my exercise, which if you know me, is kind of a big deal. I don’t do that unless something is really wrong. I’m feeling… off. I don’t know how to describe it. Hazy? Slight fever. Some body aches. But I cope. Doug’s test results are in: Negative for flu and positive for COVID.
Okay, then, I think. Here we go.
Doug is still hurting, so I keep everything going. We send the kids to bed early and I embark on a 13-hour sleep trek that I haven’t treated myself too in… Ever? I cannot remember the last time that I slept longer than 12 hours. Was it before kids? I spent years of my life just trying to get 7.5 hours of solid sleep. Remember all those times, waking up to a screaming baby and trying to figure out what kind of scream it was? My God… How many hours of sleep did we lose?
I fall asleep before I can figure it out.
Friday, January 14th
Doug is feeling better. He is able to work and do household chores. I definitely don’t feel well, but it isn’t enough to keep me from doing the things that I need to do.
Sunday, January 16th
I get tested for COVID.
Monday, January 17th
I’m sick. The kind of sick that makes you want to curl into a ball and forget about the world. It feels like every cell in my body is turned down to 30% energy. For the duration of my illness, fatigue is the biggest symptom that I have. Utter fatigue. Hard-to-climb-the-stairs fatigue. Feeling as tired as I did at the end of a long day while being eight months pregnant. That kind of fatigue.
Tuesday, January 18th – Friday, January 21st
My test results come in at 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning and with bleary eyes I see the word that I’m expecting:
And all I can think is how NEGATIVE that word feels in my life right now.
I’m POSITIVE that this is going push me to the absolute edge.
What happens during these days? I call in sick to work and lie on the couch while Henry watches Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon, Sword and the Stone, and Robin Hood on an infinite and unpredictable loop. Henry creates The Triangle, the space between my bent knees and the couch, where he shoves his little body so he’s nice and snug while I drift into and out of consciousness to the music of We don’t talk about Bruno… I sleep 13 hours a night. I sweat in my sleep and don’t remember peeling all my clothes off. I develop a brain fog that leaves me feeling completely stupid and helpless.
I MISS MY LIFE. I LONG for Henry to return to daycare so I can finally be left alone to recover. On one day, Felicity complains of a headache at school and the school nurse firmly recommends that we pick her up since she has been exposed to COVID at home.
Sure, I think. Why not have everyone home while I’m trying to get better?
I envy all those people sick with COVID who don’t have to care for children or houses while they are sick. Those people who can walk away from their responsibilities, turn on Netflix, and check out of Reality until they feel better.
But hey, listen, I KNOW.
At least I was employed at a job were I could take sick leave. At this point in the pandemic, that’s not guaranteed anymore. At least I have a partner. At least I have the money to pay for my health care. At least I have a car to pick up contactless groceries for the family. At least I was vaccinated and was able to recover in two weeks. At least I have a house and food.
I was looking back at this blog and thinking of the giant hole that is missing in this chronicle of my life from 2020 to 2022. I have been writing, but not here. Maybe because I don’t know what to say here other than this:
We have been holding on.
For two years, we have been holding on. Waiting for it to get better. And finding over and over again that… Maybe this is it.
We have been navigating…
- remote learning at home (worst idea ever)
- remote learning at daycare (a paid version of worst idea ever)
- mask policies–official and unofficial
- teleworking policies (1 day per week in person? 2 days? Actually, stay home now. Okay, come back. Actually 2 days per week in person was probably enough. We think?)
- our own level of risk as a family
- a revolving door of quarantines (seven–YES, SEVEN–so far)
- quarantine flowcharts (does the unexposed sibling need to stay home?)
- the New Social Normal
- missing our friends
- missing gatherings
But now I’m really wondering…
What if this is as good as it gets? (At least for the foreseeable future)
What if this is as good as it gets?
I have recovered from COVID. The last symptom that I’m still getting over is catching my breath while I’m exercising.
I am grateful for vaccines and modern medicine. I wish more people used them.
In the back of my mind, I’m wondering if/when I’ll contract COVID again. It’s entirely possible. Or perhaps I have gained this “super immunity” that researchers are starting to report.
In looking at pictures from the last two years, I’ve seen my children grow from 3 and 6 years old to 5 and 8 years old. I see them with masks on at the apple orchard, masks hanging from their ears while they are in the car, pulled below Felicity’s chin while we’re touring Chicago. Their childhood will forever by marked by the presence of masks. There’s nothing to be done about that. I don’t hate masks and I don’t love them.
I’m pro whatever-keeps-my-children-in-school-and-daycare. Just tell me what to do AND I WILL DO IT.
I’m simply doing everything I can to move us all forward.
One day at a time.
For the last 700 days.
One day at a time.