The look in his eyes said it all. My son was frightened beyond what his 21 years of life on this earth could almost handle. He was scared because of the unknown, waiting to see whether we would survive or become another statistic flashed across the television screen during the nightly news. He was not ready to experience losing another loved one, nor was he ready to face his own immortality. Fear gripped him like never before.
The agony of our family’s journey with COVID-19 started when the pandemic swept across the globe late February/early March of this year. Like so many families across the country, we received the news that college classes were canceled until further notice. With everything shut down, my son’s friends leaving campus, and his summer abroad program canceled, we made the decision that it would be safer to for him to come home and ride the Coronavirus pandemic out with me, his dad, and his 92-year-old grandfather.
When my son arrived home, we did our final round of stocking up and were prepared to stay put, which we did. Over the next few days, we were glued to our TV screens watching the number of those infected with the virus and the death toll numbers rise at an alarming rate. Although we were concerned with the world outside, we also took advantage of some rare quality family time -- enjoying dinners together, going through family photos, and finding ways to entertain Grandpa Marty. As worried as we were, our family was doing what the experts said and we felt that we would be safe from the virus.
We all agreed that due to my husband’s father being in a high-risk category, we would follow the government guidelines of “sheltering at home” and staying socially isolated for the suggested 14-day period. What we did not know back then was 14 days of trying to make the “best” of it would turn into weeks with having to deal with the “worst” of COVID-19.
Everything the Corona Task Force advised us to do, we did. In fact, you could say that we were the poster child of the quintessential germaphobe family, each of us clutching tightly to our own personal bottles of Clorox wipes, Purell, and disposable gloves, but it wasn’t enough. In spite of all the precautions we took, the social distancing, the non-stop handwashing, the daily sanitizing of every household surface, COVID-19 still found its way into our home and was on a mission to systematically destroy and wreck havoc on our family in ways we could have never imagined.
This microscopic virus, aptly named the beast, doesn’t play by the rules. It waits patiently like a ferocious animal hungry for its opportunity to pounce on its prey. It taunts you into believing that you are safe in your house, but it eventually finds a weak point worming its way in and infects you. When it does, it quickly grows, becoming one of the most terrifying and emotional nightmares you never want to experience.
How our family got infected with it and who is to blame is irrelevant because this invisible monster can be passed to you from anyone, in a matter of seconds. No matter how much you do to stay safe and to stay put, all it takes is just one slip up, just one outing coming in contact with the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and your whole world will turn upside down.
For us, that happened when my sister-in-law offered to take my father-in-law to a doctor’s appointment that was medically necessary – the opportunity the beast was waiting for.
That brief outing was all it took for COVID-19 to become a ticking time bomb that couldn’t be diffused. The beast came to life in a split second perhaps when his hand touched a doorknob, the edge of a sink in a public restroom, or from the arm of the waiting room chair and then was transferred in an instant by a slight touch to the face. However it happened, we were unaware of the terror that was about to hit our family.
It was a Wednesday when COVID-19 stopped being a story in the news and became a real. My father-in-law was in good spirits but had started to sneeze. I chalked it up to the fact that we had just gone for a walk and convinced myself that it was caused from the pollen in the air and there was nothing to worry about. A few moments later I bent down to help him take off his shoes and he sneezed again. Just like in a slow-motion movie, where you can see the train wreck happening but you can’t get out of the way, I saw the glistening mist of nasal droplets filled with the beast fly towards me, landing on the side of my face and shoulder. Even though I immediately ran to wash myself off and slathered on a handful of Purell for extra measure, I had the sinking feeling that there was more to this than a normal sneeze. Yes, that’s how fast it took for COVID-19 to enter my body.
By Friday afternoon, my father-in-law seemed a little tired and started to complain that his body was aching. An hour later he began coughing; that’s when my husband, son, and I became a little concerned. Later that evening the first symptoms of the virus hit me like a freight train. I began to cry from fear, knowing at that point, COVID-19 was about to take us both on a journey through hell, and I had know idea if we would return.
As soon as my son and husband saw that not only was their beloved father and grandfather coughing and having difficulty breathing but that I, too, was now in bad shape, the fear gripped them -- COVID-19 was no longer something on the news, but something real, something that could take the lives of their loved ones.
For the next 3 days, I drifted in and out of sleep; my body fighting fever, aches, headaches, chills, and sweats. This was not the “flu” or the common cold. This was worse, it was painful and there was nothing that could be done to rid me of it. Three days that my son kept praying that I wouldn’t have to be rushed to the hospital. Three days of hell they watched the death toll numbers increase not knowing if I would be a statistic. Three emotional grueling days that my husband spent taking care of me and his father.
COVID-19 doesn’t play by the rules and affects everyone differently. Mild symptoms can gradually disappear or drastically get worse -- it’s like playing a sick game of COVID-19 Russian roulette and it was my turn to hold the pistol.
While I was in a full-scale battle with the virus, my father-in-law took a turn for the worse and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He tested positive for Coronavirus and our worst fears came true. Within 2 days of being admitted to the ICU, he was taken to hospice and a day later he left us forever. No visitors, no funeral, just a graveside goodbye. It still haunts me that he was so sick and died all alone.
The monster had taken another victim and our hearts were broken beyond belief. My son was devastated. My husband was heartbroken. I was praying, don't let this happen to me. My son kept saying we did everything right and my husband worried that I might be next. How did this happen? We self-isolated and took germaphobe to a whole new level - it just wasn't fair.
On day four, my fever finally broke, and I emerged from the fog of my coronavirus nightmare and began my road to recovery. However, COVID-19 wasn’t finished with our family just yet. The beast now took aim at my extremely fit and healthy son.
Just like me, he was unable get out of bed. His body ached like nothing he ever felt before. He was running a fever and had developed a cough that was quite scary. Immediately I was on the phone with our doctor. We were told Matt had to just ride it out and we needed to monitor his breathing. I knew what he was going through and my tiger mom instincts kicked in wanting to save him and do whatever I could to make him feel better, but there was nothing I could do because there is no cure.
My son suffered a bit longer than I did and the emotions of knowing that I was one of lucky ones didn’t dispel the fear I had of “what if my son is not one of the lucky ones?” This was a mother’s worse nightmare. I prayed to God that he would spare my son. He already took one family member, put me through hell and back, and now my baby was lying in bed sicker than I have ever seen him. For the next 5 days, I was a complete emotional mess, just watching and waiting. On day six, Matt’s body showed signs he was beating this.
We kept ourselves in quarantine and away from my husband, keeping our fingers crossed that he would be spared, but COVID-19 had other plans. Just as we were on the mends, my husband started showing signs of the virus. Would this nightmare ever end? As we watched my husband suffered through 9 straight days of fever, aches, headaches, coughs, and a body rash, Matt and I felt so helpless.
My husband’s symptoms went on longer than what we had experienced. Once again, the doctor said to stay put and to watch for signs of breathing issues. My strong and healthy husband was fighting to beat this, and my son was even more scared coming face-to-face with the realization of just how fragile life really is. Life or death, it was like flipping a coin.
After more than a week my husband’s fever finally broke and we all gave a sigh of relief. When we finally received the news that we were now negative and were given the green light to resume normal life, it was at that point we realized just how lucky we were. The emotional nightmare we experienced of not knowing how COVID-19 would react in our bodies, the stress from worrying that at any minute things could take a turn for the worse, and the circumstances surrounding Marty’s death will haunt our memories for a long time to come.
The beast of COVID-19 is real. It's not something to be taken lightly or in jest. It ravaged our bodies, tortured our psyche, took a loved one from us, but it did not destroy us. Instead, it strengthened our family unit and helped us to reevaluate our lives. When you are standing on the edge of the COVID-19 abyss life takes on new meaning, what was important changes. We learned that no amount of preparations can prevent a tragedy, that we are blessed to have survived the pandemic, and that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
As the world gets ready to re-open and to get used to a new normal, let us not forget the nightmare of COVID-19 or the countless souls who lost their lives.