“You have a better chance of winning the lottery than being patient zero.”
This post is the hardest for me to write.
It includes details of our days from the first onset of symptoms to when my husband received a definite COVID-19 diagnosis. Sharing this feels exceptionally vulnerable to me because it opens us up to judgment. It also exposes my children, and I so want to protect their privacy. I debated on excluding them from the story, but my kids are such an integral part of the process. This experience affected them in ways they will not forget. I am not writing these details because I feel I owe anyone an explanation. To preserve the authentic way in which this played out for us, the details are necessary.
Tuesday, March 10th (edited to fix that date), was a pretty typical day. And it certainly was a lifetime away from the world we live in now.
My husband had his usual daily grind in his office (he is in healthcare), followed by coaching baseball, followed by a run. I went to the program of studies at the high school, followed by drinks with a few friends, as we all tried to wrap our heads around having high school freshman daughters next year.
We met up at the end of the night, sat on the couch, and my husband casually cleared his throat.
I’m a snarky wife, so I snickered, “you don’t have THE CORONA, DO YOU!?!”.
His reply: “I kind of feel like I have a fever right now.”
That was weird.
Because he DID have a fever.
So he canceled his schedule for the next day. And then we kind of looked at each like, huh. We feel a little odd about this. What do we do now?
First, he was exposed to the flu. He was having flu-like symptoms. When I tell you there wasn’t a doubt in our mind, this was the flu; it wasn’t even a question. No cough. Fever and body aches. Flu. End of story. You don’t get COVID-19 after being exposed to the flu. And there was no COVID-19 in our area.
But the subject was gaining momentum. So my husband decides, “let me just call this hospital hotline they emailed out and see what their thoughts are. At least then, we’ve done our due diligence.” They ask him a few questions: “Have you traveled in the last 14 days?” No. “Were you exposed to someone with a confirmed positive?” No. “What symptoms are you having?”. A fever, body aches.
“We see a lot of flu right now,” they say. “You are at ‘no risk’ for COVID-19”. Stay home until you are symptom-free, and then you can return to regular activity.
Ok, so we’re good.
And that’s what our plan was. At the time, our focus was solely on keeping our kids grounded and realistic. The virus will most likely happen in our area, but we will wash our hands and follow the guidelines, and everything will be ok no matter what happens. So with zero risk factors, and exposure to the flu, and flu symptoms, we weren’t worrying.
Even the next morning, when the hospital called because my husband canceled his day, we still didn’t worry.
I guess that might be hard to understand, not worrying. It’s very divisive. The entire concept of COVID-19 was very divisive then, and it still is now. There’s no way you aren’t on one side or the other. It’s like choosing if the end of the toilet paper goes over or under. You’re either perfectly quarantining, or being criticized for not. You have to be one or the other. You don’t have a choice in the matter, because the world is choosing (judging) for you.
When they called, infectious disease asked if my husband wanted a COVID-19 test because a negative test result would clear him quicker than a 14-day quarantine if he truly felt he was exposed. Since he was considered “zero risk”, a 14-day quarantine didn’t make sense, so he decided to be tested and went to the only hospital that was performing the test at the time, where they shot ten cc’s of saline into his sinus cavity. Remember, this was more than two weeks ago – NOT the same world we live in today. Testing (and not the rapid kind) was available to high risk hospitalized patients or healthcare workers only.
On Wednesday (Day 2 we’ll call it), he was still feverish and achy, but not much else. He rested and hydrated.
And Thursday (Day 3), he woke up 100% fine. Fever free. Ache free. Zero sign of illness at all. He had already canceled his day, so he remained home, planning on returning to work on Friday.
Meanwhile, toilet paper was flying off the shelves. And I’m still not panicking. I’ve got enough toilet paper! (And the end goes over!)
The kids and I went about our business. Our son had a field trip that was very controversially, not canceled. My thinking was: we were never going to see the Aquarium so clean! And indeed, it was never so clean. We were provided with Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and hand wipes by the teacher. Seriously, the best time I’ve ever had at the Aquarium with my kid. We had a small group of three boys and two parents with us. We had handwashing competitions. There was an amazing woman following the kids around cleaning the glass and telling us little facts about the seahorses. She was so incredibly happy to share her information with us.
Our daughter had an orchestra concert the same night, and it was her first time playing cello with the high school. I was planning on taking her, and I reached out to the teacher just to be sure it was still on. All events under 250 people were a go.
Between the field trip and the concert, I had to stop at Wegmans that afternoon to get one thing for dinner. And as I turned the corner from the produce section to the meat section, I stopped. Dead. In. My. Tracks. I saw emptiness and was so shocked that I took this photo.
I called my husband immediately. “There’s NO MEAT in the store! What the F&*K?!?!” I legit started to panic. And it wasn’t because of COVID0-19. It was because people were hoarding food, and that seemed so unnatural to me. And it irritated me because I was NOT panicking, and now I was being FORCED to panic!
I calmed myself down, but seriously, I had no food in my house.
Needing to divide and conquer, and feeling 100% healthy, my husband took our daughter to the orchestra concert (ahh… the infamous orchestra concert) while I collected a few days of food where I could.
He also had a meeting that night that he attended after the concert, again, feeling 100% healthy.
I know those of you who are only here to judge the sh$t out of us are giddy with excitement right now.
Pump your breaks.
I will address “contact tracing” in an entirely separate post. You will get a very vivid look into that world, the process, and FACTUAL information on when you TRULY need to worry.
Feeling prepared for the weekend ahead with a few meals, everyone healthy, and remaining grounded and realistic, I went into Friday tentatively in a functional headspace.
But by this point, things were changing rapidly, rumors that the schools were closing began to swirl, and group texts were blowing up with all the new information and fear. So much fear. I personally do not do well with fear, and I do not do well with fear-mongering.
But in our own home, things were also changing. My husband woke up on Friday morning with a high fever. Now, he began coughing. And some new symptoms occurred: he felt dizzy and faint. His flu test also came back negative, which was weird, because it presented just like the flu our son had a month ago, which was confirmed as Flu B. He canceled his day ahead of him and stayed home, where he remained until yesterday. (No, he wasn’t in the toilet paper aisle at Target as some of you hoped to discover in The Patch.)
And husband, I love you. But you are some type of intense cougher I can’t quite describe on a good day. This cough was something else. I will say this: If you were at that orchestra concert or that meeting, and my husband coughed, you would have heard!!!! (Love you.)
So he’s coughing and with a fever, but Tylenol worked. Things were ok.
At this point, the governor canceled school until April 20th. We had been following all of the recommendations, and once school was closed, the kids were home, and we began what the rest of the state was practicing. Social distancing, leaving for necessities only, getting out to exercise.
On Saturday (Day 5), he’s still with a fever, and a cough, only chills, and sweating became a huge issue. At this point, he’s definitely sick, but he’s not in a severe condition.
That afternoon I decided I needed to go and water my plants at my new office. I took my daughter with me. We also had to pop into Target for more Tylenol. Because of hoarding, those shelves were also empty. We found a random bottle of fast-acting Tylenol and head to check out, and while I’m checking out, my phone rings.
But I sent it to voicemail because I’m managing my Cartwheel App.
And then my daughter’s phone rings.
It’s my husband.
“You need to come home now.”
My head just went to the denial we had been in. It was supposed to be the flu. How could this even be possible? This isn’t how we heard it happens. This isn’t how they said it could happen. They told us it was probably the flu. It is not the flu. My husband has COVID-19, and the sound of that is wrenching.
I hung up the phone and drove home in half a fog, half a last lap at the track. And we just look at each other.
And because we are fixers, we do the only thing we can think of.
We each picked up our phones and started making some of the most difficult calls of our lives.
There are so many layers to this experience, the only way to share is by breaking this down into parts. This weekend, I will share those difficult conversations we had, as well as the official process that happens with the Department of Health. As a bonus, I’ll share my town’s reaction.