Like many people, I'd heard the chatter about COVID-19. The media was doing its thing by raising this issue to fear-mongering levels, so it made it easy not to tune in.
Until I did.
The first week of March, the company that I currently temp for offered a WFH option; I took it. By the second week, it had become mandatory. I knew my parents were part of the susceptible age group (they're both in their late 70's) and had no idea how this virus would affect our family.
Until it did.
My sister and I had implemented a monthly Family Dinner Night last year when we noticed our Mom's short-term memory was starting to wane. The third Sunday of every month, me, my sister, and her two kids (they're actually adults, late 20's and early 30's, respectively) would go over to my parents house and cook dinner. Today, however, was different. My Dad's cousin and her hubby were in town to celebrate the birthday of one of their relatives. But they were staying with my parents and joining us for dinner, so we decided to go out to eat instead.
We check in on my parents via phone this evening, only to discover that they've caught the flu. The night of our dinner, my Dad had vomited after they'd gotten home. The next day, and for the next three days, the flu hit them full-on. And it's kicking our Dad's ass. Hard. My sister and I feel guilty for not calling them sooner. Especially when we find out that my Dad's business partner has been checking on them for the past few days. My sister was getting a feeling that we should call, but we kept forgetting.
Dad says they'd gotten their flu shots and weren't taking anything, just keeping hydrated and sleeping a lot. They don't have much of an appetite, either, but are forcing themselves to eat because they know they need to. They both have doctor's appointments the following week and will go at that time.
Around 3pm today, I call to check on them again and have to leave a message. I assume they're sleeping since it's later in the day and they tend to take naps around 2pm everyday. #LuckyDucks #RetiredLifeGoals. Sis and I check in with them later that evening and Dad says he feels a little better, but Mom is getting headaches.
At around 10am this morning, Sis texts me saying that Dad left her a voicemail stating he and Mom feel like shit, but she's cooking breakfast because they have to eat. He says their landscaper told them about mobile testing for the virus. Sis tells me that she's researching it at her desk and is on hold with Banner Health to see if we can get them an appointment for their drive-thru site.
She says that Banner mobile testing appointment slots are full today, but she talked to a clinician and was told our parents qualified for testing. She has to call again the next day for appointment availability. She left a message for Dad.
Five minutes later, Sis texts me and she's coming home. We need to physically check on them.
When she comes to pick me up, what she tells me rattles me a little. She says when Dad called her back, he sounded disoriented and thought it was five in the evening. She's on the phone with 9-1-1 as we leave, requesting paramedics go to our parents house to check on them (something my niece had suggested). When we get there, my niece (who was able to get there in fifteen mins) says the paramedics just left, but she talked to them. My parents were unaware that the paramedics were going to arrive because my Dad didn't answer his phone. He doesn't answer if he doesn't recognize the number, so needless to say, they were surprised.
My niece also says that Dad told them they didn't have any underlining issues, but that's a lie. I imagine if he'd said yes, they both would've been carted off in an ambulance; they gave them masks before they left, so there's that. Sis calls our parents' doctors, who happen to occupy the same office, to see if we can get them in the today. Score! Mom's doctor isn't in, but Dad's doctor agrees to test her as well. We can't go into the office with them, but they get swabbed and Dad's doctor prescribes antibiotics for him. Test results should be in by Friday.
Later in the evening, Sis decides to stay with them overnight and I'll bring her clothes tomorrow. Since I didn't bring my laptop, I need to go back home.
Sis texts me around 8am this morning. She reports in and says she peeked in on them and heard the radio, but they haven't come out. One of the doors is open, but they're both still asleep. We consider staying with them the rest of the week.
1pm - Sis texts and reports that Mom and Dad are awake. Mom is dressed, but is still tired and a little weak. She has a dry cough but isn't coughing all that much, unlike Dad. She's doing chores, but says she wishes she could sleep all day.
Sis tells me that Dad's bestie is in the hospital with pneumonia. She also tells me that Dad's doctor left a message.
His test results came back positive.
If symptoms get worse, he's to go to the hospital.
No word on Mom's results yet.
Staying with them is no longer a consideration, but a necessity.
We have not been tested ourselves, but decide to self-isolate with them, so I bring extra clothes and veggies we got from the Farmer's Market.
Sis and I don't show any symptoms.
Mom's symptoms (fever, cough, headache) are tapering off, but she continues to remain tired and wants to sleep; her appetite is coming back. Dad continues to have little to no appetite, remains extremely tired, and it's a struggle to keep him hydrated because he sleeps so much. My niece drops off his antibiotics, so he's been taking those. Hopefully, they'll help with the cough.
Today's Dad's birthday. He turns 77. Normally, we'd be having dinner with family and a couple of close friends at his favorite restaurant.
Not this year.
Dad's doctor calls with Mom's test results: positive.
They both continue to remain tired, but Mom's no longer showing symptoms. Dad continues to remain tired with little appetite. When he coughs, it's like he's trying to cough up a lung, but the antibiotics seem to help with that a little. It's a struggle for him to walk the few feet from the bedroom to the couch in the family room. It tires him out and he ends up falling asleep there after a few minutes.
Not sure what his temp is at this point. Sis and I are worried about keeping him hydrated. In order for him to get more nutrients, we decide to make green smoothies for him; my niece drops off her Ninja Bullet for us to use.
Sis and I continue to show no symptoms.
Their status remains the same. Mom is getting better, just mostly tired. Dad sleeps.
He's had very little appetite up to this point and remains weak because of it. Getting him to even sit up is a struggle. Due to the fact that he sleeps so much, it's been hard to keep him hydrated.
8pm - Dad's best friend's wife calls to check on them. She tells us that her hubby has been in the hospital for five days battling pneumonia. He'd been tested for the virus as well and is positive. She hears Dad's cough and strongly suggests he go to the hospital.
Five minutes later, his best friend calls him from his hospital bed and tells Dad how he got there. He, too, urges Dad to go to the hospital and he decides to go. We take him to the same hospital as his friend.
10pm - The hospital has set up triage tents in the parking lot and we're stopped by a K-9 police officer at the entrance to the lot. They apparently assess your condition in the tent and then admit you from there. Armed with only his cell phone, driver's license and medical card, they wheel him away. We're told that we can't go with him and he'll call us when he's been admitted.
Sometime after midnight - We've been waiting in the parking lot across the street. We know that Dad might not be able to call us since he was so weak, but we wait anyway. Or can see him being wheeled into the hospital itself. Sis finally calls the ER. He'd been admitted sometime after midnight and we spoke with his Nurse On Duty. We're told that we won't be allowed to visit, but we can call his room or his cell phone. The only time we'd be allowed to see him would be at "end of life." The nurse tells us to go home and to call back later in the day.
My Mom asks if she has to stay at the house by herself. My heart breaks a little that she even thought she'd have to ask that question. We tell her we'll be staying with her until Dad comes home.
On Day Two of his stay, we're told that he has a little bit of pneumonia, but they're not giving him anything for it. He's on (nose) oxygen, 3ltrs. He needs to be breathing on his own at 92% and above before they take him off. His liver is a little inflamed, but not at danger levels. They're worried about his kidneys, though. His creatinine levels were at 3.62 on the day he was admitted. Today, they're down to 3.09. Due to the virus, and his high levels, he has underlying kidney disease on top of acute renal failure. If it gets worse, they'll be looking at dialysis. At this point, we have no idea when he'll be discharged.
Day Three of his stay, we endure a really tough conference call between us, Dad, a member of his care team, and the hospital social worker. The call covers the hospital's End of Life protocol. As a patient, my Dad has to hear the steps they would take to revive him and he has to accept or reject them. As his family, we have to hear those steps and his response. I have to Slack my coworkers and tell them to cover my projects for an hour because I find myself tearing up during the call. Sis and I sit with Mom for a few minutes, taking comfort in hand-holding and hugs. I understand it's a call they have to make, but DAMN. When they break it down like that...it's really tough to hear. I just have to remember that my Daddy is strong.
He's survived a minor heart attack at 48.
He's survived two aneurysms dangling from his aorta.
He's survived prostate cancer.
HE. WILL. SURVIVE. THIS. FUCKING. VIRUS.
"I'm really glad you guys are here," Mom whispers.
It won't be the last time we hear that phrase.
Over the course of my Dad's hospital stay, our days consist of:
Dad comes home today! He'll be on oxygen for a little bit and has been assigned a home health and PT nurse. But he's coming home without his plaid shirt, his Crocs, his driver's license and the medical card that had been tucked in the shirt's pocket. WHAT. THE. FUCK? We have no idea when the hospital (Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix. Yes, I'm calling you people out on the internet!) lost his stuff. He'd been moved to two rooms during his stay and the only things that went with him were his undershirt (a tank top), his sweatpants, and his cell phone. To say that we're pissed is an understatement of the universe. At least he came home with clothes on! But if those things are listed on his chart, then they should've been with him the whole time. Sis fires off a scathing email to the hospital administrator. Who will more than likely ignore it as he/she has probably received several of those emails by now.
He's brought home in a transport that we had to pay for (ins wouldn't cover it) and he's covered with a sheet and has hospital socks and booties on his feet. I can't imagine if he'd come home like this in, say, December/January/February. My Mom would've have a Come to Jesus convo with the hospital director fo 'sho! The oxygen tanks are with him, but we find out later that he was supposed to be hooked up to it before he left the hospital. <shrugs> The hospital would be batting negative double zero (instead of just zero) if not for the fact that a husband and father came home. For that, I thank his caregivers.
Dad's required to do an additional 10 days of quarantine after being released, so Sis and I remain in self-isolation with them. This time, our days consist of:
Sis and I go back home to the condo and I've never been so happy to sleep in my own bed. We sleep in the next day and when I wake up, I do bed angels [These are similar to snow angels, but you do them in bed and leave no actual impression of an angel. Just messy covers]. Sis and I haven't shared a bed since I was in the sixth grade. I'm used to sleeping alone (even when I was married) and didn't sleep that well the whole time we self-isolated with our parents. Our routine goes back to normal. Except she gets to sleep in. #Alotjealous
Free drive-thru testing sites have opened up around the Valley and people who feel they might've been exposed are encouraged to use them. Sis and I decide to go. The nose swab is UNCOMFORTABLE AS FUCK. They swab each nostril, five seconds each, and the reach feels like it's headed towards brain territory. Whatever chemical was on the tip makes my nostrils dry out for a few days afterwards. When I blow my nose, I'm blowing out bloody boogers, and sometimes I would wake up with a stuffy nostril.
But our results come out negative.
My sister and I don't have a TV in our condo, so any news watching we did was at our parents house during self-isolation. What we saw wasn't all that great. This virus is truly testing our mettle as human beings. Some are failing (horribly), some are surviving (barely), while others are rising above it and not giving in to the fear-mongering. And if you're riding this out with someone, then your familial ties are surely being tested. You'll see what you're made of as you're forced to be together 24/7 when you didn't have to be before. At least, not for long periods of time.
It's either going to break the ties or make the ties stronger.
My sister and I have a strong bond with our parents. Hell, they had to kick me out of the house when I turned 25, so that should tell you something. We love hanging out with them because there's always laughter and good conversation when we're together. We self-isolated with them for a month and when we were all together (before and after Dad's hospitalization), it felt like it did when it was just the four of us. Even when the deep love was interspersed with worry, fear, guilt, anger, depression, stress, hope, relief, frustration, and gratitude.
But always the deep love.
Our parents' friends praised us for taking care of them.
Both of their doctors praised us for taking care of them...because a lot of their other patients weren't so lucky.
Our parents praised us everyday, multiple times a day, for taking care of them. Even going so far as to compensate us (which we were forced to take when they vehemently insisted) because they knew we sometimes used our own money to purchase things for them. #Whateveryou'reourparents
This virus tested our familial ties.
It tested our mettle.
And made us stronger.
Black goddess musings on life and becoming a sustainably-conscious human being.