It seems like a year ago, but it was only three weeks ago that things began to fall apart. On Friday, March 13, my first-grade daughter did not have school. It was planned, and had been on the calendar all year for the Northgate school district.
We had started to hear different reports about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but I was like everybody else, thinking, “Oh, it’s just a virus, we will see.”
That planned three-day weekend became the start of a new normal. The district canceled school for two weeks, and the murmur was that it would be much longer. My daughter's father and I do not live together and we were both working at the time. He is considered an ‘essential’ worker in a factory, and my company does remediation work in underdeveloped neighborhoods, so we were still trying to keep that work going. We took every precaution when exchanging custody, and both of our households were very careful to keep our daughter safe. We scrubbed down, changed clothes, disinfected our houses and we’ve been careful of who we’ve been around.
Despite our caution, I had a brief interaction with someone who was not being so cautious and who later tested positive for the virus.
I have chronic kidney disease and have only one kidney. Still, I am 38 and fairly healthy otherwise. But just a few days after that interaction, I began to have what I thought were typical spring allergies. My doctor, knowing I had been exposed, sent me to UPMC Mercy in the South Side for COVID-19 testing. On Monday, March 30, I received a positive result and was admitted to UPMC Passavant in McCandless.
When I showed up at the hospital, security had been alerted that I was coming. They searched my bag and had me sanitize everything: my clothes, my body, everything. They put me in a sealed room and, every time someone came in and out of my room, they had to completely change their clothing.
They gave me the equipment to do my own breathing treatments to limit contact, and while they weren’t necessarily unfriendly, they were cold and efficient. They were also clearly terrified of me. Honestly, I get it. I know their fear isn’t personal. I don’t think we are recognizing these frontline workers enough, they go in every day, playing Russian roulette. In a way, me knowing I have the virus is probably less traumatic than them living every day in a state of “what if?”
I had two chest X-rays after I was admitted. They brought the machine into my room and then sanitized the film and machine immediately after taking the images. I could tell they were not as used to dealing with COVID-19 as the staff at Mercy; they just seemed more nervous and guarded. They did tell me that unlike New York, they felt they had enough equipment to deal with the moderate cases.
By Thursday, April 2, my oxygen stats were maintaining around 88 to 90%, and they released me to recover at home. Normally, someone with those stats would not necessarily be released, but this is the reality of COVID-19 and its progression. I am stable at this level.
I have to go to UPMC Mercy daily for a check, but they don’t want me at the hospital now. So I am home, alone at my Bellevue residence. Just the steps to get from my bed to the bathroom can cause me to vomit from lack of air. I have to tell myself, “You can breathe, vomit and then breathe.” I can’t imagine for someone who is older or with lung issues what this would be like.
Thankfully, my 7-year-old was not exposed to the virus. She was at her father’s when I was exposed, and we kept her there to keep her safe. The UPMC staff were wonderfully efficient at helping him navigate FMLA (the labor law that requires some employers to provide job protection and unpaid leave for employees with a qualified medical or family reason).
He is home with our daughter full-time, doing online schooling, online dance lessons and helping her cope with not being able to see me. He is doing an amazing job, and I am thankful for him.
I can barely think about her without crying. In her whole life, I haven’t been apart from her for more than two days at a time when she was at her dad’s. The thought of not seeing her for weeks is devastating to me, and our separation is due to some people not taking this pandemic seriously and not staying home.
I have been talking to her on FaceTime often, but she just breaks down into hysterics and it takes her dad hours to get her calm again. She understands the virus, and it’s scary to her. Sadly, I think now the best thing for her might be to not FaceTime until I can see her again. That should be at least two more weeks, but the doctor said if I push the issue, they might retest me sooner to see if I can just get to her.
I am so angry when I hear about people having barbecues, running out to get a box of hair dye at CVS or congregating around town. They think they are young and healthy, or will just make a quick trip. They might even think, “It’s just like a cold.”
The person who exposed me had a mild case, but it affects everyone differently. So when some of us don’t take it seriously, my daughter ends up three towns away from me while I sit in a hospital wondering if I will be able to keep breathing. Wondering if I will get to see her again. I cannot wait until I can hold her again, and this is all behind us.
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