COVID diaries: Love in the time of viral shedding

Pre-COVID, January was a hard month.

Ci joined the military, which is a very good fit for him, but it is tough on a mother’s heart to have a child far away and going through terrific challenges and have no way to reach him. After he left, I was set to wallow. 

Elephant wallowing in mud

But there was no time to wallow! 

I had a minor medical procedure the week he departed and it was not a big thing, but recovery was uncomfortable. And then the Dude lost his job. Although we knew it was a temp job, it ended two months earlier than expected, and left us scrambling. As if this weren’t enough, Rin got in an accident and our van was totaled. He is okay, but the vehicle was dead. 

February turned around.

We are all healthy, the Dude got a permanent full time job that he loves and is close to home. Even with his missed income, we remained financially afloat. The van was an inconvenience but not a deal breaker because we have a functioning vehicle and the Dude’s job is a bike ride away. Ci is thriving in the military and boot camp graduation was on the horizon.

March started fairly strong

…except for the looming COVID-19 threat. We went to Ci’s graduation and it was fantastic! We got to see him off to his school, where he is learning to be an aircraft engine mechanic. 

Since then though, the world has been hit with a giant reset button, yes? So many effects from this. Rin and I have asthma, so we are in the “high risk of complications” group. 

I think fear is appropriate in a pandemic, but I am even a little more scared than I might have been

 Obviously we are all more aware right now, but I have had 2 things happen in the past 6 months that have made me more afraid than ever when it comes to not breathing.

I have mild sleep apnea and am a very loud snorer. I had a sleep study done and it was determined that I didn’t need to do anything, but if I wanted to, I could get a mouthpiece. It is different than the standard sleep mask. Instead, it looks like a bite guard, top and bottom teeth. It juts the bottom jaw out, which opens the airway up. 

*Warning here. This gets grim and there is death talk in this paragraph. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to read about it*

There is a very long protocol for getting used to this, because the reptilian part of your brain will read it as a breathing obstruction and you have to train that part of the brain to be okay with it. So I began the process. The first shift wearing it to sleep was to b for two hours. I think that during almost the entirety of that two hours, I had the most vivid dreams of being murdered.

Although I wish I could find a way to explain it, it was all happening in my subconscious. I finally pulled myself awake and just remembered two things: 1. Pure terror. 2. I know what it feels like to die now, and any other scary thing or dream I have ever had regarding death has not been what the experience of death is like. 

I messaged the dentist and he said that what I was experiencing was an extreme version of the normal range of reactions. Great! Needless to say, I haven’t used that device again!

The second thing that happened was the day we got back from Cy’s graduation. We had many days of little sleep and spent hours on an airplane, and I think that combination got to me. I woke at 4 or 5 the morning of our return and felt like I couldn’t breathe. My uvula was so swollen that it was hard to get air. It was so swollen that it was actually longer than usual and almost touching my tongue. I was in a complete panic, unsure what to do. 

I didn’t want to wake The Dude up because I knew he had gotten as little sleep as I had, and probably less. Although a trip to the ER might be needed, I also didn’t really want to be in an ER thanks to Covid-19. I took some Day Quil and Flonase and drank a lot of water. I was scared to go back to sleep because I was afraid I would wake up in this condition again. After about 15 minutes, my mouth began to normalize and I decided to try to sleep. When I woke up, I had a very sore throat, but thank goodness, the swelling had gone down. 

I had a similar thing happen when I returned from my mom’s funeral, and it was another time with a combination of long days, little sleep, and a long plane ride. So I assume it is all connected. From now on when I fly, I will be drinking Gatorade and a lot more water to ensure hydration, and will be taking benadryl before bed.

These two events have really put breathing front and center in my mind. The thought of a respiratory disease so severe that it needs ventilators, and we may have a shortage has kept me inside and has led to lots of policing of the household hand washing stations!

What does life look like for us now?

The Dude, Magnus, Rin and I are all at home. All the time. Except for dog walks in the neighborhood. Fortunately, The Dude and I are both able to work from home. Our state has a stay at home order in place now. People in our neighborhood have been very good at avoiding each other, moving to the sidewalk well before we pass each other. As of this week, we are using curbside pickup for groceries. 

We still have credit card debt, but we are chipping away at it. We had over $24,000 in credit card debt when we got fed up. As of right now, we have $15,000. We just transferred all of it to 2 very low interest credit cards (1.9% and 2.9%) and will pay them off in the next year. Although we planned to pay off by August, with this worldwide economic fear, we are going to build up savings alongside the debt payoff, and take a little longer for pay down. 

Massive praise for two groups of people

To all the essential workers out there, whether you are in the diseases prevention and eradication fields, keeping American homes stocked with food, keeping our infrastructure safe, or anything else-God bless you. Stay safe, we need you. I am doing my part and keeping my infection potential out of the transmission chain.

As a former homeschooling parent and a parent who was mostly home with 3 kids through a lot of upheaval, I give a huge shoutout to all the parents who are in the thick of it right now. When you feel like you aren’t being productive, please work to change your goalposts and your inner monologue. You are being productive. COVID-19 is a pandemic. You are in the act of producing good and decent adults. As you have been, but now it is all you, without the usual supports.

This is important work. Do the best you can and it will be good enough, and it will never feel good enough. And remember, your kids’ versions of this time will be so much kinder than yours. There was something I was telling my boys about, something that had happened when they were young. I had dropped the ball on something and I felt so bad about it, carrying the guilt for years. They didn’t even remember it. This is literally the definition of crisis parenting. Don’t feel bad about screen time or too many snacks or shouting a little more than usual. These are not normal times. We will get through. 

As is often the case, I feel out of step with the rest of the world

And so I will write about it to feel less alone

I have seen the videos of people singing from their balconies in Italy. We are not in a city, we live in the suburbs, so that is not going to happen. But I see others posting pictures of their suburban facsimiles of this, sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway, spaced well out and talking.

Am I the only suburbanite who just doesn’t know her neighbors? We have lived here 5 years, we wave hello and exchange pleasantries on the street, but we aren’t having block parties. It is very much a garage-first, back yards-are-fenced sort of place. So while we smile at each other on walks, it is not a place where I build community. 

Pandemic influencers?

I am seeing people creating memes and videos and songs specific to this time in the world and getting emails from productivity influencers telling me now is the time to skill up. I am watching people create more and more data visualizations to track the spread of the disease, 3D print face shields for doctors, and come up with viral plans to populate home fronts with teddy bears to make toddlers smile. And I sit on my couch, feeling quite paralyzed from overwhelm and I am amazed and I feel like crap because I lack the imagination to even begin to feel inspired in this time. 

There are so many people posting stuff and opening catalogs of material to stream for free or low cost right now, concerts, movies, readings. I love this from a solidarity point of view, but logistically, it confuses me. In the world of the internet, having something to do or look at has never been an issue.

I know there is something powerful about reaching out together and sharing in the same crisis as an online community, but I am not participating in it very much because I have a backlog of stuff to watch and I don’t really care how celebrities are making it through all of this (although I will always listen to a good Cardi B rant). Instead, I would rather know what my friends and peers are doing. How are they handling this? What are their takeaways?

And of course, I want to hear from experts, and I am listening to the experts.

I have spent about 2 weeks with a mostly open door policy on my internet usage. I just consumed media, social and news. 

And now the fog is beginning to lift and I am trying to find balance and purpose.

I reached out to my pastor and told him that Rin and I could get groceries for homebound folks. But then I realized our risk factors and rescinded the offer. I do not wish to live in fear, but I must use my gifts and strengths and not be a burden on the medical system. 

I will never be the one who runs into the burning building. And while data and analysis is important, my kind of analysis is more of a slow and steady look back, not super useful in the moment. So what can I do? How can I help? How do I keep from drowning in information and distraction?

While I was liking my life with less internet, I see a strong value in it right now. I am checking in on friends and family, and posting on social media more often. Through these channels, I can check to see if people are okay and if they are not ok, they can talk to me.  In addition, we are trying to find a new normal for my family. And I will continue to post my own inadequacies in case someone else is feeling inadequate, to let them know they are not alone. 

Productivity? Ha-ha

I have started to keep a tiny, easy checklist on Google docs, to remind myself to do something besides sitting and fretting online. One of my first little steps is to run a timer any time I want to engage in social media or the news. I am setting it for 15 minutes. When it goes off, I can set another 15 minutes if I want. When 15 minutes is up and I want to stop looking at it, I must close my computer and walk away, even for a minute.

There have been so many times in the past couple of weeks where it will be 4 pm and then all of a sudden, it is 8 pm. I want to stop that. I know I will get cranky at myself if I try to add blockers, so this is a way to raise my awareness without creating blockers that I will just ignore.

I am going to try to focus on books and movies for some part of each day, and I am pushing myself to do some exercise. And of course Dex is pushing the walks. Although I am not a stickler for getting dressed in real clothes, I am trying to maintain a normal bedtime and wake up time, and am showering regularly. These little things are easy to slip away. Fortunately, dissertation writing, day after day, month after month, year after year of whiling away in solitude with occasional family interaction has trained me well for this isolating experience. My PhD comes in handy in unexpected ways!

I want to end this post with words of wisdom but I am short of them right now.

It has been good to see how many people will take advice, even advice that is rapidly updating as the situation evolves, seriously and are doing their part to stem the tide. It is terrifying to see how many won’t follow this advice. Please stay home if you can. Essential workers need non-essential workers to do their part. We will get through this. Patience is not a great American virtue, but we need it on display right now.

Dex is not impressed with COVID
Dex is not now, and will probably never be, a fan of patience