I knew something was wrong the day my son lay in bed in an emergency room waiting for his MRI to come back. A nurse entered his room and said, “Has your son been outside the country recently?”
I did a double-take. “It’s pretty late to be asking that, isn’t it?”
“Ma’am, yes or no?”
The next week I was coughing so hard I was lightheaded. When the pressure on my chest made breathing difficult, I went to the ER. They tested for everything except coronavirus. That’s how you know you have it in a world with no tests, I guess.
That was in February, which is, like, forever ago in pandemic time. During the rest of February, I coughed and wheezed. The effort it took to look healthy for a webinar made me so tired I’d sleep the rest of the day.
I worried about my teenage sons. What if I were too sick to fight for toilet paper and pasta when things got bad?
I bought enough food and supplies for two months. Probably enough bandaids for two years. I bought a tarp and duct tape because of the Red Cross said those are good in emergencies.
My older son told me, “The pandemic does not mean we’re in a zombie apocalypse.”
I showed him the mercury thermometer that was the only kind Amazon had in stock. “Look,” I said, “When I was a kid my brother used to crush the glass and play with the mercury.”
The three of us organized together. I coughed over everything. The boys drank Gatorade that was only for emergencies. They played Monopoly with the ferocity of someone saving the world. I worried that soon I would be too tired to remember to worry about them.
I called my brothers a lot, telling them I have coronavirus, to see if they believed me. My brothers mostly think I’m delusional and a drama queen. So if they believe something is bad then it’s for sure bad.
My brothers thought I should go to the hospital.
“I can still breathe,” I told them. “There’s nothing to do at the hospital unless you need a ventilator.”
My brothers called various hotlines just to be sure rules in Boston hadn’t changed.
I woke up one day and realized my kids stopped getting out of bed.
As a veteran homeschooler, some things are automatic even if you’re sick. I yelled, “Boys! Take personal responsibility for your life!”
Then I went back to sleep.
Four hours later I woke up wheezing because my cough syrup wore off. On my way to get more, I saw the kids were still in bed. I yelled, “Get the fuck out of bed or I’ll send you to school!” That always works.
But it didn’t this time. That’s how I knew they were sick. They both had fevers that didn’t feel hot enough on my hand to warrant searching for the thermometer. So I gulped some more cough syrup and went back to bed.
Coronavirus in my kids meant sleeping for two hours. Then they were fine.
Meanwhile, I was buying cough syrup in bulk.
During one phone call, my brothers asked if I have a plan for the boys if I go to the hospital. The boys had asked me this question as well. I can’t remember answering. I must have been tired, dizzy and scared. It’s hard to remember that time in a clear way. But I know this happened next: I called my ex-husband and asked for help.
He has been my ex for twelve years and I have never asked him for help. But when he answered the phone, I cried. I told him I’m so sick and I can’t take care of the kids and I’m scared they’ll be all alone. I told him I can see the kids are scared as I get sicker and sicker and can he please come help.
He was shocked. He said he has to think about it and see what he can do.
He booked an open-ended ticket on a flight that was nearly empty. He arrived at our door with his travel clothes in a plastic bag so he wouldn’t infect us.
I was so thankful to see him and so relieved to not be alone. I wanted to hug him but we are divorced, so I called to the boys, “Hey, Dad’s here! Come give him a great big hug.”