What it’s like to be a single parent who has coronavirus.

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.”



33 replies
  1. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling poorly, PT. Have you been able to secure a test to verify that it is indeed COVID-19?

    Also, the active ingredient in your cough syrup is likely guaifenesin, which is also available in Mucinex in a 12-hour time release pill form. It is infinitely preferable – both because it doesn’t wear off in four hours like cough syrup and because it doesn’t taste like candy melted in isopropyl.

    And, again, Monopoly is a crappy game. Get better ones. Not even my nine year old will play monopoly. Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Dominion, Suburbia… This is the golden age of board games. There’s no excuse.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So funny that you mention the stupidity of Monopoly. My younger son has a concussion and he’s not supposed to be playing games that require a lot of thinking because his brain needs to rest in order to heal. So we decided Monopoly qualifies as a game that doesn’t require thinking and the kids play it a lot right now.


      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        Yeah, you mentioned in passing a month ago that you were at the ER with him, stitches and whatnot. It must have been some kind of dramatic accident to keep him concussed a month later. I assume you’re under orders not to speak of it.

        The conservatory has sort of kind of started up again remotely, not that you can really play with an ensemble remotely. Is he still banned from practicing?

        Maybe a game that is rather more relaxing would suit your situation? Monopoly has the twin defects of being simplistic and chance-based and almost uniformly making somebody mad. It’s the only game I’ve actually seen someone throw into a fireplace. How about Carcasonne? It’s got a lovely flow to it.

  2. Summer
    Summer says:

    I’m so sorry Penelope. Been following you for years and never commented.

    I’m home with two teens in California, third week in on schools closed “indefinitely”, all the SATs and ACTs cancelled, life upended. And, we returned from a snowboarding trip with fever and cough three weeks ago and have been hunkered down just like you. This was before anyone was supposed to be infected, right? When all you have to trust is your gut and even that is suspect.

    I saw you through the Farmer. I saw you through fraught music lessons. I saw you through your back and forth with staff and your back and forth with yourself.

    This piece was really touching. New territory means new pieces of us get revealed, I guess.

    Keep on keeping on. As one entrepreneur to another, I see you. As one mom to another, I feel you.

  3. Mishele Maron
    Mishele Maron says:

    Are you better? Only you could write an adjective free, and entertaining blog when you’re trying not to die. Is there anything anonymous people like us in Seattle can do for you? In Seattle, we can still buy meals in restaurants. If I believed in a God that made any sense I would send you a prayer. Since I don’t have a reliable God I normally just send fruit to people. But who knows if we can even trust fruit anymore?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m feeling much better! Sometimes when I write, I have edited a post so many times that I forget to include something totally basic — like that I’m okay now.


  4. Maria
    Maria says:

    1. Tylenol extra strength (not Advil) (for the headache and fever every 4 hours)
    2. Benadryl antihistamine for allergies , if sold out Life has a similar one with half
    4. Vick’s vapor rub. It helps breathing
    5. Multivitamins especially vitamin c
    6. Hot spicy broth based soup and a box of tissues and keep blowing your nose. Every night.
    7. Stay away from all dairy. No milk, no cheese, no cream, no butter. (Very important, to prevent phlegm).
    8. Rest.
    9. And use rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle to disinfect your hands.
    10. Do chest pounding front and back. Use a long wood spoon. Caugh it up.

  5. Carol
    Carol says:

    I hope you are healing.
    I thought you were living your ex per the photo you posted with that caption a few months ago.
    I remember having bronchitis (or SARS—I’ll never know) outside of Boston in 2016. I could see why older people die from these things.
    I tried everything from the nearby drugstore and natural foods store.
    What seemed to work was sucking on a DHEA pill. It all seemed to turn around the next day.
    (And sometimes Umcka works on sinus colds.)

  6. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I am so sorry you weren’t feeling well. And I am sorry that you haven’t been able to get tested. I am glad that your sons’ father was able to help them.

    If you have a fever, try alternating between acetaminophen and ibuprofen – one dose of tylenol, then 4-6 hours later a dose of ibuprofen, then 4-6 hours later a dose of tylenol, and so on. The reports about ibuprofen being contraindicated for COVID-19 are not substantiated by evidence.

    • AM
      AM says:

      Stephanie, In case you didn’t see my reply to PT please do NOT use any NSAID including Ibuprofen, ALEVE or aspirin if you even suspect you have Covid19!!!!! It’s dangerous and greatly worsens the impact of this particular virus! The cdc and task force have stated this (my DH’s boss is on Covid task force)

      Tylenol is ok.

  7. correction: Maria
    correction: Maria says:


    1. Tylenol extra strength (not Advil) (for the headache and fever every 4 hours)
    2. Benadryl antihistamine for allergies , if sold out Life has a similar one with half the dosage so double it(for post nasal drip and opening the airways)
    3. Robitussin extra strength expectorant for phlegm and mucus. Especially before bedtime. (It makes you caugh it out)
    4. Vick’s vapor rub. On chest, back and under your nose. It helps breathing
    5. Multivitamins especially vitamin c
    6. Hot spicy broth based soup and a box of tissues and keep blowing your nose. Every night.
    7. Stay away from all dairy. No milk, no cheese, no cream, no butter. (Very important, to prevent phlegm). Also stay away from Advil , no Nyquil or any meds that dry the phlem and prevent caughing ( people are dying because the phlegm dries and hardens in their lungs and oxygen can’t get through).
    8. Rest.
    9. And use rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle to disinfect your hands.
    10. Do chest pounding front and back. Use a long wood spoon.

    Caugh it up. Do not sniff. Do not swallow it. spit it out in a tissue. Rince/ gargle with scope.

    I am not a doctor. I am a mom with experience. I also checked with a pharmacist to make sure I was right and that the meds were not counteracting.


  8. Anna Allocco
    Anna Allocco says:

    May you & your boys be happy
    May you & your boys be safe
    May you & your boys be healthy
    May you & your boys be at ease

    May we all be happy
    May we all be safe
    May we all be healthy
    May we all be at ease.


  9. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    So sorry to hear this. Glad you were able to get some help. This is one of the fears I h e lately, that I won’t be able to take care of my children if I get sick. Get well soon.

  10. AM
    AM says:

    Noooooo!!! Do NOT USE Ibuprofen or ALEVE or Aspirin or any other NSAID!!!!!!
    NSAIDs hugely WORSEN the outcome of anyone with COVID19! You can use Tylenol (or ACETAMINOPHEN) every four hours.

  11. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Thank you for your advice and concern. I recovered shortly after. I’m fine now. It was a month-long illness for me. I think that’s pretty common. Luckily I never had to go to the hospital again. And the Ex is still here. For now.


  12. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I hope you’re feeling better, Penelope.

    So Extra Strength Excedrin isn’t an NSAID but it does contain aspirin. So that would be out for someone with Covid-19?

  13. Ibti
    Ibti says:

    I am glad your boys’ father is around. This is your family. I am currently co-parenting from a distance with my children’s father, who has custody. The COVID outbreak has transformed what was a very acrimonious situation into benevolent and cooperative co-parenting. I am happy you recovered from your illness.

  14. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Life is short. Your writing help give me another perspective on it that makes me appreciate or crack the code on it more easily. I’m glad you are fine both from a selfish standpoint, and for you and your boys’ sakes.

    P.S. Like I said above, life is short so don’t stymie your appreciation of it. Hug the man if you want to hug the man. He came through for the boys and for you. Hey he’s still there for a reason…


  15. María Raiti
    María Raiti says:

    You came6yo my mind all these days. You mentioned you were not feeling well last time and I worried for you. You had a hard time, so sorry to hear that… And so happy you’re doing well now. Your spirit is just beautiful and reading you is always a blessing. Thank you for surviving coronavirus Penelope

  16. Daisy Den
    Daisy Den says:

    I am so sorry you weren’t feeling great. What’s more, I am grieved that you haven’t had the option to get tried. I am happy that your children’s dad had the option to support them.

    On the off chance that you have a fever, have a go at shifting back and forth among acetaminophen and ibuprofen – one portion of tylenol, at that point 4 after 6 hours a portion of ibuprofen, at that point 4 after 6 hours a portion of tylenol, etc. The reports about ibuprofen being contraindicated for COVID-19 are not validated by proof.

  17. Shahzan
    Shahzan says:

    You came6yo my brain every one of nowadays. You referenced you were not feeling admirably last time and I stressed for you. You made some hard memories, so sorry to learn that… And so upbeat you’re doing admirably now. Your soul is simply lovely and perusing you is constantly a gift. Much obliged to you for enduring coronavirus Penelope

  18. Steve
    Steve says:

    Life is short. Your composing help give me another point of view on it that causes me to acknowledge or decipher the code on it more without any problem. I’m happy you are fine both from a narrow minded point of view, and for the wellbeing of you and your boys.

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