Real-life worries infect one US family

2021-01-15 12:02:58

As China asserts control over the coronavirus, the United States is seeing a major spike in cases. I'm watching it happen in person. It seems a lot of Americans are disregarding medical advice and having holiday gatherings. Domestic airline travel set a record at Christmas, just as a wave of infections from the earlier Thanksgiving holiday began to show up. The Christmas wave will follow soon. What are they thinking? High-quality vaccines are rolling out now in the US, but only slowly. Now, the virus has taken a personal turn for me. I had been safely ensconced on the US East Coast when circumstances required me to travel to the state of Utah. My son's girlfriend caught the bug. Then my nephew. Then my sister-in-law. Meanwhile, my elderly parents-mother, 87, and father, 95- were being visited frequently by my 50-something sister, despite advice to stay away. When she caught a hard case of COVID-19 and was confined to bed, concerns in the family rose for my parents. Since I had tested negative recently, I volunteered to step in and provide care. Worry, worry, worry. The first order of business, especially given my parents' close contact with my sick sister, was to get them tested. Fortunately, testing services are widely available in their hometown, and so I made an appointment at a local drive-through center nearby. Another test for me would also be a good idea. The next day, the results were in: My dad and I were both negative. But my mother was positive for COVID. She had probably been infected by my sister, who had been in her home many times in recent weeks. And so the worries picked up steam. Mom had no symptoms, but you never know when illness might come, and that could be extremely dangerous for her, as she has several underlying conditions. For my frail father, COVID would be a virtual death sentence. Worry, worry, worry. So now I had a dilemma. I couldn't leave Mom and Dad together in the same house, so we talked it over and decided he would move into the same hotel where I was staying. Then I could keep an eye on him, make sure he was fed and see that he took his heart medicine. That way, we would minimize the risk of him being infected by Mom. I was a little worried for myself but tried not to think about it. I had visited my mother (with distance and masks) before her test, but now I know that she had been infected earlier and so it was possible the coronavirus could jump to me. It was possible also that my father's negative test result was just a matter of timing: It might be that he was positive but the bug had not incubated long enough to be measured. Worry, worry, worry. This meant that, in theory, I could be exposed anytime I enter his hotel room. Abundantly cautious, I thought I should have him tested again, to rule out the incubation variable. So I scheduled a new appointment. And this is where it gets interesting. Anyone who has been a caregiver for an extremely old gentleman will sympathize with me when I say it isn't easy. All manner of problems present themselves-lack of mobility, frustrating deafness, incontinence that interrupts any activity at the most inconvenient times. Changing his pants after an accident and cleaning up in the shower is getting routine. It's a full-time job. But somehow through a combination of miracle, perspiration and patience, I got him to the testing site. As I write this column, I am waiting for the result. If his test comes back positive, I will send him back home to Mom, since separating them would no longer be necessary. But in that case, I will worry that I might have caught COVID from him. Worry, worry, worry. I hope his test is negative, but a negative result will raise further complications. My mother is asymptomatic at the moment, and about halfway through her 14 days of quarantine. All I can do is worry-and wait. Vaccines are coming, but it may be too late.