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  • Taylor Wood

    What it's like to be a parent with Covid

    This Chicago mom and her husband both contracted COVID-19 and still had to care for their two preschoolers.


    My husband brought it in. At least, that’s what we think. We still have no idea where exactly he picked up the coronavirus, but it came into our house around mid-to-late March and upended our newly sheltered-in-place world. 

    He first went down with extreme fatigue. He would occasionally shiver, and he had a cough, though not an entirely dry one, so we played multiple rounds of “allergies, flu, or COVID?” Tests were still in very rare supply at this point, reserved for only the sickest, most at-risk, and – apparently – famous. His doctor informed him to isolate in our house and call them if he got worse. Isolating in a condo in the city without a spare bedroom proved challenging. And by “challenging,” I do, of course, mean “impossible.” 

    [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?]

    His sickness lasted about three days before he recovered. I was responsible for getting supplies, entertaining/feeding our 5- and 3-year old kids, trying to keep them away from my husband, and monitoring how my husband was doing. 

    During this time the kids were just...off. They were cranky, displayed some behavior regressions, and were generally lackadaisical, but they never had fevers, nor did they complain of sore throats or aches. We attributed it to adjusting to the new “shelter-in-place-no-school-no-friends-more-screens” life they were suddenly living. We watched a lot of Frozen 2. (This behavior, it might be worth noting, has yet to change.) In hindsight, they most likely had (generally) milder, kid versions of the virus. 

    As my husband recovered, I went down. I first got a sore throat, a headache that made my brain feel like it was about to explode out of my skull, and felt extremely achy. The fatigue then set in. I started coughing a dry, from-the-lungs, deep cough that got progressively worse. The second day I felt...better. A lot better. I was up and about, energized and convinced I had just contracted a gross spring bug, and nothing to worry about at all. Anecdotally, this one-day early recovery is common early on with the coronavirus, and some people even recover fully from this point. I wasn’t so lucky.

    I went down again on my third day of symptoms and didn’t get back up for another five days. I was so tired I could barely sit up. I would cough so hard I would almost throw up. The chills and aches were so bad I would lie in bed physically shaking, even though my fever never went above mild at most. I started to get out of breath going 10 feet from my bed to the bathroom. If I happened to do something that required a lot of exertion – say, going 15 feet to the kitchen for water – I would be out of breath for a few minutes. My lungs started feeling like they were burning if I did anything more than lie down, or if I had just had a bad coughing fit. I slept a lot. And when I couldn’t sleep anymore, I would just lie in bed and stream episode after episode of Love Island: Australia, an activity that required fewer brain cells than sleep. 

    [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety]

    We ordered a lot of delivery foods during this time, since our whole house was under strict quarantine. My husband carried Lysol with him when he took the dog out, so as to try not to infect our upstairs neighbors using shared doorknobs. I burst into tears with feelings of guilt wondering if I had infected anyone when I had made an essential run to the grocery store in the week prior to any of us being sick (masks at this point were not available, let alone common). 

    We had always been very clear with the kids about the virus, and why they were home from school and why things like their soccer class was suddenly being held via video. While they wanted me to hang out, or watch Frozen 2 with them, they seemed to understand I couldn’t. I wanted nothing more than to squeeze them. 

    Both my husband and I were supposed to be self-isolating. Unfortunately, there is no guide on self-isolation when both parents are still both sick and presumably infectious and you have two preschoolers in the house who need to eat, play, and be put to bed. Because my husband was functional and I was not, we had to make the choice for him to continue caring for them.  

    Around day five my doctor told me I had a presumed case of COVID-19. At this point, she said, most people recover. Some people – and there was no telling who, or why – would not, and would take a nosedive. If that nosedive happened I was to go straight to the hospital because I would need oxygen. My husband and I had a distinct talk about what my wishes were if I were to go into the hospital and need to be put on a ventilator. We talked calmly about end-of-life decisions. 

    Luckily, I started to recover. The isolation period our doctor suggested was 10 days from the start of symptoms, though we all isolated for longer. I started to have periods of feeling semi-functional, only to crash later. Those times of feeling better started to get longer and longer, and my husband resumed working from home again as I “watched the kids,” which mostly consisted of – you guessed it – watching them watch Frozen 2 or Star Wars. After about two weeks, I felt like myself again. I started exercising, even. 

    It’s been several months since we went through this. We’ve learned a lot about the virus, but also about how fallible the testing is, even when you do get a test. (There are almost no false-positive tests, but worryingly up to 30% false negatives.) The antibody tests seem just as fallible, only with the opposite problem of over-predicting positives. We continue to follow the protocols: we wear our masks, socially distance, and bake an absurd amount of banana bread. 

    My family came through this relatively unscathed and I realize just how lucky we are. I’ve let a lot of things I thought were important go. My house is a mess, but my kids are happy, healthy, and able to play. I will never again take for granted this time when my kids are playing happily and I’m able to watch them. 

    Taylor Wood

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