Coronavirus has hit and has hit hard. COVID-19 is affecting each of us in different ways, creating fear and anxiety. The scope is vast and wide. We are scared for our own health and the health of those we hold dear. We experience and hear personal stories about lost loved ones and those currently fighting for their lives in harrowing medical situations. We worry about each minor symptom and wonder if we too are sick. We are fearful about keeping ourselves safe and making sure we have the right emergency supplies which are rapidly depleting. We are deeply grateful for healthcare professionals risking themselves to keep the rest of us safe.
Those among us are grieving shuttered companies, lost jobs, fear of eviction, and depleted finances. We mourn stolen weddings, B’nai Mitzvahs, birthdays, graduations, and other milestone events. Workplaces, universities, and schools struggle to pivot remote business and learning online, while many to most don’t have adequate training, technology, experience, and/or accessibility. We wonder how our families can manage work and school together under one roof. We don’t know when we will again see our family and friends in person.
While we try to stay positive, we dread what the future may hold. The news increases anxiety, but we are tied to learning whatever we can about COVID and this crisis. Will things get worse? When will we turn the corner? What will be the new normal?
While everyone has their own personal story and mourning, this crisis puts a huge strain on all of us as leaders. These unprecedented times call for unprecedented empathy.
This crisis provides an interesting lesson on leadership as well. These times call for empathetic leadership. Compassionate leadership. Leadership of understanding. This is true whether we lead companies, educational institutions, organizations, or houses of worship. Essential when showing leadership in our communities or with our teams. Critical in how we show up with family and friends. While we all try to keep the ball rolling and put a positive spin on difficult times, we need to treat others with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
Many of us are watching this crisis unfold on the news or with older populations, but it hasn’t yet hit hard in our own families. It’s hard to fully grasp the fear, anxiety, and worry until it hits close to home.
My family has just gone through our own health scare. Good news is that we are doing much better. We are on the mend, or so we hope. I figured our personal story may help others to better understand what this experience is like from the inside. Better understanding helps us be more empathetic family members, friends, and leaders.
Here it goes. We have had a few anxiety-ridden days. As a mom worried about her son, this has been especially scary for me.
For background, we live in Seattle which was the first region to get hit in the US. My 16-year old son and I have been largely quarantined since March 2. My older son has online college classes in the Eastern time zone, so since March 13, my husband and he have been together back East. My daughter is also back East with other family.
My son here with me has done online classes since March 3, as his school was one of the first in the country to close. The second week of March, he had one final basketball practice, and we had dinner with close family friends who had also been quarantined. Other than that, we have been extremely diligent about our social distancing. We were operating with stay-at-home practices well before the official Seattle order. We have not seen another soul for over 20 days except during three cautious trips to the grocery store and people in the distance while walking in the neighborhood. For grocery visits, I followed what seemed like insane protocol – full ordeal with wipes, hand sanitizing, transferring goods to clean counter, wiping packaging, washing, repackaging, etc. On walks, we have been over 10 feet from anyone else. We have wiped down every item in every package, including our mail. We are washing hands for more than 20 seconds more times daily than we can count. Regardless of our care, our experience shows nobody is immune.
On Monday, my son woke up with a 100.5 fever and sore throat. It was low-grade, so we monitored. He slept most of day. By 5:30, his fever had risen to 101.7, so I called the doctor. The answering service took a message and said they’d route my call.
The outsourced overflow nurse called back. We reviewed his symptoms. Since my son has exercise-induced asthma, he is high risk, so they wanted to track carefully. He hadn’t been using his inhaler this past year, but he had said the night before that he was winded when taking a quick run around the neighborhood and may need to start using the inhaler again. We figured this was just due to lack of aerobic exercise these past weeks while we’ve been cooped up inside, but this added another possible symptom.
Since we have been quarantined, had not seen anyone for 19 days as of Monday, and hadn’t been in contact with anyone known to have become ill, they believed that I may have been the carrier. There is nothing to suggest an incubation period longer than 14 days, and my son hadn’t seen anyone for 19. Two weeks ago, I had what was a bad allergy flare up. Or so I thought. The pollen count is terrible right now, and allergies are worse than normal. I had a runny nose, red itchy eyes, headache, sore throat, what felt like a double ear infection, stomachache, and chills. But I never had a fever or cough. Everything online suggested I just had allergies, so I figured that was it. But, I had seen people within 14 days of my “allergy” symptoms. This is what led to speculation that I unknowingly may have been a carrier. The nurse said it was unlikely but also possible that I caught something while grocery shopping.
Nurse said to watch for tightness in chest, shortness of breath, nostrils flaring in and out, and skin pulling around throat, neck, or chest while breathing. She said if he had shortness of breath to take albuterol puffs on his inhaler and call doctor. If he had any additional symptoms, head straight for the ER immediately. She said he was old enough to come get me at night if he had shortness of breath, so I should try to sleep without waking up regularly to check on him.
I asked if I had to wear a mask or put his food at his door to keep distant to protect myself. She said that since we have been quarantined together for weeks, I’d have already been exposed to whatever he had. If he was positive, they would assume we both were positive even though I wouldn’t likely be tested. I didn’t have to change anything. I should care for him the same as always.
She advised me to call the nurse first thing in morning, as appointments fill up nearly immediately after opening. She thought the doctor may want to schedule a test given his higher risk. But only doctors can order the test.
Fever was 101.7 when he woke up. I called right when the office opened, but the first tele-medicine appointment wasn’t available until the next morning. That meant we couldn’t get a test scheduled. He did not have a cough, which is key symptom, but many with virus aren’t developing coughs. He had developed many of the classic COVID symptoms – high fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat, body aches, and mild loss of taste. By noon, his fever had spiked to 102.9. He took 1000mg of Tylenol to lower the fever (advice was to take Tylenol if over 102, but to stay away from ibuprofen.) I called the doctor again. This time the actual doctor called me right back. We reviewed symptoms, and the doctor wanted him seen and tested due to higher risk. They only have enough tests for severe respiratory symptoms or those at high risk, so they would test him but not me.
We saw the doctor Tuesday mid-day. Our medical center has a special clinic to see just at-risk pediatric and urgent respiratory patients. Scary to go into the clinic. Going there you know you are entering a zone only for people suspected of having coronavirus. The healthcare workers were organized and very careful. Doctor did most of the assessment over the phone and scheduled the appointment. When making appointment, they asked the make and model of car and instructed us to wear masks, which we luckily had. We were instructed to drive to the back of clinic and call a special phone number upon arrival. Few cars in lot, and we parked away from the other cars who also had patients inside. We called and waited. A nurse in full gear (gown, mask with plastic shield, and gloves) came to car and confirmed who we were. We followed her through the side door straight into a patient treatment room. We saw one other patient exiting another room, but otherwise we only saw the medical staff.
Nurse immediately did exam to take vitals. No wait time. She then slightly opened door and called in doctor who came in with same protective gear to do exam. During the exam, my son told the doctor he had also experienced some tightening of his chest, but he hadn’t wanted to tell me for fear of my worrying. They thought my son was more likely to have the flu since we have been so careful on quarantine and he wasn’t coughing. Strep throat seemed unlikely too since no signs in throat and no rash. Doctor said he looked better than some of the other pediatric patients she was seeing – she had just sent 2 to the ER, including a 3-year old.
She decided to test for both flu and COVID. She expected flu to come back positive. Testing is very unpleasant. Long plastic swab stuck way up nose and jammed around in both nostrils. They could use swab for both tests. My son said it was extremely uncomfortable – felt like the swab was poked into and tickling his brain. Flu tests come back in a matter of hours. COVID testing results used to take a week, but new test results expected in 24-48 hours.
Medical staff was gracious, professional, and helpful. I kept thanking them for taking care of patients during this difficult time. I can only imagine their stress. After the exam, we left through same side door.
Later Tuesday, fever spiked to 103.5. Still no cough. He was in good spirits and still had appetite. Pumping him with fluids – water, herbal tea, Emergen-C, and special immunity drinks. Very tired. No more tightening of chest. Crazy sweats. He took shower after shower due to chills and sweats. I changed sheets, and he changed regularly.
We received negative flu results two hours later. Bizarre that I was hoping for positive flu results.
Doctor said to treat as if we both had COVID. I was trying to stay calm, but anxious and full of worry. Trying to tell myself he would be fine and that we are both healthy. But worrisome thoughts kept running through my mind. What if he struggles breathing? What if we must return to clinic with all those sick people? What happens if I get sick too?
Waited for results.
Fever held around 102. Same symptoms plus nauseous, diarrhea, and he felt like throwing up. Body was achy. Throat hurt, so he gargled with warm salt water.
Tele-appointment with doctor in morning. She warned that since so many false negatives that we should treat as if virus even if results came back negative. Renewed warnings to continue to watch carefully for breathing issues and tightening of chest. She said if test was negative but still high fever, then they may bring us in for additional tests and possible scan of lungs. She said very rare for teens to get sick with this virus and when they do, even those with medium to severe asthma are recovering quickly. Throughout the day, his headache got bad. Still no cough. When he took Tylenol, although fever would break, he had huge sweats. Doctor said he was fine without Tylenol even if fever ran up over 105 if he could tolerate it, so leave it to him to take or not depending on whether he preferred the high fever or sweats. He slept most of day.
He was hungry despite having reduced sense of taste. I was kind of hoping he had strep throat, and I was kicking myself that I hadn’t insisted on a strep test the day before. Then we would have known immediately instead of waiting for days and possibly having to go back into sick clinic. When he woke up, he continued drinking fluids. Wouldn’t he have more difficulty swallowing if he had strep? My “hopes” for strep continued to decrease when he opted to snack on taki spicy chips and sour gummy candy. At least he had an appetite.
Fever was under 100 at night. Relief to see it go down. Despite illness, he was in good spirits. He complained that I was the most annoying mom ever to make him drink so many fluids. He said, “It isn’t normal for a grown man to have to pee more than every two hours for days at a time!” If that is my worst quality, I’ll take it. Plus, I was thankful that he had the energy to bicker.
I was still anxious. Hoping for results tonight, but no luck.
He woke with lower fever of 99.7. Feels much better.
Doctor called. Results are negative!
But wait, over 30% of negatives are false negatives. We should behave as if we both have it. Neither of us can go out for at least 10 more days. Nobody (including my husband or son who are in NC) can enter house for the rest of our official quarantine. They advised us to watch for additional symptoms for him as the virus experience is different for everyone, and it could peak again. Plus, they warned me to track my own health in case I contracted something. See Questions About Accuracy of Coronavirus Tests Sow Worry.
This has been a scary 4 days! Especially because my son has higher risk due to his asthma.
Kids get fevers all the time, so it would have been no big deal to have a fever and all the related symptoms if not in times of coronavirus. But this environment creates high anxiety.
Hard to talk with others, as everyone has their own worries about their families, friends, and colleagues. Health worries, job stresses, financial woes. Plus, everyone’s thinking goes to worst case scenario, layering onto the anxiety.
Lots of feelings of “how can this happen to us?” My son is 16. Teenagers aren’t supposed to get this. We’ve been incredibly careful, taking social distancing seriously. How can this be possible? We have followed all guidelines around hand washing, shopping, and being outside. We have even social distanced within our own nuclear family!
Plus, we all already got hit hard with the swine flu in 2009. We aren’t supposed to catch every pandemic that comes around.
Guilt and many what ifs. What if I wasn’t careful enough in the grocery store? What if I didn’t wash all the food properly? Maybe I shouldn’t have read the paper or opened our mail? Maybe I didn’t clean all our metal doorknobs and surfaces enough? Although we wanted to support local restaurants, maybe ordering delivery, even though I transferred the food into new containers and reheated, was a terrible idea? What if, what if, what if???
Over the last few days, we have shared his journey with a handful of family and friends. For many, people had heard about others who were sick, but we were their first close encounter with the process. And very few had heard of any other kids who have been tested. Although everyone is trying to be helpful and supportive, people struggle with what to say.
People have varying responses. Some totally freak out, increasing anxiety. Some say nothing, which doesn’t feel good either. Many share their own symptoms. People ask how he could have gotten it? They ask if I was careful enough with shopping and deliveries? Many give health recommendations – do you have enough inhalers, buy more masks, stay away from your son, put food by his door to not get infected, take zinc, drink daily emergen-c, and the list of recommendations goes on and on. Some say teens aren’t supposed to get it. Others say he is young and healthy so should be fine. They ask what I’ll do if I get sick too? Almost everyone local offers to help. All are trying to help in their own way. I just kept getting more anxious.
The most helpful conversations have been with those who just empathize, listen, and show support. They say, “I’m sorry. That really sucks. I’m here for you.” and then periodically check in to see how we are.
It’s the end of day 4. He is feeling much better. His fever is normal. After the negative results, even though they aren’t definitive, he seems to be back to his regular self. He claims he was fine, but that can’t be true. I, on the other hand, was like that duck smooth above the water but legs madly flapping underneath the surface. Calm for him. Positive outlook for everyone I spoke to. Hoping for the best. But underneath the surface, I was a crazy mess.
Now I am thankful. And relieved. And totally exhausted.
Many others who get sick are hospitalized or much more severely ill for 14 days or longer with much more dire results. He had symptoms, but he didn’t struggle with breathing or have chest pain.
We were able to speak to a doctor within hours and be seen within 24 hours. Many others can’t get medical treatment.
When we went to the clinic, we were seen right away without contact with other patients. Many others wait in long, long lines filled with contagious and ill patients.
Our medical providers had protective gear of gowns, masks, and gloves, while many healthcare professionals are seeing patients without any gear.
We were lucky to get a test, but over 80% of people showing symptoms can’t get one due to test shortages.
We received testing results in less than 48 hours while other tests are taking over a week.
Plus, there is an added challenge that over 30% of negative results are false negatives, creating bad ramifications for those who believe they are in the clear and then fall more ill or infect others.
Although we don’t and may not ever know for certain if he had or has the virus, his negative test results provide a huge sigh of relief.
We are so incredibly thankful for the healthcare professionals in this crisis. They must be extremely scared for themselves and their families. They have exercised such care and attention to us while risking their own health and safety at the same time. For this, we are incredibly grateful.
Hopefully my son just had some random virus. Hopefully he is on the mend. And hopefully I don’t catch anything. How I wish for the days when a kids’ fever was just a normal event.
Thank everyone you know in healthcare.
Kiss your family and kids.
Take care of yourself.
Treat everyone with empathy and compassion, as everyone is dealing with their own crazy shit right now.
Please stay safe and healthy.
This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 2, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/covid-19-our-personal-journey-kelly-wright