But something huge is happening now. The Coronavirus is here. It's probably been here for longer than we realize, silently spreading through our communities without our knowledge because many people (especially children) may have it without symptoms and others may have mild symptoms. Up until recently, in order for a person to be tested for COVID 19, they had to be tested for a number of other viruses (e.g. the flu), have those tests come back negative and then they could be tested for COVID-19, if there were tests available. Combine that with very limited testing in our country, and there is no way to know for sure how many cases we actually have. I don't claim to be up-to-date on all the latest information, and I don't plan to link any articles at the bottom of this post (perhaps another one). But what I thought I would share with you is now this all feels to me as the wife of a Emergency Department physician. Because my husband will be on the front lines. He will be one of the many healthcare providers who sees those sick patients and will intubate them when necessary. He will be exposed over and over and over again. And through him, my children and I will be exposed. For me, it's not "if" we get COVID-19. It's "when".
First off, I'm trying to remain calm, I'm trying to not spend too much time on facebook or watching the news. I'm trying to spend just enough time to be informed without giving in to fear and panic. I am a believer in Jesus, and I believe the message that God gives us a spirit of power, love and sound mind, not one of fear. So I don't want to live out of fear, but out of a sound mind.
A month or so ago, one of my husband's colleagues started sharing information about the Coronavirus in China. She was paying attention to the numbers- numbers of sick people, numbers needing ICU care, and seeing that their health system was overwhelmed. Not only that, she was noticing that if we have an outbreak here, with the same percentages of acutely sick people, then we also don't have the medical and personnel resources to handle such a spike in sick people who need to be hospitalized. I had heard of it briefly before she began posting. But once she began posting, I made it a point to read all she shared. If she was concerned, then I figured it was worth paying attention to.
Since then, there's been an outbreak in Italy which has lead to their health system being overwhelmed and the country is on lockdown. If you look at the page Johns Hopkins has showing updates of where there are (confirmed) cases worldwide, it keeps growing.
So, what have I been doing? Well, when my husband's colleague started posting, I decided it was time to tackle a project I had been wanting to work on - restocking our food storage pantry. I like to keep a "deep pantry", as I've heard it called. I freeze and can fruit and vegetables in the summer when it's in season, and my husband hunts. So we already have a good supply of those items, but our dry goods were getting low and I figured it was a good time to start shopping to resupply them. I read about people needing to be quarantined for multiple weeks, and I figured, chances are that will be us and one point or another. So about 3 weeks ago, I started stocking up. I didn't tell anyone because I felt kind of silly, but I also felt like I needed to do it. I don't like to procrastinate and I didn't want to be part of a crowd rushing to the store, if a rush ever happened.
I bought over the counter medicines, toilet paper (not huge amounts, just what I normally would get), hand sanitizer and whatever dry goods items we were low on, plus extra so if we bake more in these coming weeks, we'll have enough. In my mind, I figured we would find ourselves in a position where we needed to stay home completely, and so I needed to prepare for that. Our parents and siblings live about 1.5 hours away, so if we are quarantined, then they can't really help out so much. Plus, since older adults are at greater risk, it's not like I want them near us if we do get sick. I also made sure to purchase food items that my almost 10 year old and 8 year old can make in the event that I am too sick to cook and my husband is too busy working extra hours at the hospital.
So each week I bought extra of what I needed, just in case. And I'm thankful I did. This week, I did the last of my extra (and regular) shopping before the news broke that we had 3 positive cases in Delaware. So aside from one long line at BJs on Thursday morning, I was able to be prepared, while not feeling stressed about having enough supplies. I even went to a local garden supply store and bought seed packets, so that I can start gardening. And if things progress and we are on a lockdown, I can still have vegetables to grow. And gardening is like therapy for me.
But the anxiety set in Thursday, because now it really does feel as though, without extreme steps, we will experience what Italy is experiencing. I felt a surge of relief when I got the news that schools were closing for at least two weeks and that a lot of other places were closing. I was scheduled to substitute in my daughter's class this week, and all I could think was "what if we've already been exposed, don't know it, and my kids pass it on to their schoolmates and we infect this whole community?" Maybe that sounds crazy, but it's exactly what my thoughts were.
We had a small family get together scheduled for today, and my children and I stayed home. I felt bad about it, but also felt very, very strongly that we needed to. Ballet was cancelled for my daughter, we didn't go to church (or Meeting, as it's called in the Quaker world, and we attend a Quaker Meeting) this morning, and I have no plans to take my children anywhere other than outside in the upcoming weeks. I canceled a non-urgent doctor's visit I had for Friday afternoon. I will still need to go to the grocery store for a couple items eventually, our car's oil may need changed, and I do hope to get to the garden supply store again at some point. But my hair appointments, trips to the thrift store, eating out, gatherings with friends, and any other things like that will have to wait. Because we are at higher risk for exposure.
We've upped our sanitation at home too this past week. My husband ordered his first COVID-19 test for a patient one week ago. It was a little over 24 hours until he got the results back (negative), but after that he started removing his shoes immediately once home, changed out of his work clothes immediately (he used to wear them around the house, which I liked to think strengthened our immune systems), and took them straight to the laundry and then showered. We use clorox or lysol wipes to clean off his phone, charger, badge, key and anything else he would have handled. And of course there is a lot more hand washing. And I have to admit, I'm pretty sure I didn't wash my hands for 20 seconds each time. We're more vigilant with our children about washing hands correctly as well. I am wiping off my phone, our ipad and other surfaces more frequently as well. I rarely do this normally, but this is not a normal illness, so...
And honestly, I'm not really worried about my children getting sick, or myself. I'm worried that we might spread it to some one whose body can't handle it. But I am much more worried about my husband being overworked, getting sick and not being able to take time off to recover. When I hear stories from China and Italy about the physicians there who have died from this, then I have to work really hard to push down the fear. If he had a job where he could work from home, I don't think I'd feel too worried, honestly. But his job is to take care of sick people and try to keep them from dying. There is no staying home for him. And no avoiding people with COVID-19. And chances are good that he'll be working more hours than usual in the up-coming weeks, if we keep following the same trajectory as Italy.
This feels long. I have a journal that I've kept for over two decades and have told myself I need to sit and write about this. Writing helps me release stress. But after a conversation in a facebook group (where I've seen posts by people living through the lockdown in Italy and heard from the spouses of other Emergency room physicians), I decided I might as well write here, and share how I'm feeling. This isn't something I tend to do with social media because I like to keep my private thoughts private. But maybe it will be helpful for others out there who don't have a family member in healthcare to hear how things are for some one who does.
My final thoughts for today: please, please, please limit your physical social interactions right now. If we can be extra cautious right now, maybe we can #flattenthecurve and not overwhelm our health system. That way when you or some one you love needs an emergency appendectomy, cancer treatment, is in a car accident, has a stroke, heart attack, a broken bone, or is having a baby, and so on, there will be room at the hospital and non-overworked care providers to take care of them.