Our Real Pandemic Story

I’ve been thinking a lot about where we are in this pandemic. Dean came home last Thursday after traveling for work with a case of breakthrough Covid-19. We’ve been in quarantine since. As fate would have it he arrived just a day after I had experienced a tense conversation with a very good friend about vaccine and I was still trying to recover from it. I love this friend as though she is my sister and I’m still not sure how to let it go and re-enter her life. The reality is that she has a very different perspective on the vaccines than I do to the point that the information she shared with me completely overwhelmed me and made feel as if I was expected to watch for the disintegration of my body as a result of the vaccine being present in it. I honestly had no idea what possible answer I could give her except to say, that of course, I must be a real idiot and will now have to live with my choice to alter my DNA, to get blood clots and a host of other things. As I don’t find that true, I didn’t know where that left me in her eyes and that was really tough. Then, just like that…my vaccinated hubs arrives from Nebraska looking like a ghost, tightness in his chest and cold-like symptoms. I knew right away that he had breakthrough Covid.

As the week has worn on and we’ve gotten used to once again being sequestered in the same house together, I’ve had ample time to reflect on this whole poop show we’ve been living through and I just started writing it out and this is the result of that reflection.

March 2020…When the World Turned Upside Down

Stephen and Theresa with their boys Bobby (just turned 2) and AJ (9 months) had lived in Cedar Park for one week. We had been helping with the move and babysitting. It was an exciting time. Stephen would no longer have the grueling 90 minute commute from South Austin to the Apple campus where he works. For the remainder of that year, Theresa would commute going south because they had found the “perfect for them” house just about 10 minutes from ours. Then…BOOM. Shut down. Having done the reverse commutes and putting the boys in their new daycare, everything about coming and going came to full stop. Everything about staying in and going ramped up to full speed. Suddenly we had Dean, Stephen and Theresa all working from home. I started to work from home too. It was crazy. 

After months of juggling and striving to get to the end of the school year, Theresa was able to stop working for the summer. Promises that it was a temporary thing were abundant. I clearly remember Jerad Kirschner saying very clearly that it would all be over by July of that year. July, however, came and went. With July also came news that Theresa had a tumor on her the L1 vertebrae very likely cancerous. Talk about feeling thrown into the abyss. I had already been watching the boys 3 days a week and she two because it was very hard for her with the backpain she was dealing with. On the days she watched them, she and Stephen would tag team while he worked. The stress level was incredible.

Dean was stuck working in our house slogging through a list of potential customers as a telemarketer instead of doing the actual kind of sales and technical advising he prefers to be doing. The threat of spinal cancer in the family took everything to an entirely new level of crazy. It is no easy swallow and clouds every damn molecule of air you are breathing as a family and this time it hit us within the context of a pandemic.  Covid 19, largely unknown even to the experts seemed to be always hanging around but unseen in the air, on surfaces and possibly elsewhere. It was seriously overwhelming. 

August rolled around and my phone rang. Stephen was calling to tell me that they had come to the realize that they had no choice but to put the boys back into daycare even though Theresa had determined that she would take a year off from teaching. She was on strict limits with lifting anything over 10lbs. so it was impossible to manage the boys alone. My immediate response was simply an affirmation that it was really the only way forward.

 We were all spent. We were all exhausted and stressed beyond the ability to give them good care and continue to pay attention to the work in front of us. Theresa’s tumor was found to be a schwannoma or nerve sheath tumor as a result of radiation she had to endure to deal with neuroblastoma she had as a toddler. It will one day require an extensive surgery but for now it’s a wait and see situation. How does a mom of two young babies and a career just stop it all in a normal stressful life, let alone during a pandemic? She spent a lot of time exercising and resting and regaining her footing after so many blows in rapid succession. In order to do that, the boys had to be in daycare out of the safety of the house, among other kids from other families in the middle of a pandemic knowing both that there was great risk if anyone caught the virus and an equally great risk if they didn’t. We were living in the proverbial rock and hard place. 

It took until February before the virus entered the daycare and when it did, it had to shut down for two weeks. We went over to Stephen’s to watch the Superbowl knowing that we could be exposed but not at all wanting to believe it. A friend suggested that kids aren’t actually transmitting the disease to others so, of course, I went to Dr. Google and found validation to that idea. When I did, we headed over and I held and coddled my boys. Days later, Bobby was positive for it. 

I was pretty frightened when I found out that he had because suddenly the abstract became real for all of us. I had long before determined that if I got the virus as a result of the boys in daycare, I would be able to accept the consequences of my choice to spend time with them. I had determined that if it took me to my end, I would go down as a hands-on grandmother. I’d caught a few colds and had my nose swabbed several times in the months prior to Bobby’s positive test but so far had avoided it. I suppose those negative tests gave me a false sense of security. Like most of us, when I want something bad enough, I can do all kinds of mental gymnastics to determine that what I want is the good and right thing for me, no matter what supposed evidence is in front of me. Unfortunately, the only thing that can break through my denial or avoidance of reality is the consequence of my choice. Bobby’s positive test was indication that I was very likely going to have to face the reality of my own battle with Covid 19. Of course, I got sick a few days later and was sure that I was Covid positive. I was not. I didn’t ever get it. That said the reality that I was exhausted from the threat of it was only magnified a hundred percent. I was determined to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

After spending the whole month of February almost entirely separated from Stephen’s family, when I was able to get in line for the vaccine, I jumped at the chance. I had been following Dr. Michael Osterholm’s podcast every week as well as other reputable sources and had no fear at all of getting it. A friend I know in Nebraska has shared a video from our mutual friend, Dr. Tyler Martin, an infectious disease specialist. I worked for Dr. Martin in the early 90’s and after exposure to his incredibly intelligent mind and passion for immunology and infectious disease prevention, I also highly trusted him. Most of all, though, I wanted to be able to live my life without reference to Covid 19. I wanted to visit my elderly parents with pre-existing conditions, go grocery shopping without a mask and attend a live music event again. 

I had to drive out to Midland, Texas, to obtain the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. CVS had just obtained them and the slots here in Austin filled up faster than lightning. The community offered vaccinations were unavailable to me as well. I just kept trying and trying and this was the first one I was successful at getting an appointment for. I enjoyed a nice drive to west Texas and a night in a motel before heading home to experience a few days of side effect. Three weeks later, I searched again and found a follow up shot at a CVS in Palestine, Texas, three hours east of here. As spring came and mask requirements were lifted for the fully vaccinated, I was full of optimism and life started to return to normal until the end of July when my chest started to tighten and I struggled to breathe. 

Pneumonia. I could hardly believe it. I’d heard a bit on the news about breakthrough infections being diagnosed in a few places attributed to the Delta variant that had devastated India but the thought was that it was largely only found in those with underlying conditions. As one with a Mixed Connective Tissues disease, I suspected that I too had caught the Delta variant somewhere. I headed to the emergency room and was surprisingly able to get right in. In that little space on the bed near curtains pulled around me, I heard a lot of coughing, groaning and people asking questions about the virus. I heard doctors talking about lab tests, chest x-rays and how each person was being affected by Covid. One man was in the middle of cancer treatment and the virus had overwhelmed his sinuses to the point that he was experiencing excruciating headaches. Another patient could hardly talk for lack of air. All I could think to myself was, “If I do not already have Covid-19’s Delta variant, I will most certainly have it before I leave here!” 

The doctor ordered a chest x-ray and Covid test for me and we waited. I told him I was fully vaccinated and his reply was that he was too but had just come back to work after two weeks off with the Delta variant. This was the end of July. It would be just weeks and the numbers in our county would soar. The ER where I was treated would close off the entrance with caution tape and turn away patients because they were over capacity. The county health department put out bulletins letting us know we were again in the red stage. This time, however, life went on with very little disruption in public life. Then school opened. 

My daughter-in-law, thinking that the worst was behind us, had taken a new position at a local elementary school in the Special Ed department. She discovered that as a teacher in the Leander School District she would be able to put Bobby in an Early Learning Environment preschool where kids who qualify for an extra boost before Kindergarten attend. The cost would be half of what they were paying for his care at the private preschool/daycare he was in so she enrolled him. AJ would continue at the private school for another year. Three of our family members in three public schools meant that the two unvaccinated littles could potentially bring the virus home again but there was honestly nothing apart from all of us isolating in a cave to avoid the risk. Again, I determined that if I go down from Covid, this time a breakthrough case, I will go down as a full-time grandmother.  Then came the booster. 

A friend in the neighborhood posted on Facebook that she had gotten her booster and I immediately searched for an appointment. In days I had a third dose of the Moderna MRNA vaccine. It kicked my ass just like the other two so I was confident that I’d be in good shape by the time I was through. Another friend in the hood mentioned htat she was enrolled in a study with the University of Texas that would be monitoring antibody levels, both natural ones and those created by the vaccine. I did a search and enrolled as well. A few weeks later I received my results and discovered that I have >2500 vaccine antibodies in my blood stream. That is WAY over their standard measure. Armed with this data, I have been living my life since. Out of respect for others and when required, I still wear a mask if necessary but I am confident that I am protected against Covid 19.  My life goes on and I am most grateful.

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