I woke up this morning and immediately bounded downstairs to check the Vermont Department of Health’s website for our family test results.
Last Monday, Son #2’s first test showed up around 7 AM; we know that we have set our hopes way too high on getting results back quickly. The state only promises two or three days, possibly up to five. The kind woman helping us swab our noses yesterday gently pointed out that just because last week brought answers in 24 hours, it won’t necessarily happen again.
It has not stopped us from dreaming. My husband has big plans: he wants to go shopping at a farm store and he longs to stroll the grocery store aisles himself. My son wants to go out with friends again and be his normal social self. My daughter wants to see one friend—“just one”, she says. I want to join our weekly doggie playdate (although I don’t even know if there is one arranged, since I normally set them up).
Looking back on this week (and oh, we all so fervently hoped that it will be only one week—that test results come back early tomorrow, and that they come back negative), we have experienced great kindness. Friends have picked things up for us, checked on us, buoyed our spirts with phone calls, texts and emails. We’ve completed one more chapter, one more COVID story to put in our memory bank.
Still, it’s amazing how much we have felt “locked down” for just one week. It’s like the moment someone tells you that you can’t do something, it’s the very thing you want to do. Each of us has reached a point of wanting to scream “I’m so done with this!” during these past six days. (Umm, correct that. If I’m completely honest, each of us did hit that point and did complain loudly at least once during the past week.) Luckily, we didn’t all hit the wall at the same moment.
By 9:30 AM, the results were back—almost exactly 24 hours after we drove through yesterday. Like we wanted, we are all negative. Our daughter has finished her required quarantine for last week’s positive test, too. Our house is COVID-clean. We are free to leave again.
A week ago last Sunday, we spent about four hours on the phone, listening to health officials and contact tracers and writing down specific instructions about what we were to do—and what we could not do.
One Vermont health official listed out all the ways we could “try” to keep the virus from spreading to other family members. He was very specific in his advice, and included time-tasted and scientifically proven gems: sanitize anything that anyone touches, wear masks in the house and isolate the COVID-positive individual. “But,” he summed it all up at the end of his suggestions, “unfortunately, the rest of the family will probably all get it next, too. And remember that the quarantine clock starts again each time a new person is confirmed positive.”
I responded to him that he needed to practice a little optimism in his life; I assured him that the rest of us were not getting sick. I told him that we have already had COVID through the house, back in October, when three of us were sick to varying degrees. I ended up losing my sense of smell, and Son #2 spent about three days feeling remarkably unwell. He replied (the only way he could) by wishing us all well, and that he hoped that I was right.
It’s surreal to spend a week feeling like “walking COVID time bombs.” I do believe in the power of positive thinking. (This is not a surprise, I know; you are reading a book filled with an entire year of trying to daily positives out of a hugely negative worldwide catastrophe.) But I didn’t know if we would be able to come out of this without other infections here in the house. Any sneeze, or a small twinge of a body ache, or even the slightest hint of congestion—all of it made us think of COVID.
And while we know many who have contracted COVID and escaped with mild cases, I have a colleague who spent half of February in intensive care. The doctors told her that if she had not taken the ambulance to the ER earlier this month, she probably would not have lived. After finally returning home for a few days, she’s now fighting a secondary infection. There is nothing—nothing at all—that has been mild about her situation.
Our family unit has varying degrees of respect with the virus (and frustration with the measures taken to try to combat it). Sometimes we have hit near complete compliance with every rule Vermont has set forth. Sometimes we feel we are following the spirit but not the letter of the mandates. Some family members follow every precaution as instructed; some do most of it; some have not worried about the rules at all and refuse to “live in fear.”
My silver lining for today is a forced-upon-us week filled with reflection. There are lessons in this pandemic—and it amazes me the many ways we all interpret them.