Kids, as we know, are notorious for bringing home bugs.
Colds, coughs, stomach viruses, contagious skin infections that flourish like red sores around tiny noses and mouths. With two children under 6, we’ve weathered it all.
Still, I dreaded the thought that one day a bug so mighty would come along and conquer one or both parents.
This month, of all months, we lived out that fear — just as the global coronavirus pandemic grabbed hold worldwide.
A day after the first U.S. death was announced in Washington state, my 3-year-old son began to struggle with a dry cough, runny nose and congestion. Then, just as a virus-struck cruise ship was held out at sea, my husband got hit with body aches, fatigue, headaches and a painful sore throat.
And finally, as officials began to cancel big gatherings like music festivals and sports games, my 6-year-old daughter, who had been battling an itchy throat, came down with a nasty cough and light fevers.
Each day and night, I moved in an exhausted fog from bed to bed with fluids, Tylenol and cough medicine. I checked temperatures, cleared nasal passages, lathered chests and noses with Vick’s VapoRub.
All the while, I kept thinking, as I drank my daily dose of Vitamin C: Don’t get sick. Please. Don’t. Get. Sick.
My colleagues at the L.A. Times were working around the clock to cover the big story. Their reports made it abundantly clear that this virus was only going to get worse. And the most vulnerable among us were older folks. In other words, our parents and grandparents.
We made a decision early on to not risk it and to distance ourselves from them. That meant our village, the loved ones we rely on when we need them most, was instantly out of reach.
I kept myself informed and did what I could to prepare us. I wiped down surfaces with a mix of water and bleach. I made stockpile runs to Target, grocery stores and drugstores. I searched in vain for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. I had a good laugh, amid all the stress, when I found a guy on Craigslist eager to unload two masks, two hand sanitizers and a huge 50 oz. bottle of antibacterial hand soap.
“Not looking for cash just hoping to trade for a good bottle of whiskey…or tequila (Don Julio 1942),” he wrote in his post just below his loot. “I can meet you at the liquor store if you want.”
I appreciated his offer, but there was no chance I was going to take him up on it.
By late last week, as Los Angeles schools announced they would shut down, my husband began to recover, along with our kids. By then, we had been battling the bug as a family for two weeks.
Just then, as nature would have it, it was clear my turn had come.
I spent several days fighting a stubborn cough that left me out of breath and at times wheezing. It was difficult to speak, uncomfortable to even sit still, as pressure pushed down on my chest and throat.
Quietly, I worried. I knew COVID-19 was largely a respiratory issue causing shortness of breath, cough and fever.
I thought of the hundreds of people I’d floated side by side with in the stores, of someone I recently interviewed who had traveled, of every surface I’d touched and then come home and perhaps not washed my hands well enough.
I called Kaiser and waited on hold for an advice nurse for nearly two hours.
“You need to go to urgent care as soon as possible,” the man on the phone told me after asking a series of questions.
I felt myself wince as he made the suggestion.
“What are we going to do if I have this thing?” I told my husband.
“What if you don’t and you get it from someone there?” he said.
We knew there was no way around it. As I drove to urgent care, gloves on, mask on, I braced myself for a likely possibility: that I’d be in a room full of sick people, not knowing how many might be infected. Don’t stand next to anyone. Don’t touch anything. Get out of there as fast you can.
When I pulled into the parking structure of Kaiser’s Pasadena location, I was relieved to find myself escorted by a security guard into a scene similar to those up north, in hard-hit places like Washington and Northern California.
Patients with cold symptoms, it turns out, were being treated in their cars.
Doctors and nurses had transformed the structure’s first floor into a drive-through triage set-up — with orange traffic cones, bright lights, folding tables and medical supplies. Wearing hazmat suits, surgery gear, protective eye gear and masks, they ushered in patients along two lanes of traffic.
About half a dozen people waited in their cars. Many had sore throats, fevers, coughs. Those potentially carrying the virus were referred to Kaiser’s Sunset location for testing. (Officials said those who suspect they’ve been exposed to the virus need to call the appointment center before coming in to any Kaiser location.)
A nurse took my vitals, then a doctor with a thick mustache waved me through and had me step out of the car. He was warm and reassuring as he moved quickly to check my throat, ears and lungs. Because I had not had any fever and my oxygen levels were good, he ruled out COVID-19 as a possibility.
“You have bronchitis,” he said.
“Bronchitis?” I asked.
“Oh my God. I’m so glad,” I said, relieved.
A nurse hooked me up to a nebulizer to breathe medicine into my lungs. Moments later, a pharmacist walked up to my car with an inhaler and all my medications. I drove home feeling grateful for every one of those health workers.
More than ever, my family is committed to staying put at home, for as long we need to. As I settled on the couch, under the warm blankets, my kids cuddled up beside me.
“Now we need all to take care of Mama,” my husband told them.