“Is anyone else cold?”
I grabbed a blanket and threw on a jacket. So what if no one else was shivering in the car, in July, in Florida. The heat index outside was 110, but the air conditioning was also blowing right on me.
I closed my eyes and tried to nap through the sniffles that started two days ago. Now there was also sinus pressure in my nose, enough to make wearing glasses uncomfortable. So I took them off.
“Mom, you don’t have Covid,” my son yelled from the back, startling me. “You’re vaccinated.”
A few hours later we stopped for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a rural panhandle town not far from the I-10, which was slowly taking us back to New Orleans after a marathon road trip that had ended with our first-ever trip to Universal and Disney in Orlando, and began with an overdue visit with family and friends in New York and New Jersey.
When the steaming bowls of pho arrived, accompanied with baskets of cilantro, jalapeno, and basil, I grew quiet after the first slurp. I tried to send a wide-eyed non-verbal message to my husband, sitting across from me. My daughter also noticed.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“I can’t smell or taste anything.”
Back on the road, my husband purchased over-the-counter Covid tests at the nearest CVS we could find. He swabbed my nose in a Pensacola parking lot, even though I already knew the result: positive.
I wore a mask inside the car with my own family for the rest of the drive home, praying it wasn’t too late to protect them from the virus (even though we’d been in the car together for over 4,000 miles, had shared a hotel room for the past 8 days, and even shared a reusable water bottle at the theme parks). So far I was the only one with symptoms.
Hours later, when we pulled into our driveway at home, I immediately ran upstairs to our bedroom and flopped onto the bed. I didn’t stop to read the mail or pet the dogs, from whom we’d been away from for nearly a month.
A few minutes later, as I hovered between lucidity and sleep, I was startled by my husband’s voice.
“We’re all negative!” he yelled through the door.
And so began my isolation and their quarantine. Although I’ve been at home with my family for over a week, I have only seen my children through the Amazon echo show screen (“Hey Alexa…”). My husband wears a mask when he enters the room to bring me meals, water, and to tinker with the internet connection (aka my lifeline). He has taken to sleeping on the pull out sofa downstairs, and has also taken on all the dishes, laundry, and summer homework assignment nagging — chores I would normally do.
At first, the solitude was a surprising relief. After being in close quarters with my family for several weeks, on constant go-go-go mode, the sudden alone time felt downright decadent. I cozied up with the remote, a good book, and folded some origami instead of laundry. Unfortunately this peace was short-lived, as days of strong headaches, fatigue, and coughing began. The worst symptom? Loneliness and cabin fever. The walls quickly closed in.
I went from walking 10 miles a day in Orlando last week to now walking about 600 steps a day. When I tried to do yoga to get the blood flowing, I felt dizzy and winded. Doing 5 minutes on the stepper (which my husband laboriously brought upstairs from the garage) was even worse. Running, a mental health and fitness hobby I started over a year ago, was now out of the question. I would have to start my regimen (and half marathon training) completely over.
To help with the loneliness, my family started video chats with me at every meal. They placed the Amazon echo show on the dining room table, where I would normally sit. I was also able to watch my kids practice violin, and chat as we played Clue on our phones. It was truly being together, apart. It went against my every mothering instinct, but also with it. My separateness was keeping them safe. My separateness and their quarantine is stopping the spread of this vicious virus, in some small way. Still, I teared up every time I called good night to them through the door, not being able to physically hug or kiss them.
Getting stuck in your own headspace is one of the dangers of isolating. As my husband reminded me (during our once daily chats, 10 feet apart, masked, on the backyard patio), we had so much to be thankful for. I was (and am) the only one in our household who got this virus. This is a huge deal, since my daughter is still ineligible for a vaccine (due to her age). Furthermore, I stayed out of the hospital, far away from the ICU and intubation. My oxygen levels have been normal (I know this thanks to the finger pulse oximeter he bought me at Walgreens). I’ve never once had a fever. If I had contracted the virus earlier, I also wouldn’t have seen our family up North.
Sure, being stuck in my room for 10 days is hardly the way I wanted to end my summer vacation, right before I have to return to another uncertain year as an elementary teacher in the classroom. But, in a way (with the exception of the virus itself), this is just what the doctor ordered. I get to catch up on sleep, reflect, do a little lesson planning, and spend hours laughing at the Rose family on Schittt’s Creek. I’ve had some much needed phone chats with concerned family members. Still, my pampered isolation and care is truly a privilege many don’t have.
At the recommendation of my therapist, I’ve tried to use this time to focus on gratitude, by expressing gratefulness through handwritten letters. At first I felt a little like Jimmy Fallon, crafting some silly thank yous, but soon I was able to tap into my true feelings, words I rarely say aloud but should, and put them onto paper. I started with a card to my husband, thanking him for truly being there for me, for never once complaining. Taking the time to linger in gratitude is something my usual busy teacher-parent life rarely affords, and it is the perfect anecdote to self-pity. I highly recommend that anyone, whether or not you are isolating or quarantining, take 15 minutes out of your day to write e a thank you letter from the heart. It’s an activity I plan to bring with me to the other side of the bedroom door, as I recover and look forward.
Disclaimer: I am not here to lecture you, or anyone about getting vaccinated. In turn, please don’t lecture me about being more responsible. Yes, we could’ve been more careful. We, like so many others, thought the vaccine (which my husband and son also have) made us somewhat invincible. Truly, everyone is at risk. We saw very few masks during our July travels across the country, and yes, the crowds were thick and mostly unmasked at Universal and Disney. Do I regret going? No. Should we have worn masks inside the many indoor rides and restaurants? Yes. Thankfully, Disney has just changed their stance on that issue– and masking is now required indoors. The Delta Variant (of which I’m certain I have) is crazy contagious, and is a threat to any living being (yes, even pets), vaccinated or not. I am quite certain my symptoms would’ve been much worse if I hadn’t been vaccinated. I am urging you to do what you feel is best for your family to protect them, whatever you feel that is.