For about a week recently, our family’s activities were on hold as we waited to see if we would get sick.
We had minor sore throats. A headache here. Some weird GI problems there.
Why am I so exhausted? Are those body aches? Do I have a fever?
Normally, we would chalk all of these symptoms up to allergies, too little sleep or something we ate. But during this particular week, we were aware that we might have been exposed to coronavirus. Suddenly, the usual ailments that can pass through a family of six on any given week developed into psychosomatic symptoms of a notorious illness that we constantly tried to push to the back of our minds.
I realized that this is how life is going to be for a while.
The trail of how we might have been exposed looked something like this. Our family spent a significant amount of time with a good family friend. That friend had spent an entire day with someone in another city. That new friend lived several hours away, but had traveled to meet up with our friend. The entire family of the other friend (not our friend) got sick with coronavirus, possibly from a brother who had come to visit from another state.
If this sounds confusing and hard to follow, it should be.
Thinking about it made me realize that these strings of connections are happening all of the time with many of the people that we meet. The surprising thing wasn’t that we FOUND OUT we could have been exposed. What’s really alarming is all of the other times we might have been or could be exposed in the future through all of the other people we encounter, but we don’t know those other people have been exposed.
Since we weren’t directly with the person who had the virus (we were one level removed), we had to decide how many other people we needed to notify. Should we still interact with people? Should we cancel a family party? Should we let our girls go to gymnastics and cheer? We decided that until we got our test results, we probably didn’t need to alarm people that we had been in contact with. But we decided to self quarantine until we knew for sure that we were OK. As we notified coaches and friends to cancel plans, we realized that being that family that MIGHT have been exposed to corona feels a little bit like having leprosy or the plague.
At one point during this week of waiting, we were walking our dog on the trail. A sweet older couple came up to us and wanted to pet our dog because he reminded them of their dog who had recently passed. I felt like we needed to wear t-shirts that would warn them to stay six feet away. Perhaps we could have a red shirt with the word POSITIVE, a yellow shirt that said EXPOSED and a green shirt with the word NEGATIVE to warn people of our status as they approach us on a walk.
Once we knew there was a possibility we could have been exposed, we immediately decided to go get tested for coronavirus. The day we did this was also the day we had to let our school district know our decision of whether to do in-person or remote learning for each of our children the coming school year. We also needed to make a final decision on whether to send our oldest son back to college or maybe look at some other options, like a gap year or taking classes online.
It became very apparent to me that once everyone goes back to school, this lifestyle of waiting to see if we might get sick will become a way of life.
Waiting for the results of a COVID-19 nasal swab could become our new normal.
Staying at home in isolation for a week so we don’t infect other people with an illness we don’t even know we actually have will probably become a common occurrence.
Hearing that a friend in class was potentially exposed and trying to decide if we should get tested is most likely going to be a regular part of the upcoming school year.
Here’s how things ended up for us:
We got tested at a mobile testing site where we administered the test ourselves. Each of us (including our 10-year-old daughter) was able to stick the swab far enough up our nose to complete the test.
After five days, we got our results. We were all negative. We were all extremely relieved. Our friend who had been directly exposed to someone who did get sick also received a negative test result.
We signed up three of our four kids for in-person learning, including our college student. Our son who will be a senior this year opted to do remote learning because it worked well for him in the spring. He would prefer to have the flexibility in his work schedule and not have to constantly think about whether the kid next to him washed his hands.
I am growing to accept that sending our kids back to school means adjusting the way I think about getting sick. It comes not only with a risk — but an assumption — that we will get infected at some point. When I think about the string of connections that led to our most recent possible exposure, I realize how likely it is that will happen again and again.
Our level of response will most likely dull the more times we hear about a friend who has it. We will probably be waiting for test results several more times before this is over. We will have to self quarantine, and we might get frustrated if others have a different standard of how isolated they should stay.
And hopefully, we will be able to live our lives without the constant feeling that we are just waiting to get sick.