I’ve felt weirdly calm during this COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s not because we’ve been untouched by it as a family.
Our eldest son was hospitalized in Philadelphia in March with what turned out to be COVID-induced, multi-site pneumonia. It was a bit of a tense comedy trying to get him to tell us — the texting triangle that was me, him, and my internist brother-in-law — how he was really feeling.
I found myself being the go-between, reminding my brother-in-law, Ken, that if my son wasn’t outright lying about his symptoms, he was most likely downplaying them. When Ken finally suggested that my son go to the ER, I was the one who had the presence of mind to ask how he planned to get there.
When I texted Ken that he planned to walk there, I got back “AMBULANCE!!” which I promptly forwarded to my son, making clear that he was to suspend his own bad judgment and take his uncle’s advice. Thankfully, he did.
Only days before my son was admitted to the hospital, my daughter and I returned from a wonderful, albeit brief, trip to Madrid. I had been checking in with the hotel, and with a friend who’d just returned from visiting his parents in Madrid, and all reported that life was normal, that everything was fine.
And everything was fine while we were there. We spent part of each of our three full days there meandering through a different world-class art museum. We wandered as far as our legs would carry us and taxied back to our hotel in the evening. We saw, we ate, we even made some new friends over churros and hot chocolate at a famed local eatery.
The day we returned, Spain closed its schools. And then put the country on total lockdown. Seemed we’d made it home just in time.
Days after our return, the stay-at-home orders in New York kicked in. My husband closed his office and we were home, quarantining together — “we” meaning me, my husband, our daughter and our younger son who is autistic and has epilepsy and ulcerative colitis.
I had the presence of mind to get extra doses of my son’s anti-seizure meds, outside our insurance, just in case supplies began to run short. I had encouraged my husband to stock up on basic supplies at Target the last time he was at his office, and my longstanding fixation with paper goods meant we were well stocked already with toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels.
As March turned to April, my son was improving, but it seemed it was my turn to get sick. I went to bed April 1st thinking that maybe I was coming down with a cold. Turned out it was COVID-19, with its attendant fever, body aches, dry, painful cough, and loss of smell.
I retreated to my bedroom, consigning my husband to the den. I texted when I was hungry and he left me food and drink on the floor outside our bedroom door. This lasted four days, until the morning my husband opened the door, announcing that he’d spiked a fever the night before. No need for us to be apart any longer.
While my husband and I managed our symptoms, I worried most about my autistic son. If he got as sick as his brother, there’s no way he could be hospitalized without me. How could he be alone, sick, not understanding what’s going on, not able to describe his symptoms?
I tried to keep that worry at bay and convinced myself that the intense amount of sleeping he’d been doing for weeks — 18-20 hours a day — was his way of fighting the virus. With no scientific evidence, but with a mother’s intuition and hope, I was convinced that his body went into a kind of hibernation and that in fact, he had the virus, without the overt symptoms.
As for my daughter, she complained one evening of feeling sick but seemed herself the very next day. I’ve no idea if she’s had the virus, but there’s no way she hasn’t been exposed to it. My kids are in and out of our bed on a regular basis. We are a family of intense snugglers, and while COVID-19 kept me away from my kids for a few days, we’re right back to our old, snuggling ways.
It’s a strange thing, living through this pandemic in an almost dispassionate way. I think it tracks with my contrarian nature. I can become undone by the smallest thing, but give me a real crisis, and a strange calm settles over me.
It’s not resignation, not a failure to take in the seriousness. Just a kind of equanimity that I think reflects the fact that so much of my life has been lived with trauma that a traumatic event — even one as widespread and devastating as COVID-19—feels to me like one more thing, like another shoe dropping.
It is also not indifference. I am responding to others’ needs wherever I can, including by rallying friends to join me in providing snacks for the 240 pharmacy staff members at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, a medical facility truly at the epicenter of this pandemic.
I feel grateful for the ways in which this pandemic has touched us and seemed to move on. I certainly hope it’s done with us. And I dearly hope it will be done for good soon. I wonder what the future holds, and I try to be optimistic that this devastating crisis, with all its health-related and non-health-related losses, will somehow spur us to create something better on the other side. But that optimism feels flimsy in light of who and what America has become, all the “we’re in this together” talk notwithstanding.
As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.
In some ways, in spite of our family’s brush with COVID-19, everything and nothing has changed. My daughter is taking classes online. My son will graduate remotely from law school, but his entry into the Navy will be delayed for who knows how long.
I will continue to marvel at the ways in which millions are waking up to who actually makes this country run. If only they’d been less consumed with their own importance, they would have known that all along. Or as I’ve been telling my husband for years, people in America worship the rich, the powerful, the self-promoting, and self-aggrandizing of every stripe. But have garbage pick up suspended for a few weeks, and civilization as we know it will come to a screeching halt.
This pandemic might change some people’s outlook about who and what matters and why. But for some of us, it might just feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nina Mogilnik has a long work history in philanthropy and government. Her writing has been published in The Jewish Week/The New Normal, Hadassah Magazine, and The Times of Israel. You can also follow her musings at parentjungle.blogspot.com