This morning I received an email from my husband. A member of his immediate team at work had stayed home sick. His colleague had a fever, sore throat, and was coughing. Were we concerned? Should we take precautions? As the parents of a medically fragile adult son these are conversations we’re having almost daily now that COVID-19 seems to have arrived in Canada.
The above picture is of my son. It was taken in December. At the time he was in the ICU of our local hospital where he remained on a ventilator for ten days following a nasty bout with the common cold. My son is one of those people for whom COVID-19 poses a very serious risk.
My son lives with significant disabilities. He is medically complex. This means that as his parents, my husband and I are watching the COVID-19 news with increasing concern, at times alarm. We’re both struggling to find a healthy ‘place’ between being reasonable, and spiralling into full-blown panic. How do we protect our son knowing that experts are predicting that the virus will eventually arrive to our community?
If you had asked me a week ago if I was concerned I would have probably said I was no more concerned than I normally am during the cold and flu season. Every winter our household is particularly attentive to hand washing. We stay home if we’re sick. We keep Matthew home if he looks slightly “off”. We are cautious, but not paranoid. This is normal for us.
But I can’t lie. Over the last 48 hours the constant news of COVID-19 news has been a source of heightening concern. Yesterday evening I read several articles from reputable sources telling me not to be concerned. Five minutes later I read a post written by an Italian doctor who described a hospital that was reminiscent of a war zone where care was rationed based on survivability. My son would be considered to have low survivability so my anxiety notched up significantly after reading that article. Italy went into lockdown. I have heard from colleagues in the US who are scrambling to transfer their university courses to digital format because classes are cancelled for the rest of the term. I’m fighting the urge to freak out.
What alarms me most is that the virus, for most people, is mild. As a result the virus can move through our communities undetected. At the moment we only have one confirmed case where I live, though that number is expected to increase. I am worried that by the time the virus declares itself in our community it will be too late. My son will have been exposed, or worse, sick, and we will be caught up in the peak of the crisis. My son might be sick and I will be kicking myself for not being “paranoid” and self-isolating when I had the chance.
During my most anxious moments I wonder if we should simply go into some form of self-imposed quarantine today – no one in, no one out – until the peak of the virus has passed. Realistically that is the only way to truly protect my son. But that seems extreme, even paranoid. Living in fear is no way to live. But yet until the virus is contained, every day my son attends his day program, a community event, or comes in contact with people who are going about their daily lives including his parents, he is at risk of being exposed.
We have been caught up in overreactions in the past. My son was kicked out of nursery school during the SARS crisis because he attended a medical appointment at Sick Kids in Toronto. There were no cases of SARS in the hospital at the time, but that didn’t stop the nursery school from banning him for two weeks. During the H1N1 virus there was strong pressure to remove him from school because he had been exposed to the virus. The fact that he was on Tamiflu and had no symptoms was irrelevant. We have lived through panic and don’t want to be part of creating it.
During every outbreak, not to mention the annual cold and flu season, we struggle with how to respond. Many years ago I made a conscious decision that we would not live in fear. We wouldn’t be cavalier, or stupid, but we would not let fear dictate our lives. We would be reasonable. We would continue to go about our daily activities until there was evidence we should change. Raising our son in a bubble was not in his best interests, nor ours. But I am finding it difficult to define ‘reasonable’ at the moment. There is a sense that the rules of the game have changed.
At the moment we plan to keep on “keeping on” and live our lives. We will wash our hands and ask visitors to our home to do the same. We will ask people to stay away if they’re sick. We beg you to do the same. We will avoid higher risk activities, such as places with large crowds in tight quarters (ie: sporting events). And we will keep tabs on the situation while trying to keep our fear and anxiety at bay. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that finding a happy medium between reason and panic is difficult.