Day 26: Gulp

April 20, 2020

For a family under lockdown, we’ve had our share of drama around here.

We’ve discovered we were running a spider nursery; inadvertently got our labradoodle stoned; and held a pots-and-pans-banging birthday celebration on our driveway.

I got sick with something that laid me low for the better part of a month — but I tested negative for the coronavirus. My husband, a physician, had confirmed COVID-19 exposure and just completed 14 days of wearing a mask everywhere he went (he’s fine now). Our 16-year-old daughter has been coughing for eight straight weeks, a round of antibiotics and a clear X-ray notwithstanding.

Every few days, I ask my brother how the family business is doing. My dad started a manufacturing business nearly 50 years ago, and my brother still runs that company today out of a plant in Valencia. Without getting into details, let’s just say things are quieter than in 2008 — and those weren’t exactly the best of times. To round things out, my mom’s partner of 15 years has metastatic renal cancer that may or may not be responding to the latest treatment (scan coming up on Friday — fingers crossed).

So I’ve been keeping my eye on our kids, the dog, my husband, my mom and her partner, the family business, etc. etc. I thought I had it all covered.

Whoops — forgot about my dad.

My father, who is 85 and lives in the Pacific Palisades, had a minor stroke on Friday and landed in a bed at St. John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica. This shouldn’t be a shocking turn of events, given his age. But he does push-ups and sit-ups every day, hikes in the mountains with a gaggle of lady friends twenty years his junior every weekend, and jets off on ski trips to Whistler and the Alps. He still works, at the business I mentioned above, and until the virus forced planes out of the skies, regularly traveled abroad for his job.

As you might imagine, it took some convincing to get him to stop driving up to Valencia every day. He and his wife have continued to avoid both delivery services and asking grandchildren for help buying groceries. Instead, he’s been hitting senior hour at Gelson’s every other week to stock up for the household.

The stroke shook him a little off balance, and more alarmingly, partially paralyzed his throat so that he struggled to swallow. He seems nearly back to normal now, but on Saturday, the hospital staff was sufficiently alarmed to limit him to a saline drip, no foods.

But here’s how indestructible my dad believes himself to be. On Saturday night, when no one was watching, he fished a pack of crackers out of some private stash of his, and ate the contraband in the dark. “I was hungry,” he said the next day. “And it was fine.”

Before he was admitted to the hospital on Friday, he and my stepmother got tested for COVID-19, thanks to my resourceful sister-in-law who set it up through the City of L.A. We don’t have the results back yet. Neither do we know what caused the stroke, thought not for lack of testing (although my husband is an internist, he works at Kaiser, a closed medical system, and so hasn’t been a part of my father’s care at St. John’s).

As I was writing this, I called my dad and found out — no surprise there — that he’s skipping the three days at the rehab home that he was offered, and is heading to his house tonight instead. His balance is back, he said, and as for his swallowing, “I only have to be told something once. They (the therapist) told me what to do, and I did it at lunch today.”


Of course, part of the reason he’s not going to rehab is he wants to avoid more viral exposure. And he is meeting tomorrow with his internist.

To listen to him, his health is once again under control and chugging nicely forward. And it’s not like I can do much about anything, stuck here in my house, unable to even visit him when he was alone for four days at the hospital. The nice thing about him going home is I’ll be able to stand on his front lawn and wave at him, which I’ve learned is not nothing.

I’ve also remembered how much I love the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone. It wasn’t available on Friday. It sounded like a truck had dumped a load of gravel on it on Saturday. It was still scratchy on Sunday, but I knew my engineer father was back when he started explaining to me the physics of how blood flows through the heart.

I hated physics in high school. I hated that the only tutor on offer to me was my dad, and that he insisted on explaining physics with calculus, even though I was barely passing calculus and my physics course didn’t include it anyway.

But I’ll take it these days. Crackers and hubris and physics and all.

Day 7: Negative

My test results came back today: negative for the coronavirus.

On behalf of my lungs, I’m happy — no damage there, at least, not from this intruder. On behalf of my husband, who’s exposed enough as it is, I rejoice — I haven’t increased his risk of getting sick.

And for all those who I told and who congratulated me — thank you. Happy texts and smiling emojis are always appreciated.

Still, I’m confused. My test may be negative, but my cough and fatigue came back this morning, before I got the results. So what does that mean? I spent most of the last week — including much of today — in bed. What’s that about?

The test has a 30 percent false negative rate at best, according to an article in today’s New York Times. So maybe I do have it? Or maybe I have something else, and it’s still waiting out there for me, ready to get me truly ill?

There’s so much about this time that we don’t know, and don’t understand. How do you shut down a city the size of Los Angeles, and expect it to come bouncing right back, like Tigger on his springy tail, once the virus recedes? How do you not hug your friends? Not see your friends? When you lose your job, how do you keep food on the table and a roof over your head?

Here’s one that nags at me: when your pocketbook hasn’t been affected yet, what do you owe those in society who are struggling? How much money should I give away? To whom should I be of service?

And finally, this: how worried should I be when my husband calls me, as he did just now, to say he’s going to be working in the hospital this week after all? Not because the coronavirus numbers are up. No — because another doctor cut her hand, and doesn’t feel she can sufficiently wash it due to the injury. Good news is he won’t be on the COVID ward. Bad news: there is a COVID ward, in the same building.

So many unknowns. We thought when we felt the earth shake under our feet, we would be measuring its force on the Richter scale. Turns out, there are many kinds of earthquakes, not all of them easily quantifiable.

Day 5: Tests

Today, our president told governors on a phone call that he “hasn’t heard about testing in weeks,” presumably because lack of tests and delivery of test results is no longer a problem.

As with so many things over these last three, excruciatingly long years, Mr. President, you are wrong again. Only this time, for me, it’s not theoretical. My family and I live every day with the consequences of this administration’s dilly-dallying and cavalier attitude towards mapping and diagnosing coronavirus infections.

As I’ve written before, I got tested for the coronavirus on Monday, March 23. Eight days later, I still don’t have a result. The latest word I heard is 10 days out from testing, which would have the answer landing in my inbox on Wednesday. But then again, I just heard of a guy who tested in mid-March, and is still awaiting results.

Meanwhile, I’m getting better. By the time I actually hear whether I had COVID-19 on March 23, 2020, I may be completely healed and back to my online Bar Method workouts and two mile dog walks. But still, it matters.

It matters because I’ve spent the last week and a half going, Do I have it? Don’t I have it? Inspecting my symptoms. Second-guessing myself.

It matters because at first it seemed so implausible that I was sick with this famed illness that, even after I tested, my family and I took the notion half-seriously. I mostly stayed in my room. I mostly wore a mask when I ventured into the rest of the house. My daughter lay down next to me on the bed and rolled her eyes when I ordered her to get up. My husband continued to sleep next to me until my coughing at midnight sufficiently freaked him out enough to switch rooms.

Then on Saturday, our daughter and younger son both got sick, her with a hacking cough and minor fever, him with dizziness, coughing, fatigue and vomiting. Even the oldest kid had a sore throat. By today, 48 hours later, the younger two are healing and the oldest completed a 27-mile bike ride. Only my husband has remained symptom-free — and freaked out, wondering if it’s still coming for him, and if so, how badly?

My husband got tested the day after me, and received his negative result 16 hours later, because as a healthcare worker, he went to the front of the line. But that only means he didn’t have it on March 24.

If my test result was back, and I tested negative, then he would know I hadn’t exposed him to the coronavirus. If the test wasn’t so precious, and the kids could get tested, too, then we’d know whether we’ve all had the same thing, or one or more of us has yet to face down COVID-19.

It’s not much. Only peace of mind. Thanks to the bungling of this administration, it’s not to be had around here.