This is the second time in the past five months that I have been unable to be at the bedside of a loved one facing death. I am immuno-compromised and too high-risk to be exposed, no matter what the circumstances. So believe me when I say I fully understand your frustration with this quarantine. I genuinely share your desire for Imhotep to get beaten up by Brandon Fraser and Rachel Weisz so this cursed nightmare can finally end.
But COVID isn’t something we can choose to ignore when it suits us. We can’t act like a wave is over and bury our head in the sand whenever we don’t feel like dealing with it. I don’t say this with any judgement, either — I’ve often felt the potent effects of COVID fatigue myself.
After my abuelo passed back in March when things started to get bad, I did my best to throw myself into adapting to this new life. Almost as if nothing had really changed inside the apocalypse. I tried to focus on the positive, recognizing how lucky I am to be continuously employed and living in a beautiful little slice of central California. I grew accustomed to this as my new normal and promised myself I’d find a way to ride this out with my sanity mostly (OK, halfway. OK, partially) intact.
Like everyone else, I got most of my reassurances from doctors and public officials, grew furious over our White House’s efforts to strip Obamacare plus transgender healthcare mid-crisis and monitored our ever-increasing death toll with mounting alarm. Also like everyone else, I developed an unhealthy reliance on TikTok, grew way too accustomed to wearing sweats 24/7 and found, um, creative ways to entertain myself. What, you’re telling me you didn’t arts and crafts your own nerdy sci-fi version of an alien garden? Weird.
And then, this past week, right before I was set to move to an amazing new studio, my world cracked open.
My dad lives a few hours away from me in an LA suburb. Even though they got divorced over 20 years ago, he remains good friends with my mom to this day. We have a running group chat full of dad jokes, life updates, heartfelt messages and me cracking up as my parents not-at-all-hilariously discover the many delights of gifs and non-yellow-skinned emojis. Or, as my mom put it while congratulating herself three times in one day, “look who found mis colores!”
Then, earlier this week, I found out my aba had tested positive for COVID. I felt an entire, gut-twisting rainbow of emotions erupt through me over the course of 20 seconds. Scared out of my mind, I reached out to one of my best friends, whose mom had recovered fairly quickly from her own bout of COVID. She thoughtfully passed along some home remedies that might help, so I shared them with my dad in our group chat. No response, but I figured he was probably sleeping, as he’d mentioned a few times how miserable and draining this thing was.
The next morning, there was still no answer. I spent most of the day working, trying to ignore my growing sense of alarm. By afternoon, my instincts had gone from high alert to full-on screaming at me that something was wrong. Finally, after the most-nerve wracking hour of my life, I got through to the non-emergency local dispatch for his area.
I shared my concerns over my aba’s recent bouts of pneumonia, his positive COVID diagnosis and my own lack of ability to check on him. Begged her to send someone over to his place and then hung up with the kindly dispatcher’s promise to follow through. I hoped with everything in me that I was overreacting and that this was a false alarm. That my Peter tingle wasn’t real.
Before calling it in, I even said as much to a friend I’d frantically called seeking guidance. I told her it was probably just me making something out of nothing. I am grateful beyond anything that she didn’t let me gaslight myself. She told me, firmly but compassionately, that I didn’t know it wasn’t an emergency. That in a crisis, it’s always, always better to be safe — advice that I encourage you all to follow, as well.
They ended up sending cops, firefighters and paramedics to check on my dad. What a relief they did, because he desperately needed help. Now he’s been in the hospital for the past week, fighting to get better and somehow staying in good spirits about the whole thing. Calling me his guardian angel, cracking Star Wars references and taking selfies in the ICU. Being his usual strong, stubborn, determined self even as he faces down the scariest situation possible. Alone.
As heartbreaking as this entire experience has been, that’s the part that hurts the most. I see our incredibly brave frontline heroes suiting up in distressingly limited PPE as they treat my dad like a victim of the plague. I see people having freaking COVID parties or harassing governors trying to slow down outbreaks or refusing to wear masks and getting karmically sprayed with the signature Bath and Bodyworks scent ‘Warm Vanilla Sugar’ by instant icons in fantastic outfits.
I see it all, and I wish that I could pause the world and just go hold my dad’s hand. That I could serenade him with Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” in my creaky, unlovely voice. Quote Tommy Boy at him until he smiles and breathes easy again. Sit by his bedside and play my Aba playlist filled with Aretha, Stevie, Queen, Bowie, Floyd, and, you guessed it, Abba.
But I can’t, because doing so would not only be dangerous for me and my dad, it would be dangerous for anyone else who would be exposed because of me. And besides, if I knowingly, selfishly add to the burden of all our frontline workers already risking their lives day-in and day-out, it’s basically a slap in the face to those who deserve much, much better. Who am I to prioritize my own comfort and convenience over the welfare of others?
At the end of the day, this thing is bigger than me. It’s bigger than all of us. COVID is real, and it’s terrifying, and it has changed life as we know it today. I know firsthand just how hard it is to face that and not seek solace in each other or in our old habits.
Yet I also know how amazing, inventive, silly, courageous, resourceful and profound humanity is. I know the force is with us, just like it is with my dad. So I’m asking you all to stay safe, mask up, keep quarantining and don’t expose yourself unnecessarily, no matter what the temptation.
Do your part to help make sure no one else’s world ever cracks open like mine did.
Nicole Edry is a professional chameleon working in a small-town digital agency. You can follow her on Twitter.
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