My phone rings. I immediately run to check caller ID. It’s spam again. Frustrated, I put it down and dive right back into the land of Polly Pockets.
“Where were we?” I say.
“Mommy, you look disappointed again. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Haley baby. I’m just waiting on an important call.”
“About Sienna’s test?”
Just then, the phone rings and my caller ID shows our pediatrician. I answer.
“Hi, Mrs. Striner. We have your test results. All of you tested negative for the antibodies.”
Haley looks up at me in anticipation. I have to hide the fear enveloping me. I smile at her.
“Okay. Thank you for letting us know.”
I tell Haley I have to go to the bathroom. The tears and emotions take over. I know I shouldn’t be taking it this hard. Haley’s three-year-old sister with Down syndrome, Sienna, didn’t have it. She didn’t have the coronavirus. I was so sure she had. I hadn’t thought about how scared I’d be knowing the virus that sent her onto an ambulance that fateful night in February was just another virus.
“Mommy, are you coming out? I found more furniture to fit inside the arcade and Polly’s house. Let’s play.”
This is life in quarantine. I don’t get to wallow. I have to pull it together. If she sees my fear, she’ll be scared too. I splash water on my face and emerge from the bathroom ready to play some more.
Later while the three of us are outside, Sienna approaches me and lifts her arms towards me. I pick her up and we sit together. I squeeze her little body against my skin. I smell her sweet hair. I rub her back. I live in this moment knowing she’s safe. The tears fill my eyes, and instinctually the flashbacks of that night come crashing down on me.
I’m back on our front porch slamming her back so she’ll start breathing again. I can hear her throwing up. I see Haley in the street screaming for help. I picture Sienna’s helpless face staring at me because she can’t breathe. I’ll never forget the three firefighters’ faces that ran to us. I watch as the EMTs put oxygen on her face. This nightmare plays out in my mind constantly. It’s trauma. It doesn’t leave me.
Now, I have the perspective of knowing that this could have just been a random virus. This random virus made it nearly impossible for her to breathe. If that virus pummeled her, what could COVID do to her?
The first year of Sienna’s life was full of respiratory illnesses. I spent many nights just staring at her listening to her breathe. I think I blocked it out, honestly — the breathing treatments, the fevers, the nights spent alone with her while my husband traveled for work. I felt so alone. I didn’t know if her heart could handle it. She didn’t gain weight. The anxiety never fully leaves you.
Every winter, we face more illnesses and every winter we inevitably end up at the hospital. A simple cold can escalate to an ER visit. Her narrow nasal passages and airways, her compromised immune system, and her heart defects are a perfect storm for escalation.
As we face the uncertainty of this next year, my sleep lessens. My worries grow. The gravity of the decisions we are facing is not lost on me.
Haley has had moments during quarantine, moments of resentment towards her sister as her friends began to venture out into the world of play dates and excursions. The outside world has moved on since March. We haven’t.
The risks are far too great. Yes, both girls are missing out on trips with their family. They’re missing days spent down the shore playing in the waves. They’re missing amusement parks, zoo trips, playgrounds, and sprinkler parks. They’re missing friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
But they’re safe. They’re at home and they will probably remain home until things change. Given the current state of selfishness in this country, I don’t see an end in sight. People can’t even be bothered to wear a mask to protect kids like Sienna.
I always looked at Sienna’s diagnosis as a gift to the outside world, a way to see the inherent good in people. I’ve always said the smiles and attention outweigh the stares and negativity. Unfortunately, given the optics in our country, it’s hard to hold onto that optimism. Our own leader cares more about how he looks in a mask then the purpose of the actual mask.
I’m begging you to wear a mask for Sienna, and for kids like her. Wear a mask for Sienna’s friends who are battling leukemia. Wear a mask for your grandparents. Wear a mask so we can end this. We want normalcy back too, but nothing is worth my child’s life. That’s not fearmongering. That’s wisdom coming from experience. When you’ve been to the hospital with your child as many times as I have, you never want to go there again.