That’s a direct way to say it, but I don’t have any bandwidth left to beat around the bush. The past two weeks have been a surreal, quarantine-illness-filled-world…while living and raising a newborn. At 10-days-old, Hobie was “the youngest person tested in Mecklenburg County” and “youngest presumptively positive case,” according to the county health department. I’m writing now because we are all okay.
Please know that: We Are All Okay.
But, it is nutty. I couldn’t script the life we’ve been living if I tried. Parker, my daughter, got it first. Of the various visions I had about coming home with a new baby, none included the whole family in isolation with a potentially deadly virus.
I instinctively want to make a joke about that last sentence. As if it’s funny. It’s not, but twisted humor—while keeping myself positive—was my way of coping these last two weeks. If you’re laughing, you’re too distracted to scream.
To be clear, I didn’t want to tell you guys until we were out of the woods. I didn’t want to cause unnecessary alarm. I also didn’t want to post something on Facebook, just to post something. It seemed insincere and wrong to falsely imply life was grandly perfect, when reality was difficult, scary, and in moments, a comedy of errors.
In our latest video medical appointment three days ago, the doctor said writing details about what our family has gone through might help someone else. We’ve learned lessons. I understand, in a personal way, more about this virus and its myriad of symptoms. As my doctor said: “This is not a political issue—it’s a public health crisis. One your family has been living. Please help educate as best you can.”
Education. Got it. I can do that.
So… want to hear a crazy story?
While I was in the hospital having a baby, Parker got exposed to COVID. She showed no symptoms for days so when Wes and I returned home with newborn Hobie, and all of us were hugging and kissing the baby, we were all unknowingly exposed. On Hobie’s third day of life… less than 18-hours at home with him… Parker started complaining of a sore throat and ears popping when she swallowed. Allergy-like feelings.
Normally, I wouldn’t think anything about a sore throat. Only, we’d just left a hospital and its multitude of warnings were in my head. I instantly wondered about COVID.
The next morning, I insisted she and Hutch, my preschooler, get tested. We were going to the pediatrician’s office anyway for Hobie’s first appointment and it was easy: They stayed in the car and a nurse came to the parking lot and swabbed their noses. I half-thought I was being helicopter-parent crazy, but, whatever. Nothing lost if the test was negative.
The pediatrician asked if she’d been around anyone who had it. I said, “No.” At the time I didn’t know my mother-in-law, who was watching them while we were in the hospital, had symptoms. The doctor said HOW and WHERE people are getting it almost doesn’t matter. Everyone can get easily exposed.
“The cat is out of the bag,” she said. “We should all be careful, but, there’s a chance everyone will have it at some point. We hear of people every day who are positive and have no idea where they got it.”
She told us to cancel my stepmom’s visit to come help with Hobie and quarantine as a family until the kids’ results were back. Rest of the day was fine.
But that night Parker woke up in a deep sweat. Came to me crying, feeling nauseous, with her hair matted back from her forehead, wet and sticky. She slept on the floor, with soaked skin and one arm wrapped around a bowl.
She never actually threw up. (In case that helps when looking for symptoms in your own kids.) But she felt like absolute hell. Wes and I were up more with her that night than with 4-day-old Hobie.
Here is the truth: I was petrified. Parker and Hutch have had nighttime sickness before, but those past moments weren’t during COVID. This world in which we live can make you paranoid. It can make your mind go down dangerous rabbit holes. Every horrific headline I’ve read and reported on, reappeared in my mind. Watching Parker toss and sweat, combined with having a newborn with zero immune system nearby, combined with middle-of-night-hazy-unclear-thoughts… it added up to awful. I’d feed him, then go wipe her forehead with a cold, wet paper towel, then try to dig myself out of a bad mental ditch. I was calm and patient all night long on the outside; a floppy mess of fear-filled, limp feelings inside.
Her fever broke the next morning.
She woke up. She looked at me, staring back at her.
“Mommy… I feel better.”
That’s all she said. She knew. She knew simply by looking at my face peering into hers, how the night had ripped us both apart.
By that afternoon, she was back to riding her hoverboard in our house, feeling good.
But also by that afternoon, Wes had lost all sense of taste and smell. He felt lethargic. He called around and took the next available appointment to get tested, days later.
Even if Parker’s was a stomach bug, the one symptom that defines coronavirus is “no taste; no smell.” We had to assume Wes was positive and felt grateful we’d been in family quarantine. Hutch and Hobie felt fine and I felt tired, but I’d just had a baby. Of course my body ached. Of course I was exhausted. I could taste and smell and thought nothing of the other postpartum like symptoms.
Days later, Parker’s test came back positive. Hutch’s was negative, but the pediatrician said to assume it was a false negative or a bad swab, and to consider him “presumptively positive.” Wes was still down and out with exhaustion. I told her I hadn’t had any major symptoms.
Through a video conference call, she said Hutch, Parker, and Wes should stay in one part of the house and Hobie and I should quarantine in another room away from them for the next few weeks.
Keep Hutch away from Hobie in the same house?
I thought she was kidding.
She wasn’t. And if we had to see each other, she said, just make sure we all wore masks within our own home. There wasn’t data on newborns and COVID yet. Anecdotally, they weren’t seeing many cases (comforting to hear), but we needed to protect Hobie as much as possible.
The logistics of staying separate from two kids, while Wes worked remotely in a home office while fighting COVID, with me trying to feed a baby in one room while also getting lunches and meals and trying to parent P and H through walls… I mean… just not realistic. We stayed apart for about a day, but eventually turned to wearing masks.
Meantime, my body aches were getting worse. I also had a pounding headache that wouldn’t go away. It didn’t seem odd. The responsibilities being managed—while making sure to feed a baby every three hours—would hurt anyone’s head. There was nothing, I told myself, to worry about.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department started calling. We were on its radar.
“You’re breaking our protocols,” multiple nurses said with light laughs. “We don’t have many families with a newborn in the records. We just want to make sure you’re taking care of yourselves.”
I was honest in my reply: We were doing the best we could.
The Health Department nurses were kind. They gave me cell phone numbers to text for information. They kept calling, various nurses, and I kept nodding at the phone as if they could see me… as if that would make the calls go faster. I wanted to stop answering everyone’s endless questions; the same endless list of questions I’d just answered for someone else. Hobie was crying and Hutch and Parker were fighting. Family members wanted updates. Dishes needed washed. What were we doing for dinner? Laundry was spilling into the hallways. Everyone else needed me and I wanted to stop picking up the phone.
Another 24-hours later, Wes’s test came back positive and Hutch had a fever. Low-grade. 100.7. I called the pediatrician.
“Assume he has it,” she said. “His symptoms are just a week late. Molly—you need to get tested.”
But I don’t have a fever, I told her.
“Needing to have a fever is a misconception with coronavirus,” she said. “You’re high risk with a newborn and three of your family members are now for sure positive. Go get tested.”
Easier said than done. I called hotlines and clinics; appointments weren’t available for days. Right at the point of tipping-point frustration, the Health Department called. Again. Just to, thankfully, check-in. Bless the nurses who have to deal with impatient patients like me. I asked her where to go.
She told me about a drive-up clinic on Freedom Drive at the newly-constructed Michael Jordan Health Clinic in west Charlotte. You didn’t need an appointment, she said. You didn’t even need a primary care provider. It was open Monday-Friday from 8am-noon. Get there early, she added. There is usually a long line.
The next morning I was the 28th car in line at 7:30am. The reporter in me counted.
It was organized and moved fast. The nurse practitioner who approached my vehicle, Courtney, had the best bedside (car-side?) manner imaginable. I started coughing while telling her my situation. I really was, I realized while barreling through facts, simply exhausted.
“So your whole family has it?” she asked.
Everyone but the baby, I replied.
“Call your husband and have him drive the baby here,” she said. “I am giving you a rapid test, and then I’m taking you inside this clinic to get a chest X-ray. You don’t sound good and I want your newborn tested as well.”
My COVID test was positive.
The X-ray also showed I had pneumonia.
Courtney called in a strong antibiotic to the pharmacy.
“You are doing what every woman I have seen is doing,” she scolded. “You’re taking care of your kids and family and ignoring yourself. Get the medicine. Go home. Go to sleep.”
With my wrist appropriately slapped, and our quarantine calendar count starting over with a new 10-days, I went home and did what Courtney said.
Hobie’s rapid test came back negative, but—like Hutch days before—we were told to assume he was positive. The thought crossed my mind that if the newsroom had seen “ten days old” on a press release about daily COVID testing statistics, we’d probably try to track that family down and see if they wanted to share their story.
Yet, it wasn’t some nameless, mysterious family. It was me. My kids. My baby.
The great part in all this is, even as I type now, more than ten days later, Hobie has not shown one symptom. I have watched him like a hawk. Over-studied every breath while watching his tiny rib cage rise and fall. He is a healthy champ, who also handled the cold-turkey switch to all-formula really well. He had no choice but to accept the new diet. The antibiotic in my body was too strong for him.
Turns out, it was also too strong for me.
Two days after starting the pills, I woke up in hives. Not just a little scratching… a severe allergic reaction where my body was a walking red welt and my face looked like a swollen game of connect-the-dots. The doctor took one look through the computer screen and switched my meds. The second meds I started made me throw up. I stuck with them. Still on them now. Pneumonia is nothing to mess with and I need something, so, whatever. I’m ignoring the nausea.
Let’s just say… photos of Hobie’s first weeks of life will make quite a scrapbook. Everyone holding him is wearing masks, and his mother looks like a large uncomfortable tomato-head. It’s A) laughable and almost inhuman.
Lessons learned, that can hopefully help you:
– You don’t need to have a fever.
– One family can have totally different symptoms.
– Parker: Allergies and a fever.
– Wes: No taste/no smell, lethargy.
– Hutch: Cold and runny nose.
– Me: Body aches, shortness of breath, headache.
– Seems newborns aren’t getting it very often.
– Hobie remains—so far—unscathed.
– Kids are not immune.
– Read again: Your children are not immune.
– No matter how careful you are…
– Anyone can be exposed.
– Pediatrician: “The cat is out of the bag.”
– Other side effects can appear.
– They can be worse than the virus.
– For me, pneumonia.
– Get checked. Don’t wait.
– Don’t assume it’s something else.
– This is not the flu.
– One big difference is the incubation period.
– Parker had it days before showing symptoms.
– We had no indication.
– She was around a handful of people.
– All were tested and (thankfully) negative.
– Before we knew results, we made a chart.
– Who the people she was around, were around…
– Then who those people were around…
– Then who that layer of people were around…
– If you want to be horrified:
– Make a graph that starts with your daughter.
– This virus is like a wave.
– Just one case can wipe out many people.
– Parker alone could’ve infected dozens.
– Long-term effects.
– What are they?
– Studies show issues could appear later.
– Time will tell. Not sweating that today.
For now, I’m just glad the fire is extinguished and the smoke around our family is clearing. I am usually eerily calm in crisis situations and am proud of surviving this one, but can’t deny how rocked I was watching Parker sweat through the night or my vigilant round-the-clock watch over Hobie.
Relief is an underrated sensation. It covers me right now as I watch the kids argue and Hobie sleepily smile and Wes feel okay… and yes… I am getting my energy back. Not there 100% but it is a beautiful feeling to know we’ll be okay.
As we’ve crawled back into the light, I’ve been consumed thinking about the families who make up the growing statistics we see day after day after day. The people filled with pain and loss, who aren’t okay. Currently North Carolina has had close to 2,000 people die from COVID; Mecklenburg County itself has had over 20,000 positive cases, and over 200 deaths.
My heart breaks for those people. It did before; it breaks even more now having just a small taste of the isolation and loneliness.
This is not a made-up, fictitious illness meant to be politicized. You can have an opinion on how it should be handled; but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s not real. It’s real. I watched my 10-day-old get a nasal swab from a nurse practitioner covered head-to-toe in a protective suit, while his 9-year-old sister tried to calm him without being allowed to touch him. This, while I was in another car reviewing X-rays with a doctor, looking at nodules on my lungs.
So, be careful. Share the lessons. Symptoms range from almost anything mild to anything notable. Just, please, be smart and only spread factual information.
Crazy world we’re in. Please, please, please be safe.
This post first appeared on Molly Grantham’s Facebook page.