COVID-19 Close to Home

Three Saturday nights ago, out of the blue, I began shivering, fever followed chills, and I slept restlessly all day Sunday with fever, headache, nausea. By Monday I wrote both my regular doc and my pulmonologist (from my bouts of cryptogenic organizing pneumonia, called COP), and they scheduled a test.

Eight days later it came back negative, but those eight days I’d like not to do again – perpetual body aches, headache, nausea, fever, no appetite. In all I had 17 days of fevers above what Mrs. Hughes calls “doctor fever” 100.4°.

My pulmonologist, Dr. Steven Kirtland, VM Seattle (so expert and so kind if you ever should need such a person) called on the ninth day to say ignore the test, many false negatives, you have COVID-19. He said no Advil, take Tylenol (data cautioning against ibuprofen slim but concerning).

He called again the next weekend, checking on “patients I’m worried about” – said it wasn’t inevitable I’d get COP back, but very possible – and that would be difficult, because he couldn’t prescribe the usual treatment for it with COVID-19.

But thankfully I didn’t go there, after a wretched two weeks and more functional third week, I am Recalled to Life – and appreciative beyond measure. I recognize my good fortune in medical providers and access.

On Dr. Kirtland’s last call, he said he wanted to see temperatures below 99° for three days. I have learned a lot about fever these weeks – such a difference in functionality between 99.1° and 99.9°, let alone a night of 103°. Now I write this on the fourth of April – having been below 99° since the first of April.

I have this layman theory about why the coronavirus got me. I really never got over the California bug, still a little symptomatic on return, and got briefly exposed to the coronavirus someplace. Then that Saturday we attempted a walk by the water in a stiff wind, getting so chilled we turned back. Instead of walking I wish I’d gone home to a cup of tea and not stressed my immune system further!

A corollary story is my good-natured husband, who has managed to stay good natured (in the face of my failure to perform my “wifely duties” of cooking and cleaning), and also stay healthy. Dr. Kirtland always inquires about him.

My husband attributes his health to his new civic duty – to stay home and take lots of naps. I think he has a strong immune system. We also quarantined from each other as best we could – upstairs for him, and down for me, not in the kitchen at the same time. Wiping down the most used surfaces. You know the drill. Still, he was royally exposed.

Last week, as the fever diminished, I had what my local and beloved doc (Dr. Jillian Worth, VM Bainbridge Clinic) called “the last gasp” – a little conjunctivitis and swollen occipital nodes on the back of my head (who knew those were even there!). They’ve gone now too.

We all know how devastating the bad cases can be – but the mild ones offer no picnic. All the efforts to stay safe and be more sensible than I was will pay off! I write this because I read and reread the two accounts of COVID-19 I knew about, a younger Seattle woman who had fever for five days, a Bainbridge woman who had fever for 13 or so, and spent time in the hospital. I felt very disappointed to go past the five days, and very thankful to stay out of hospital.

My gratitude truly knows no bounds, grateful for our old friends on Bainbridge who brought food and still bring groceries, and our sons who text and cheer and keep us in touch.

I send this cautionary tale along with another guest illustrator appearance by Sweet B. This one, a view “looking down at the world” seems full of rainbow hope – and charming critters!

Sheltering with the Alaskans 

Lady B made the drawing below of her situation (that’s Baby Brother playing with trucks nearby). But I’m a little doubtful that her speech bubble contains a meaningful comment, because we hear tales and see photos and videos of a giant pile of snow in the back yard for snow caves, and of great cross-country skiing.

Lady B is learning to skate ski, but on the downhills, she gets her skis in the tracks, tucks, and hurtles around bends. Baby Brother rides in a trailer behind his dad (a handle on the back allows Lady B to also catch a ride). Luckily, good weather and plentiful snow fill these quarantine days!

She sees her class on Zoom – she tells us they each log in with something to share and the big screen fills with the classmate talking, the others appear in little boxes at the bottom. We are all pixels now.

But there must be moments like below.

Flattening the Curve

The other day I thought, well, we have a new routine, and the whole situation seemed easier with a routine, changed for sure, but knowing what’s next in the day brings comfort.

That didn’t last. On our island the closures grow, a week ago there were brave emails from the museum, library, and art center about staying open for solace. Now they are closed, and bars and restaurants, and pretty much everything. The schools sent everyone home to distance learn. Our storied yarn shop will take orders on their website to be handed out the door for knitters. With a photo of Hilary Mantel’s new book, “The Mirror and the Light,” Mrs. Hughes wrote: “might help social distancing.”

The grocery store makes heroic efforts. Workers clean carts after each use, checkers wear gloves and wipe down the keypad after each customer. These employees are on the front lines without the protection of social distancing, standing all day with whoever faces them. The recent report, about an infected person “shedding virus” at a higher rate before symptoms, worries everyone. A favorite checker said her asthma reacted to the sanitizer (being used, not being purchased because there is none). Customers are grateful. And anxious.

On Saturday night we tried a virtual dinner party with our old friends on Bainbridge – and it worked! At six p.m., setting up the devices across the table for FaceTime felt surprisingly like our familiar dinners together. No standing around the kitchen island for starters or sitting by the fireplace for dinner – but laughing and rehashing old times, and this strange new time.

Now I wish I could think of a way to be with the grandchildren virtually – an activity to do together. How about you? How is it where you are?

(But here is good news just received! Sweet Brother is growing and thriving – now looms large in the picture!)

Getting One’s Affairs in Order

On our island, across Puget Sound from the coronavirus epicenter, normalcy and strangeness coexist. Grocery store shelves emptied (but only briefly), patrons at the gym wipe exercise equipment with newfound diligence, and schools make plans to close. I’ve heard of just one confirmed case of COVID-19 on the island, but, given our close relationship with Seattle, it’s just a matter of time.

A few weeks ago before all this started, my old friend who lives on Bainbridge told me that she was in the midst of serious dostadning  (the Swedish word for “death cleaning”). My friend’s an orderly person, not a hoarder of the useless, so I couldn’t imagine she had much to do. We laughed about some of the items encountered, and moved on to discuss the political frets of the week. That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday she sent a link to a poignant but realistic essay by Mary Pipher, “If I’m Going to Die, I Might As Well Be Cheerful About It.”

My old friend also told me how thankful she is that the coronavirus, so far, had not come for children – or even their healthy parents. I think of that with each piece of grim news – how terrifying to be worrying about the children or their parents – and I, too, am grateful.

And, as the acknowledged target demographic for this virus – being aged and having compromised lungs – it’s probably time to pay attention to what one would leave behind.

Recently, two different friends, after experiencing the sudden loss of their partners, strongly advised to organize what each of us knows – to share knowledge about passwords, bank accounts, bills, tv remotes, repair people, on and on – the unnoticed details of daily life. Oh yes, I thought, and then did nothing.

But now, gathering all this information seems an urgent task – not technically dostadning – but another way to make things easier for the left behinds. And be cheerful about it!

Gardens, Books, Unease

Does life right now seem a sort of “Choose Your Own Anxiety” game? Spin the arrow inside one’s brain, and settle on worries about the spread of coronavirus or the (now diminished) smorgasbord of candidates confusing efforts to defeat the incumbent. And then, another set of frets (rightly louder) provide real-life concerns like children or work or health – things one might do something about.

I try and interrupt the head spin with books. So I was glad to get Penelope Lively’s new book, “Life in the Garden.” I have been looking forward to it – a memoir by a favorite writer structured around gardens – her own and literary. Describing her tiny London garden now, and the limitations imposed by a chronic back problem, she says, “This is old-age gardening, and like all other aspects of old age, it creeps up on you, and has to be faced down and dealt with.”

In my favorite parts of this book (aside from the beautiful cover and black and white illustrations inside) Lively considers “gardening as an element of fiction.” She writes, “This is a book in which fictional gardens act as prompts for consideration of what gardens and gardening have been for us, over time.”

And I loved it that she reminded me of books I hadn’t read including her own novel, “Consequences,” a perfect book for escaping the present. Beginning just before the hardships and tragedies of World War II, it opens with a romance that echoes through generations. It ends in this century with changes wrought by modernity and a satisfying linking of the generations.

I really care about Lively’s characters – and relish their observations (which seem like Lively’s voice). On books in a library: “they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation.” A library would be noisy, “with a deep collective growl coming from the core collection…, and the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style.”

Such a pleasure to read this book, and to surface and realize that a daffodil, ignoring our national discontent, blooms in my tiny garden.

 

 

Capes or Cloaks?

The distinction seems to be length.

A friend’s story about how she and her siblings inherited a nun’s habit, and how it’s been used through two generations to dress superheroes, Hogwarts students, and Halloween witches, encouraged my whole cape and cloak adventure.

Initially, the mother of my young friend drew me a little diagram of a simple cape with instructions to cut and hem a rectangle, gather the top with elastic, and add ribbons at the neck to tie. (I think I recommend the versatility of this version.)

But for the capes going north for make believe in Alaska, I used a pattern. I enjoyed figuring out the whole thing – so much is new to me these days – patterns you download, print, and piece together, a PDF of instructions, smaller seam allowances. These capes, with hoods and pockets can be reversed – but my first attempt at sewing on buttons led to buttons too tight to fit through fastening loops.

But I have a friend, a favorite, funny person, who is a master seamstress – queen of custom sewing – I’m convinced she can sew anything. She routinely wrestles huge sofas and boat upholstery for her clients, but when I asked her to describe a less utilitarian creation, she wrote, “Drag queen dresses for a coronation ball in 1979. Nobody rocks a two-foot headdress better!”)

To my button inquiry she advised me to hold a wooden match between cape and button on each side while sewing. Awkwardly accomplished and perfect!

Now that I’ve seen the movie of “Little Women,” I realize Jo and her sisters could wear the Alaska capes. (Oh, the clothes in the film! Did you see the article about the costume designer? I loved reading about her work: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/how-jacqueline-durran-the-little-women-costume-designer-remixes-styles-and-eras ).

Lady B and Baby Brother won’t know about “Little Women,” and we’ll see what they make of these capes.* I didn’t say which cape for which, when I sent them, but his mom told me that Baby Brother’s favorite color these days is pink.

Making things – such a fine way to stay inside one’s head for a while and see what might be there – but I’m probably cloaked and caped out for now!

*Addendum:  One evening, after sending the capes, I responded to a FaceTime call from Alaska. The phone connected and a darkened room, lit only by candlelight, came into view. Two hooded figures hunched over bowls of hearty soup, and a voice intoned: “…and at this inn this stormy night, two weary travelers break their journey…” One figure remained firmly in character while the other soon brandished a foam sword and requested more light. I loved it.