How Our Family Survived COVID-19, a 3-Week Emotional Rollercoaster

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It’s early on Thursday morning, August 26.

It’s my third day at home with our three girls while my husband Dan quarantines at our ski condo in Maine. He attended a funeral for a close friend in Massachusetts earlier that week, spending time unmasked indoors around many others who were not masked. He is fully vaccinated, but we are concerned about the Delta variant. We are being as cautious as possible. To be safe, we decide he will stay in Maine and get a PCR test before coming home to me and our three unvaccinated daughters under 12.

Our 8-year-old daughter began sniffling and sneezing on Wednesday night, August 25. She finished off a box of tissues but otherwise felt fine at bedtime. I wake up early on Thursday to see how she feels and take her temperature. Her nose is no longer runny, which gives me a split-second of relief before the in-ear thermometer reads 100.3. My heart sinks into my gut.

We need to get a Covid test.

before she and her two sisters go to our nanny Carrie’s lake house for the day, as planned. My husband is quarantining out of an abundance of caution but apparently some sickness was already in our house.  

I call Carrie to let her know, she is on her way to us and arrives with her mask on to stay with two of our girls while I take the feverish one to ConvenientMD. It’s at least an hour wait in the car. We do our best to stay calm and talk about how it’s probably just a cold. Somehow the hour passes, and the triage nurse calls my cell phone when an exam room is available. Results of her rapid test will take 15 minutes. We hear the test timer go off outside the door, but it takes the doctor another 15 minutes to enter and share her results. Things are busy here and I am on high mom alert.

“Your Covid test was positive,” the doctor shares upon entering, immediately sitting down to try and calm us.

My daughter and I look at each other and instantly start to cry. Our worst nightmare is happening. I hunch over in my chair feeling waves of panic, disappointment, sadness, regret, fear and anger.

My daughter looks down at me from the exam table and blurts out, “I don’t want to die.”

My mom heart aches as I stand up to console her and manage her anxiety. Both the doctor and I assure my daughter that she’s a healthy 8-year-old with a strong immune system and will be ok as long as she rests and listens to her body.

I’m trying to be positive and strong, but inside I’m a mess. Stricken with guilt for somehow not protecting us from this virus after months of being vigilant. We explain to the doctor just how careful we’ve been – remote schooling, masking in public and private places, arranging outdoor playdates. We tell her we had been camping with family in Maine the prior weekend, and there were two unvaccinated adults in the group along with 8 children, all too young to be vaccinated. She recommends that the rest of our camping group get tested, telling us they are seeing more outside transmissions with the Delta variant.

I find comfort in the doctor’s assurances, hoping these mild symptoms are the worst of our daughter’s experience and that Covid has not spread to her sisters or any of our other contacts that week: the family we camped with, Carrie whose husband is vulnerable after a heart attack this spring, two friends our girls had outside playdates with and their families, a speech therapist who works with our youngest daughter in person and has a newborn granddaughter with health issues.

We leave ConvenientMD in shock.

I assure my daughter that getting Covid is not her fault. We call Dan on speakerphone to let him know. He is shaken up and feels helpless from afar. I call my mom. Then, I call my sister. And of course I call my work. I’m driving toward home on autopilot. I cannot believe this is happening.

We stop at CVS to get at-home rapid tests that I learn are now available in stores. (they’re hard to find now). I run in alone wearing my KN95 mask to buy 5 boxes. Since I am fully vaccinated, I do not have to isolate, but I make sure to sanitize my hands and keep distance from people in the store. I am shaking so much that I can barely read the instructions to rapid test everyone else when we get home.

At this point, our 10-year-old and 2.5-year-old rapid test negative, which is a relief.

Carrie wants to stay and help, but we decide it’s best for her to leave and isolate until she gets a PCR test. She has family visiting and this will uproot her weekend plans, which I feel awful about. I set up an isolation zone in our basement, opening the pull-out couch for our 8-year-old to rest and sleep on when she’s not outside, hoping to stem the spread.

We start following the other instructions to keep Covid from spreading.

We wear masks in the house. I start Clorox wiping all surfaces. We wash our hands continuously and designate Covid bathrooms for toilet and showering. We only take our masks off when outside and spread far apart from each other.

There are many more tears that day.

The news devastates both older girls as they will miss the first week of school after being remote the entire year prior. There are more calls and texts too – to the family we camped with, to the playdate parents, to our speech therapist, to school nurses to find out school protocol. Everyone needs to get tested and watch out for symptoms, this is not the news I want to be sharing.

As the day goes on, we all have low fevers in the 99s. I rapid test myself and it is negative. Our 10-year-old has low energy and just wants to lay on the couch. These are all symptoms and I know the rapid tests are not accurate, so I call our PCP and arrange for the rest of us to have PCR tests the next day. Dan feels fine from afar. We schedule him for a PCR test in Maine on Friday and will come home on Saturday once he has his results. Two more days of flying solo with Covid in the house while Dan is feeling fine from afar. The irony is not lost on me.

Somehow, I find the strength to get through that first day, grilling steak tips for dinner and setting up a fun picnic on our screen porch. We eat as far apart as possible, but close enough so that our positive case she does not feel like an outcast. I am internally processing some challenging emotions as I hopefully portray an image of strength and resilience for my daughters on the outside.

Friday morning, I wake to a quiet house, quickly feed the cat and check on the girls who are all sleeping and do not feel feverish. But then, I crawl back into bed frozen with despair, reaching for the phone to call a close friend.

Tears stream down my face as I tell her what happened. Our worst nightmare, the one we’ve been trying to avoid for months, is unfolding. She is there for me, as always, and I find the strength to get up and start the day.

The four of us arrive at the nearby drive-through testing site without calling ahead to register, as needed. I am flustered and pull my minivan aside to handle registration before getting back in line.

We all get swabbed, except our known positive case, and drive home masked up with the windows down on the highway – to hopefully keep Covid from spreading in the car.

It is windy and loud in the car. Our littlest one yells at me to close the windows, “too loud, too windy.” We all try to explain but she does not understand and just keeps yelling at us. We get home and our first positive beelines for the basement and sinks into the couch, exhausted from the trip. Fatigue, thankfully, and a low-grade fever are her only symptoms.

My parents live nearby and bring us take out for dinner that night. We all eat outside, sitting 6 feet away from them — they are both fully vaccinated, but we are being safe since they are over 65 and breakthrough infections are possible.

We remember those miserable early Covid days when we kept our distance from them for weeks. Here we are, after never wanting to go back to that place.

The days that follow are at some points excruciatingly stressful and at other points peaceful and heartwarming. We find out York drive-through results are positive for our 10-year-old minutes before Dan arrives home from Maine after his negative PCR. Our 10-year-old is also fatigued with a low fever and is relieved to reunite with her sister in our basement isolation zone.

2 positive Covid cases so far.

Kind friends drop off soup and chocolate chip bread that night, we eat together sitting in separate corners of our screen porch. We run countless trips down the basement stairs, bringing the girls Motrin, meals and snacks, occasionally encouraging them to get outside for fresh air, and trying to keep their little sister away. We are relieved to find out that those in our family camping group who got tested – not all did – are negative. Carrie’s PCR test is also negative, along with our playdate friends and speech therapist.

The first day of school comes and the “covid club” (“Mom, don’t call us that!!”) is far from the bus stop. They are still sleeping at 10:30 am while another kind friend drops off homemade chicken soup and many other comfort foods. I read that restless sleep is a covid symptom, so it makes sense that the girls are not falling asleep easily and then sleep late into the morning. I let them sleep, knowing their bodies need rest and order some kids melatonin to see if that will help regulate their sleep patterns. Thankfully it does.

It should be the first week of in-person school. Yet we are home, trying to take care of the kids and manage our work schedules.

The weather is beautiful and warm enough to open every window in the house almost every day, which helps a lot. More good friends reach out to help, one dropping off groceries, another bringing lasagna for dinner. We enjoy the comfort foods and do another round of at-home rapid tests with dessert on Tuesday. The rest of us are still negative.

On Wednesday morning Dan is tied up in online meetings, but the littlest one and I drive to York for another round of PCR tests while her sisters are still fatigued and spending most of their time on the basement couch. “They call me honey” she says as we drive away from our double “booger tickle.”

On Thursday morning, September 2, we get another positive case.

Our Braun Thermoscan thermometer reads 100.3 on our littlest one and in that same moment our PCP calls my cell phone with our PCR results. She is positive, I am still negative. This is not a surprise given her fever, but it still feels like another gut punch. Three unvaccinated kids with covid, 0 of the fully vaccinated adults… And a lot of uncertainty about the course this virus will take for our toddler who has not been exposed to many germs over past 17 months.

The big girls are showing signs of energy, playing in the yard doing cartwheels and listening to music while their little sister is content to sit on the couch and watch PBS Kids, something she never does. She doesn’t eat much for lunch and wakes up from a 3.5-hour afternoon nap roasting with a 102.5 temp, which rises to 102.9 while she slowly licks a cherry popsicle.

We’ve never seen her this sick.

Her pupils are tiny and she is very lethargic and quiet. My heart starts racing and I just want to go outside and scream out all this low-grade stress. Dan looks up what we should do if her temp goes any higher (I am too freaked out to look). He tells me we worry if the Motrin doesn’t kick in. I call our PCP and my sister (also a doctor). Both assure me that fevers are good and to only be concerned if the Motrin doesn’t work, which it thankfully does after a solid 20 minutes. My heart rate starts coming back to normal and my breath returns.

By dinnertime our littlest one is running around the backyard, and she’s back to 98.5 before bed. Things started looking up over the next couple of days. We manage her fever with Motrin and it thankfully does not get that high again – fluctuating in the 99s and low 100s when it wears off. She asks for “meh-sin” (medicine) at bedtime and it helps her get a good night sleep for a solid 5 days.

It’s Friday night of Labor Day weekend, one week in, and the sun comes out after almost two days of rain.

The big girls have enough energy to ride their bikes while the rest of us walk on our beautiful road (masks on) and enjoy the sun and breeze. We are one week in, and it feels like the worst is behind us.

My aunt is visiting my parents and brings us pizzas for dinner. The big girls complete their 10-day isolation this weekend. Then, start school on Tuesday with what we’re told is 90-day immunity. Their little sister will just need to isolate for another week before she has the same immunity. I take a deep breath and a cell phone video to remember the moment as we walk – it feels like we are in the clear.

Carrie visits on Saturday morning and brings us homemade whoopie pies. We ask her to pick up more rapid tests at CVS on her way, but they are now out of stock – a sign of the changing times. We visit with Carrie in the backyard, masked up the whole time and the little one goes down for her nap after lunch. I take the big girls for a drive in the car to get out of the house. Later, finding 2 boxes of rapid tests at the pharmacy in Durham feels like  a big win.

We get another positive test.

Dan is in the bathroom when I get home, having stomach issues. After, we stand in our kitchen together, twirling the long testing swabs around each nostril 5 times. Then I slide both in the rapid test tab, close up the kits and wait. Dan saunters back outside to his yard work and within the next two minutes his rapid test quickly shows two lines (positive). I drop an f-bomb and keep watching my own test. One line. Still negative. I’m the last one standing.

Dan takes his test results in stride thinking he’s asymptomatic, but I remind him that his recent bathroom experience is a symptom (“When you’re driving in your Chevy…”). I am now the covid club outcast, sitting alone at the far end of our kitchen island eating the homemade dinner my parents bring us, while Dan and the girls sit around our kitchen table far away from me – with all the windows open around us.

I vacillate between giving up on all the protocols, taking my mask off around the house and joining them at dinner. I’m close enough to the edge already and decide against it.

One of the hardest things is not being able to cuddle and get close to the girls without a mask on, and without worrying about getting a breakthrough case. That’s a special kind of mom torture right there.

It’s now Dan’s turn on the basement pullout and the big girls help me set up the bed where he stays for the better part of that week. I wake up early on Sunday morning, September 5, and head straight to ConvenientMD for a PCR test to confirm my negative rapid test. The doctor walks in and we instantly recognize each other from 10 days prior. I can tell the pandemic stress is wearing on her and it visibly relieves her to hear that our 8-year-old, and her sisters, are all doing ok.

She asks if I have any covid symptoms, and I tell her about the strange ear congestion I’ve had for most of the past week, like swimmer’s ear. She looks in each ear, diagnoses a double ear infection and calls me in some antibiotics to treat it.

This 3rd PCR test is negative again – no covid for me, just a double ear infection? Strange!

Back at home Dan is feeling tired but good enough to do more yard work and things around the house together on Sunday and Monday, Labor Day, while the girls clean out their closets and plan their first day of school outfits. They are feeling better and so excited to start school and have some normalcy. I’m trying to wrap my head around the end of the big girls’ 10 days of isolation and how the past 500+ days of remote-school-pandemic-life is now behind us.

Life is weird. Intensity is never permanent, but it can be impossible to remember that in tough moments.

We make sure to capture all the smiles on the first day of school and feel lightness in our hearts as we walk our long driveway – still masked – to meet the school buses that morning. This day feels extra special since our big girls are now beyond covid and we’re grateful for the immunity they’ll return to school with.

As the morning goes on, Dan is starting to have horrible head congestion, brain fog and fatigue. Things are changing for him after the weekend. He is working at home, but his energy levels are quickly dropping, and he steps away from his computer to rest. My husband is so tired that he falls asleep laying on the floor of our screen porch, trying to get some mask-free time outside the house.

Over the next few days, Dan’s breakthrough case gradually goes from being nearly asymptomatic to a nasty head cold where he’s pretty much down and out.

He spends less time working and more time napping and resting in the basement. It’s mostly in his head but starts to get into his chest and thankfully stops there.

I am exhausted and back to pulling the weight for both of us around the house while Dan gets better. Somehow, I peel myself out of bed at 6 am daily to run the before school routine mostly solo. Then, I keep an eye on our toddler in the morning and attend to client matters and work (yup, still have a job to do!) when she naps after lunch.

I squeeze in another PCR test on Wednesday and I’m STILL negative. More relief. A package arrives and it’s for me. Inside I find a gift message of love and encouragement and some thoughtful items to pamper me. My friend’s thoughtfulness moves me and I cry big, ugly tears of gratitude that drip and smudge the gift message. It feels so good to let go.

By the following weekend Dan is feeling much better.

He ranks about a 7 to 8 out of 10 but he still has 4 more days of isolation, so he keeps a low profile at home with the little one while I take the big girls shopping for school clothes with our masks on. It is a fun day and I treat them to dinner – outside seating – to celebrate what we’ve been through. Dad and I are both proud of them and their resilience, I tell them. We know they were sad and scared at first – we all were – but they listened to their bodies and stayed positive.

We spend the next day together as a family on our boat watching the Pease Air Show from Great Bay. Obviously staying far away from others and feeling a little bit normal again. The sun is out over Great Bay and I take a moment to lay across the bench seat at the stern of our boat, facing up to the sky. Alone while everyone else is up front. I breathe deep into my belly and feel the long pause, listening to the sounds of the water, the planes above, and the sun warming my body. My peaceful moment doesn’t last long, of course a kid comes back and tries to lay on top of me, which is NOT comfortable.

I am starting to absorb our Covid experience and reflect on how it made us stronger.

I’m not downplaying how much it sucked, especially layered with the unvaccinated family member issues, but it also brought us closer together in our marriage and as a family and unearthed some tough but honest and necessary conversations. Our family survived Covid-19 and I am so grateful.

On the boat, I think about how grateful I am, how sometimes your worst nightmare can happen, and it will be really hard. But you may end up being ok in the end, maybe even better than before. Armed with a renewed perspective and deeper appreciation for how things can change in a split-second. I also think about how grateful we are for friends and family who will swoop in to help. When making dinner feels like the last thing you can handle, or when you need to cry, or laugh, or even be grouchy and have that be ok.   

As of this writing we are 12 days beyond Dan’s 10 days of isolation and somewhat back to normal at home. We know how lucky we are that our cases were mild. That Dan contracted covid after his full vaccination – not before. Additionally, that it did not spread to anyone else outside our household. 

I hope shedding light on our experience helps others with similar or different pandemic experiences. We may sometimes feel all alone in our little bubbles, but we must not forget that others are out there. 

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An upstate, NY native (Fayetteville to be exact), I settled on the NH Seacoast in 2011 after living in Portland, ME, Boston, Lake Tahoe, CA and Burlington, VT. I’m a lawyer-turned-financial planner at Charter Oak Capital Management who loves helping singles (by choice, widowed, or divorced) and couples organize their financial lives and plan for the life they imagine. My husband Dan is co-founder of a renewable energy company and we have three girls ages 9, 7 and 2. Our family loves the outdoors and spends a lot of time in Rangeley, Maine -- hiking, skiing and biking. I’m an avid reader, podcast listener, home organizer and gardener. I love all kinds of music and smart comedy (a la Midge Maisel). And in the event I find spare time, I beeline to my hammock or the couch with a book.

1 COMMENT

  1. COVID is so scary and isolating, so thank you for sharing for family’s story about connection during these times. I am relieved this is behind all of you. You have so much strength (and apparently an incredible immune system)!

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