Last New Year’s Eve, I walked into my parent’s house after running errands and heard news I’ll never forget. My mom stood by the Christmas tree, tears flowing down her cheeks. “He’s positive. Dad just tested positive for Covid.” It felt surreal. It couldn’t be. My family of five had just spent two days hanging out with my parents. My three little ones had been snuggling, hugging and loving on their grandparents. My brothers were supposed to come over in a matter of hours to celebrate a belated Christmas together since I live out of state. But now, our worst fear was our reality.
See, I have Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can involve a person’s entire GI tract, and the injection I take to keep my disease under control suppresses my immune system, which makes me more susceptible to sickness. Since I’m immunocompromised, I’ve been extremely careful and aware of where we go, what we do and who we see throughout the entire pandemic. To give you an idea, on Christmas day 2021, we opened gifts with my husband’s family — outside. We live in the Midwest, but luckily St. Louis was unseasonably warm.
November 2021 (Photo/J Elizabeth Photography)
When I found out my dad tested positive, my mind raced. I started sobbing. I was in shock. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was worried. My baby was only 5 months old, and I feared for him even more than for myself. I felt sure that the damage had already been done and we were doomed for sickness, even though I’d been diligent about getting vaccinated and had three doses between July and November. Ironically, my husband and parents were scheduled for their boosters the following week.
With this horrible news, we had to cancel our belated family Christmas, and we kicked off the new year very differently than we expected. Instead of preparing to ring in the new year with loved ones, I frantically packed up all our suitcases and gifts, and left my parents’ house to begin our five-hour trek home, knowing what was likely on the horizon. We arrived home around 7 p.m. and by 10, both my husband and I had symptoms. Him — body aches and fatigue. Me — a bad headache. From that point, our symptoms progressed, and a few days later, we both tested positive.
My headache was constant for nine days and even involved visual disturbances. I had the symptoms of a bad cold, ranging from a runny nose in the mornings to a bad cough with mucus. My voice was hoarse I had no appetite, I lost my taste and smell, and I felt fatigued.
Even though our kids had been exposed by my parents, my pediatrician told us to wear masks in our home for 10 days. We followed that guidance. It wasn’t fun, but it seemed to help — our kids tested negative, and the baby I was particularly worried about appeared healthy the whole time.
Despite having Covid, my husband still worked from home every single day. He wasn’t given any time off, and I was left to care for three children under the age of four while battling Covid myself and living with Crohn’s. I still had to function and do everything I typically do as a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Through the 10 days when I felt the sickest, I had just one 20-minute nap and couldn’t get the extra sleep I needed.
Covid is ruthless for families with little ones. You know how the saying goes, “No sick days for mamas.” You can’t lie on the couch in PJs and watch Netflix between naps.
The fatigue from living with Crohn’s disease is one thing, but throw Covid on top of that, while breastfeeding around the clock and getting up in the middle of the night with a baby, while wearing a mask as my nose ran like a faucet, and it was a whole new level of exhaustion. I rocked my baby, praying as he ate that I wasn’t getting him sick by being so close to him.
I was operating in full-on survival mode. Screen time limits for my kids went out the window. My in-laws who live in town were kind enough to grocery shop for us and make us dinners. A couple friends of mine sent us take out. It was a team effort from afar, and we felt the love and support.
Parenting with Covid-19, 2021
My gastroenterologist was in contact with me daily. She offered up the monoclonal antibody infusion or the five-day over-the-counter pill treatment for Covid, but I didn’t feel either was necessary. Being immunocompromised, the last place I wanted to be was in a germ-infested hospital. My doctor helped me navigate the timing of my injection, which I take every other week to keep my Crohn’s under control. Since I was unwell, I was unsure of whether my gastroenterologist would recommend delaying the dose until my symptoms had waned. Since I never had fevers or pulmonary issues from Covid, we kept my medication on schedule to keep my Crohn’s disease in remission.
What was scary about Covid was that the symptoms came in waves. I never knew what was coming or how I was going to feel from one day to the next. Just when I thought I was improving, something else happened. At one point, I lost my taste and smell. It was a very bizarre feeling. You would think your mind would tell you what your food tastes like, but without your taste and smell it all tastes like paper. Completely bland.
The whole ordeal was extremely trying and emotional. The fatigue and brain fog took several weeks to lift. My nose hurt and felt like it had shards of glass in it for a long time, and my cough lingered. But I’m grateful I had three vaccines. Covid could have easily been so much worse for me, and possibly even fatal. Although my case was “mild,” it was far from easy — and nothing I would ever wish on anyone.