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The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

April 20, 2020 Martha Anne Toll

Dayenu: Dispatches From the Covid Sick Ward

The Week Before

Washington, DC is beginning to shut down and our two adult daughters want to come home—one from Iowa and one from Boston. First Daughter owns a car [Dayenu], and can drive from Iowa City, where she’s in graduate school, but she has obligations in Iowa, along with legitimate concerns that there may be nowhere that she can stay along the way. Second Daughter is already working remotely [Dayenu, she has a job] because Massachusetts is under an emergency decree.

By the end of the week, they are here; First Daughter has driven, and Second Daughter has flown in.

Day 1

Second Daughter wakes up, does not feel well. Has shortness of breath and tightness in her chest. She’s 25 and is otherwise—[Dayenu]—in good health. 

We call our doctor, who says to isolate her immediately, “Lock her up, do the deepest clean possible, and leave food outside her door as needed.”

Days 2-3

Second Daughter feels worse, more shortness of breath and tightness in her chest and back. We call Urgent Care to see if we can get her tested. Her health insurance [Dayenu, she has it] is not permitted to authorize a test in this location, but the kind administrator at Urgent Care suggests she register with Medstar for an E-Visit with a physician. 

The physician declines Second Daughter’s request to get tested; she doesn’t tick off enough boxes on the algorithm. Dayenu, she isn’t running a fever and doesn’t have a persistent cough. Plus, she’s young with no pre-existing conditions.

Day 3

I wake up, shower, get ready to start my day, and have to admit I feel lousy. I am short of breath, with the strange itchy lungs that are characteristic of Covid-19. Like Second Daughter, I very rarely run a fever, but I have fever-like symptoms, sweats, and chills.

Sometime in the afternoon, it dawns on me to try to get tested. I can tell that tomorrow I won’t be able to get out of bed. I’ve heard Medstar has two outdoor testing facilities, but despite various calls to my doctor’s office, it isn’t possible to access these sites.

I set up an E-Visit with my doctor who finds that due to my age [62] and other symptoms, I qualify for a test at Urgent Care. A wonderful woman at Urgent Care takes my information, puts me in the queue and says to come in. By now it’s close to 5PM. Since neither of us thinks I have the energy to walk the two blocks there and back, my husband drives me. [Dayenu, I’m that close to Urgent Care and have a husband/caretaker who can bring me.] I’m to call him when I’m finished.The wait is close to an hour at Urgent Care, so I step outside where I can social distance.

It’s raw and windy, and I can’t figure out why my husband is standing outside of the car, on his phone.

He shouts from the street that the car battery has died right there, in front of Urgent Care.

It’s now about 6PM and everything is closed anyway. In my current stupor, I actually find this hysterically funny. My husband’s life is turning into a macabre comedy as this is also the day that the president announces his rollback of the CAFE [fuel economy] standards, the biggest single step that any country has taken to fight global warming. CAFE standards have been my husband’s lifework.I’m called back into Urgent Care, where I’m evaluated, and receive a test for flu, strep, and Covid-19. I wait for the first two—they’re negative—and am told the Covid-19 will take 7-10 days.

While waiting at Urgent Care, I receive a text from First Daughter who has given our car a jumpstart and is ready to pick me up in hers [Dayenu].

The next seven days

It’s hard to distinguish anything in the next seven days. I can’t stay awake for more than one to two to three hours at a stretch. I’m short of breath. My lungs hurt, my trachea itches.

Second Daughter gets worse. Her back hurts where Covid-19 has found her lungs. She’s had pneumonia before and thinks she’s getting it again. She looks gray and peaked at all hours of the day. Her usual good humor has left her.

She gets teary. I’m anxious about her but too sick to be my full-on worrying self.

The days pass in a hazy blur. Mostly I’m sleeping. Friends and family call the house, text the two healthy members of the household, offer help. They shop for us, bring bagels and bread and gefilte fish for Passover (coming next week, an eternity away), and homemade masks, and love. Amazing smells waft up from the kitchen where First Daughter cooks frittatas and curries and buttermilk biscuits. This, while she’s still a fulltime graduate student with teaching responsibilities as well [Dayenu].

I turn into a werewolf at night. My husband has moved up to our attic [Dayenu, we have an attic]. I wake up at 3:30 convinced this is it, my lungs are turning into rocks and I need to go to the hospital to die. My ribs feel girdled and my breathing is short. I think it’s too risky to wake my husband up, as it’s unclear I can make it up the steps to the attic or, for that matter, back down. I put on a mask and wake First Daughter. She’s a wonderful comfort and is good at breathing exercises and will fall back asleep within seconds. I have her page the on-call doctor who is the loveliest man I’ve ever spoken to. He reassures me that yes, I can sleep flat on my back without killing myself from suffocation. He explains that if I can make it to the bathroom without getting short of breath, and still speak in sentences, I’m not ready for the hospital. He’s really proud that I can walk in laps around my bed. When I ask about the pounding on the left side of my head, he says in his calmest bedside voice, “That’s called a tension headache. We’re all a little stressed right now. Take some Tylenol and go back to sleep” [Dayenu].

Second Daughter’s Boston doctor is marvelously responsive, calls daily, and finally recommends antibiotics. CVS agrees to mail them, and they arrive within a day [Dayenu].

I’m ashamed to admit that I go through the identical routine the next night, except that this time it’s 4:30 AM and we don’t bother the on-call Doctor. First Daughter calms me down, tells me to go back to bed. I do! 

My Covid-19 test comes back negative. Second Daughter’s doctor tells her there are false negatives. My doctor acknowledges the same. A friend who’s a medical professional tells me some people who are tested early may test negative before they are in the full throes of the disease, at which point they would convert to positive. In my case, the medical establishment seems to agree that this itchy, hurty, epically fatiguing sucker is Covid-19. 

Husband stops by every morning and noon to bring breakfast and lunch to Second Daughter and me. We drink a lot of tea. He cleans a lot of dishes and does a lot of handwashing. 

Second Daughter gets a bump from her antibiotics but goes downhill the next day. I have one night when I get a glimmer of what I used to feel like. I can concentrate for more than 10 seconds.

The next morning, I’m unable to move. Too many things hurt, and the breathing isn’ great.

I’m crying more than I used to but I’m too tired to work into a real sob. I sleep all morning. I sleep all afternoon. I wake up, eat dinner and watch The Great British Baking Show whenever I can stay up long enough to complete an episode. I sleep all night.

We’re at the day before the first Seder. Usually, we host 25 people—I would have cooked for weeks, taken days preparing ritual foods. Right now, I’m so tired, I can’t give it a moment’s thought.

First Daughter makes it happen. I coach her on how to make the broth for matzah ball soup. She gets the matzah ball recipe from our expert cousin. There’s a huge eggplant parmesan in the freezer I’d made for our Seder that was to be [it’s always vegetarian], and there’s just enough matzah meal leftover from last year’s Seder to make matzah balls [Dayenu].

It’s warm enough that we can be on the deck [Dayenu, we have a deck], and Second Daughter and I can stay masked and keep enough distance to listen in to a Zoom Seder with cousins in DC, New York, and Florida. 

The next morning, Second Daughter and I feel better. I think we’re on the mend.

Second Daughter heals and finishes her isolation. My process, however,  is much longer—two steps forward, one step back—but I’m here to report on it [Dayenu].