The Day My Nightmare Came True

On Sunday morning, July 4th, while most of America was waking up to talk about barbecues and fireworks, I found myself in my daughter Ellie’s room – with an at home Covid test in hand.

She was crying, coughing, and said, “Mom it hurts to even move my fingers.”

I don’t know that I expected the test to be positive honestly. She’d come down with a 101 fever on Friday night and without ANY other symptom, I wondered if she had an ear infection from swimming at Disney, a UTI, or possibly Lyme. Covid wasn’t on my radar.

Thing is – Covid HAS been on my radar (and in my nightmares) since February 2020. Before most the world woke up to the danger of the pandemic, I was fretting on Twitter 17x a day looking for every scientific expert I could find to help me understand this mysterious virus ripping through China.

After 16 months of vigilance and super low positivity rates in Connecticut, my brain wore out of worry.

And then the test was positive. Like in MINUTES. I’d purchased an at home Covid test at Walgreens and knew it might not be reliable but false positives were rare. Ellie had Covid.

Downstairs my three other unvaccinated kids and three unvaccinated nieces and nephews were blissfully unaware.

My nightmare came true.

  • A child with a serious virus.
  • Me as the primary caregiver, forced to come face to face with one of my greatest anxieties.
  • 6 other kids to protect.

Something funny happened to me as I stared at that test…and I think it’s a business + life lesson we can all learn from.

I was calm.

I knew what to do, I set about to do it, and I told myself that I would have two criteria to watch for – fever and O2.

The 16 months of anxiety on the one hand had prepared me better than a lot of others because I knew so much by this point, but my anxiety also lied to me. It made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to handle it if it happened.

Now, 10 days later I can tell you that I managed to care for Ellie, keep my other kids away from harm, and handled five very hard days in the hospital.

I did handle it, and it was okay.

Your anxiety about anything – lost clients, sickness, relationship problems – don’t let it lie to you that you’re not strong enough. You are. And you won’t have the grace to face the crisis until the crisis, so wasting time and energy worrying about it will only deplete you. I’ve rehashed these truths in therapy over and over, and the past week and a half gave me a very tangible example to experience.

For the first three days post-knowing-it-was-covid, we did all the things at home you’re supposed to. Isolation, masks, O2 checks, temp checks, Vitamin C, Tylenol/Advil. And by Tuesday (this was now day 5 of fever), her temp started to dip and I crossed my fingers we were in the clear.

Wednesday it was clear we were not. I’ll never forget taking her to the pediatrician that morning. She was so nauseous and feverish (almost 103). The doctor was only willing to see her outside in the parking lot. I had a picnic blanket and put it under the shade of a tree so she could lay down and the doctor came out in full gear, looked and listened, and said, “This is the sickest kid we’ve seen.” She was sweating in the 90 degree heat and yet cold because of the fever.

I think right in that moment, I flashed back to every Facebook conversation and comment I had with covid conspiracy theorists, anti-maskers, and their ongoing argument that it wasn’t a big deal, especially for young kids.

I wanted to take the picture of her and blast it all over social media. I was enraged. Enraged at the anti-vax rhetoric that kept me from being able to vaccinate her, and every keyboard warrior that told me I was some fear monger.

She had no pre-existing conditions. No asthma.

The pediatrician said she was borderline for the hospital at 93% oxygen and to watch her every hour.

By 2pm, the 93 had dipped to 92, and off we went.

Sitting in the ER, the nurse wasn’t really convinced she was sick enough to stay. Her O2 on the main monitor was around 95, they said my at-home pulse ox probably wasn’t accurate, and her fever was down because of the motrin. Slightly worried that I had jumped the gun, we sat in the room for an hour while the Xray tech came in to check her chest.

Within 30 minutes, I had a text from the ER that she’d been admitted. Before I saw the doctor or any person told me, the automatic messaging system alerted me and I knew…she had pneumonia.

It was a flurry after that. An echo, blood drawn, and then she was brought to the 7th floor in a negative pressure room and admitted.

This whole time I was with Ellie. In fact, for about five days I felt like I was tempting fate (and my vaccine) every time I went to care for her. I might as well licked Covid off the floor.

Yes I was vaccinated, but still – to face a virus that’s making your child so very sick, watching everyone in the hospital dress up in full PPE while you’re sitting there with one dinky mask on, it messes with you. How was I not freaking out (yes even with a vax) that Ellie was essentially blowing Covid in my face with every breath?

And yet, I was calm. Tired and running on adrenaline, yes. But had you told me 18 months ago that I would be able to do what I just did…I would have laughed.

Remember, you don’t get the grace you need for the moment…until the moment. And then it’s there.

By the time she was admitted, I started posting updates on Facebook – so you can see the progression of her virus by just reading my timeline. I won’t bore everyone with the medical details, but the story has a great ending. After five days at the hospital, she’s home. Still pretty sick and weak, but fever free and breathing with more ease now.

None of the other 6 children have shown symptoms. Honestly I think the combination of me acting fast with her fever, masking her right away, isolating her with her own bathroom, and good filtration and sanitation – that’s what kept them all safe. That and every adult in the house was vaccinated so as I interacted with her, I didn’t carry it back (I was also incredibly careful). We’re “technically” not out of the quarantine period, but breathing much better now that it’s been 10 days since first symptoms appeared.

I understand that everyone is tired of Covid, but it’s still here, still dangerous, and yes – it does affect kids.

We have a follow up appt with the infectious disease team and pediatrician to monitor symptoms, make sure there’s no lung damage or relapse, and to help her get her strength back.

There were lots of other things I learned through this whole ordeal, but for now – for tonight – my message to anyone who struggles with anxiety or fear is this:

You will not have grace for the moment until it happens. Your anxiety lies to you and tells you that you can’t handle it, and you can. And you’ll surprise yourself when it happens. People will be there for you. Your adrenaline will kick in. Your brain will use a new set of rules to determine what’s important and what’s not, and most importantly… you’ll be okay.

xx Julie