this virus stole my heart and soul

Sometimes I think Ohio is cursed for us. We’ve only lived here for two years, but in the past 18 months alone the pandemic started, we lost a pregnancy, my husband was diagnosed with cancer, my father died, we lost another pregnancy, and now the latest bomb has hit—we all have COVID.

At first I thought—I hoped—I was pregnant. I was debilitatingly tired and generally run down, both classic signs of early pregnancy. My throat began to hurt a little, but when I started sneezing, I thought it was allergies. Sneezing, I might note, is not on any list of symptoms anywhere, so there’s that. But when I lost my sense of smell and taste, I knew that the virus I had been hiding in fear of since last March had finally found me. And it hit me where I live.

Since that fatal day, my husband’s and my symptoms have run the gamut, and we’ve pretty much covered off everything on every list between us. Even though we are both fully vaccinated, he developed classic flu-like symptoms: chills, fever, muscle aches, congestion, cough, night sweats, and pretty much felt like he was dying (his words). I’ve had horrible sinus headaches, mind-numbing fatigue, severe leg cramps (likely from dehydration), and have not been able to smell or taste anything for six days. While the latter might seem like nothing, it is everything to someone who cooks for a living. It’s my heart and soul. Not being able to feed the people I love or enjoy the seemingly simple pleasures of my favorite foods, especially during this insanely stressful time, is some sort of cruel and unusual punishment. I can’t taste the warmth and comfort of the giant pot of chicken soup I made on Saturday, I can’t smell the brownies my daughter and I made together baking in the oven, I can’t even enjoy a cup of hot coffee after a horrible night’s sleep (although I did have to force one down yesterday, which felt like mud, since I hadn’t pooped in three days and needed a kick start). Even outside the kitchen, this beast is rearing its ugly head. Showers are no longer soothing, since I can’t smell any of the wonderful soaps and shampoos that quite literally wash the day away. And worst of all, I can’t smell my daughter’s freshly-bathed hair. Boy do I love that smell. It keeps me going on even on the hardest days. I know what you’re thinking—at least none of us are in the hospital, at least none of us are on ventilators, at least it’s not worse. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from losing both of my parents in the past two years, at least doesn’t always help. One positive attribute doesn’t necessarily erase a negative one or make it hurt any less. (When I’m grieving, please don’t constantly try to dig me out of my dark hole and bring me into the light with you. Please come into my hole with me and just give me a big hug.)

Speaking of hugs, at least we’re all quarantined together so I can squeeze out every hug possible from my adorable little pumpkin, who keeps asking me, “Mama, you still sick? I hope you feel better soon, Mama.” She has mostly been asymptomatic through this whole ordeal, with a slight runny nose that occasionally becomes stuffy. Although she’s probably sick of me following her around like a hawk, incessantly asking her if she has ouchies anywhere, if her throat hurts, if she can taste her food, etc. etc. etc. Of course I freaked out when her pediatrician said I especially need to watch her in 3-4 weeks when more serious respiratory issues can develop in toddlers. Of course this is nowhere close to being over.

The one aspect I drastically underestimated was the emotional toll this is taking on all of us, and on me especially. Just when we had hit the point of being so beaten down that we couldn’t bear another punch, this beast came along and knocked us out of the ring. In addition to all of the physical pain, there is a horrible mental stigma of being the first in our daughter’s classroom with a positive test. It feels like I’m wearing a scarlet letter, even though the letter that was sent to the entire school doesn’t identify who we are. What kills me is not only how diligent we’ve been about masks, social distancing, washing hands, basically having no life (which is pretty easy to do when you only have four friends between you), but that we are and have been so freaked out by this disease that my husband and I paid $400 to get PCR test results in 30 minutes, because testing in Franklin County, Ohio is absolutely absurd. You can’t get an appointment for DAYS and then you can’t get results for DAYS after that, unless you pay. (But that’s a soap box for another day.) Then we rushed our daughter to her pediatrician to confirm our worst nightmare, only to now be the trailblazers wearing the scarlet letter. As painful and nauseating as it is, I stand by our decision to know what was going on and not sit idly by hoping for the best, as I’m sure many others might do. I get it, this sh*t is cray, and it can get the best of your otherwise rational intelligence and emotions. Is it better to face the enemy head on without any weapons, or hide behind a stone wall hoping he doesn’t see you or can’t climb over it. Since my daughter is preoccupied with monsters these days (welcome to age three), it only seems to be a fitting comparison with our life. While we don’t want there to be monsters under our beds, and we know that most of the time there aren’t any, once every 100 years they come out and find us.

Sadly, I don’t have any words of wisdom and I certainly can’t figure out why the universe is testing us this much lately. But I will say, please savor that cup of coffee this morning, relish that first bite of brownie, smell your kids’ hair every chance you get. Hopefully I’ll be able to again in a few weeks, and hopefully I’ll be back at full power—although I’ve heard many stories that taste and smell might not fully return. As they say, I’ll cross that bridge…. and just hope there aren’t any monsters hiding underneath it.

Stay safe, my friends.

Excitedly about to tuck into a Kouign Aman during our happy life in San Francisco

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