When Can I Go Home?

“You’re not going to hug me, are you?” my husband asked.

“Nope. I’m sorry.” I replied, half-joking, half-serious.

I was saying goodbye to my husband of 22 years, not sure when I would see him again. As we stood six feet apart outside our car at the airport, part of me thought everything would be fine. Spring break! We will see each other with our twin daughters at spring break. He was heading home, back to Atlanta, where I have lived for 18 years. I was remaining in Marco Island, Florida, a less densely populated area of the country where I could ride out the onslaught of COVID-19 in my parent’s available condominium. But as one month of self-isolation has come to an end, I’m wondering if what I thought would be weeks, might be months. Or longer.

My situation is not unique. Millions of people worldwide are living apart from loved ones in an attempt to save either themselves or family members from contracting COVID.

A 52-year-old leukemia and cystic fibrosis survivor, I tick two high-risk boxes. I am just outside the age range for the most vulnerable but fall squarely in the field of those most likely to suffer if I contract the virus. I take four pills a day to keep both diseases at bay, along with two inhalers and a nebulized medication that I consume while doing an airway clearance device. It pounds my chest twice a day to keep my lungs clear.

As I write this, I know three things for sure that impact me and everyone with CF or undergoing cancer treatment:

  1. I will be at risk of coronavirus complications until there is a vaccine. What might be mild to moderate symptoms for some will likely be dangerous for me and everyone with CF. Our lung function is our lifeline, and any threat to that is life-changing. Lost lung function is difficult, if not impossible, to regain.

  2. Family members who I live with are a direct threat to my health.

  3. Anti-virals and any other treatment options must be proven effective in case I do contract the virus. No “let’s give it a try and see if it works” medications for me. Unproven therapies could jeopardize what I already must take to keep my diseases in check.

Three simple questions with no simple, let alone involved, answers.

So, again, I ask myself. When can I go home?

The answer feels uncomfortably answerable and unknowing at the same time.

Read what one infectious disease and global health reporter shares expert thoughts on what might happen when social distancing measures are relaxed and what that might mean for people with underlying health conditions here: https://www.statnews.com/2020/04/03/americans-are-underestimating-how-long-coronavirus-disruptions-will-last-health-experts-say/

Like so many with preexisiting health conditions who have to protect themselves

I have spent the last 18 years living in Atlanta I am from Atlanta: have lived there for 18 years. But for 30 years I have been coming to my parent’s condominmum on Marco Island, Florida. Long before Coronavirus became a significant threat to the US, my husband and I talked about me coming here to get away from densely populated Atlanta. Alex works for Halyard Health, one of two global providers of surgical face masks, gowns, gloves – basically everything the entire world is clamoring for right now. He has been working nonstop since he returned to work on January 5 as the virus began in Wuhan and has spread around the globe. Except for weekends, I did not see him for more than two hours a day as he left at 6:30 am and returned at 7:00 each night, continuing to work until he went to bed. Slowly this evolved from being an issue in China, to then Italy to then something we had to have a major conversation about.

I have cancer and cystic fibrosis. I am very high risk. Getting Covid-19 could kill me.

We always said I would escape to my parents unused condo on the beach. Its sits unused as my parents have grown too old to deal with renters anymore. They tried living here themselves but its 1000 square foot layout didn’t lend itself to full time living. There are two bedrooms. a tiny kitchen, small dining and living room. But there’s this – I have a million dollar view of the Gulf of Mexico with sunsets everynight. I’m not complaining.

Unlike every single time I have come here for 30 years, this time I am not on vacation. I am here to save my life.

I have elected to self-isolation to live to see my twin daughters graduate from high school, my oldest daughter graduate from college. This is not a choice I made lightly but one so many of us have been forced to make.

I am on the 9th floor of a 14 story building. Stairs are my primary method of getting in and out of the building—no elevators in my life. Given the beauty of Marco Island, the building is occupied by retirees, some permanent, some temporary. Like me, these seniors smile outwardly but I know they are as jittery as I am. I don’t see them much.

Venturing outside my condo-womb occurs once a day. Usually between 4-6:00. By this point each day, I have finished my work and the beach beacons. Not for fun in the sun, but to knock out 10,000 steps, get some Vitamin D and fresh air, I walk purposely around and away from people as I move forward. The beach is wide and I am grateful; there’s room for all of us.

Lest you think this is one of those spring break beaches where a college people-bomb has exploded, its not.

The beach is preserving my sanity. I can see people but don’t have to mingle. The sun shines hot and bright.

Here I am.

I am not seeking pity. One friend said sarcastically, “You’re really roughing it” I am beyond fortunate to have this place to stay. But don’t think for a minute that I haven’t wondered if it will be my last.

I am not dramatic. I am speaking the truth.