OUR DAUGHTER IS among the “most vulnerable.” Born at 23 weeks gestation, she weighed 1 pound, 7 ounces and was 12 inches long, if you round up, her head the size of a large lemon, her legs the width of my pinky, her veins and bones layered with gossamer skin. After 128 days in the neonatal intensive-care unit, she came home.
Now 8 and in the first grade, she reads chapter books like a third-grader. She can typically be found jumping at the trampoline park, skating at a birthday party or streaking across the school playground, her breath coming shallower and quicker than most. Between birth and flourishing, we’ve returned countless times from the brink.
Now, there is COVID-19. We are at the edge again, returning to NICUlevel fear of contagion, taking all measures to isolate, fearing her chronic lung disease would render her unable to fight back, especially if ventilators became limited. I think of the others out there like us, hunkered down under their own roofs, protecting themselves and the ones they love who are living with cancer, have Down syndrome, cannot survive without insulin, are over 65. I think also of those who are young and were in perfect health, now fighting for their lives.
I think of all the parents struggling with what to share with our kids, what to leave out, whether we’re striking the balance: enough harsh information so they’ll guard themselves, enough fantasy and fun to allow them to remain kids in this new reality. Perhaps our scale tips toward worry. I feel ashamed of a scene in the post office when this was all just beginning in Arkansas. Our daughter was joking with me, pushing my buttons. I jerked her hand away from her face, slapped it hard, everyone present witnessing, the postal clerk looking down. “We talked about this! Do NOT touch your face!” As her tears spilled, I choked back my own, my chin trembling.
I watch beaches, bars and restaurants fill, house parties continue. I scream into the void. They crave freedom and want escape. I do, too. But we are all being called on now, each of us with our own fears and needs, to be servicemembers in an invisible war. My hope is that we can stand together, reconsider the stakes, re-evaluate what is truly necessary and remember that sometimes the chances we believe we’re taking may be much different than the risks we actually are taking. We may only know for certain the cost of our actions when it is too late to go back, too late to choose differently.
Stir-crazy today, our daughter giggles so hard that she loses her breath. Now I’m laughing, too, and for a moment, I forget everything.
For more information about COVID-19—including best practices and the importance of self-quarantining—visit healthy.arkansas.gov