Before Thanksgiving, I wrote about finding thanks in the chaos of COVID-19. As I submitted my column for publication, the pandemic hit home. Fear and uncertainty quickly replaced gratitude.
Since early March, my husband, Patrick, and I have taken all of the precautions to avoid contracting the coronavirus. I only leave the house for medical appointments. Patrick took over grocery shopping, and we order online for curbside pickup or delivery as much as possible. In public, we always wear masks and sanitize our hands frequently.
Unfortunately, as a closing assistant for a homebuilder, Patrick is an essential worker. Because he handles title documents, he’s one of the handful of employees who can’t work remotely. Despite following all safety protocols to a T, he came into contact with a colleague who exposed him to COVID-19.
On Sunday a week before Thanksgiving, Patrick received a text from his supervisor’s manager to call her immediately. She informed him that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19, and he was on the list of people with whom the person had come into contact.
For privacy reasons, she only disclosed that the person was asymptomatic. Patrick would need to contact the company’s COVID-19 hotline for specifics, and quarantine for 14 days.
That Monday was frantic. Patrick called his doctor first thing in the morning to request a test, but the scheduler told him they wouldn’t test him until seven days after exposure. He then spent most of the day trying to reach his human resource department to get the number for the COVID-19 hotline.
I was relieved to have an appointment scheduled with my transplant nurse practitioner that afternoon. When I told her that Patrick’s doctor refused to give him a test, she instructed me to tell him to call back and insist on a test because I’m extremely high risk.
Patrick ended up not having to play my transplant card. While I was at my appointment, he learned that he had been exposed four different times, with the last being on Nov. 10. Tuesday was day seven, so he was able to get tested the following afternoon.
Patrick spent the next 36 hours waiting for results and trying to deduce who the culprit was. He had some suspects.
While Patrick played detective, I figured out our game plan. When the pandemic first hit, we discussed that if one of us tested positive, the other would stay with our parents. We never considered what we would do if we were merely exposed.
He couldn’t go to his parents’ house if he might be positive. After spending all weekend together in the house, I didn’t want to expose mine, either. I chose to quarantine with him. However, I had two appointments for lab work the following week. If I were asymptomatic and didn’t know, I could risk the health of the other patients.
Our Thanksgiving plans were in jeopardy, too. We deliberated for weeks about whether we would eat with my family or pick up the food and eat at home. We had agreed to eat outside, separated from everyone else, and I volunteered to make pumpkin pie. With both of us quarantined, we might not get Thanksgiving dinner at all.
All’s clear on the homefront
Patrick’s results were supposed to be back by Thursday, but they didn’t post to his patient portal until Monday morning. He was negative. Coincidentally, Tuesday marked 14 days after exposure, so he was able to return to work as scheduled. Also, with the all-clear, Thanksgiving was back on — socially distanced, of course.
We were lucky Patrick didn’t become infected. Since I wrote my Thanksgiving column, almost 4 million more Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. Two people in our circle learned they were exposed the same day as Patrick. On Thanksgiving eve, my sister received an email notification that someone in my niece’s school had tested positive. I dread knowing that we might not be so fortunate next time.
Vaccine distribution is just around the corner, but the threat of the novel coronavirus is knocking at my door. I wish people who are lackadaisical about safety guidelines understood how many lives their carelessness can impact. My Christmas wish is that until the vaccines are widely available or the disease is eradicated, we would all act like we’re infected to protect others as well as ourselves.
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