March 16, 2020 – Boston, MA
My friend said that life now feels like the first few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. Society breaks down little by little, and the characters have no choice but to continue on. Hopefully this pandemic ends on a more positive note than the creation of Gilead. Since I was four, my life has been defined by being a student. I worked my days around attending class. Now that classes are online, I’ve lost a sense of purpose. My restaurant job is now useless, because the restaurant is closed until further notice. My preschool continues to conduct business as usual, but next week will close until May.
All the talk of protecting immunocompromised people has me remembering three years ago, when my mom’s white blood cell count was dangerously low. She had FLT3-ITD acute myeloid leukemia. Her doctor at Sloan was an expert at this specific mutation, and he explained it to my dad who explained it to me. Essentially, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), progresses fast. The abnormal cells grow rapidly. If left untreated, a person can survive weeks to months. The FLT3-ITD mutation is associated with a poor prognosis.
Because of her sickness, she had a low level of neutrophils. She couldn’t leave her hospital room until her white blood cell count was up. Until then, we couldn’t bring her flowers, she couldn’t eat fresh fruits or vegetables, and we sanitized our hands frequently during hospital visits. The first few times I visited, I made sure to shower beforehand, scared of contaminating the sterile room. Her white blood cell count never reached the normal level, so when she left the first hospital, she just went to a second hospital. We had to ride the subway to get to her, so my anxiety about spreading germs grew.
I had a bit of a cough about a month before she died, and I felt guilty going near her. Now, exactly three years later, I’m dealing with the same feelings of guilt and responsibility.
On Monday, I felt a little groggy. I watched the kids chase each other around the playground. Expecting the worst, I took my temperature when I got home, but it was just under 98, so I was fine. At night, my roommate and I went out to get food. Since her work and school don’t need her to be in Boston for the time being, she is going back to Connecticut for a week or two. I suggested Correanos, a Korean take-out spot that specializes in Mexican fusion. She got tacos and I got a rice bowl. We split some loaded fries, which were topped in sweet and sour sauce, scallions, cheese, and more toppings that we couldn’t quite identify, but complimented the flavors rather well.
For the first time in my adult life, I feel stuck. I can’t get out of Boston no matter how much I might want to take all my new free time and go on a trip. I’ve combatted this feeling by going for walks around town. My roommates and I walked four miles along the Charles River, and I also walked on my own from the Boston Public Library back to my apartment. The fresh air and open space improved my mood, but as of yesterday, I’m limited to my bedroom, kitchen, and one of the two bathrooms in my apartment.
I woke up feeling like I’d just stepped out of a sauna, though I knew the cold air should have prevented that feeling. My throat burned. In an hour, I had to be at work, where I’d come in contact with young children, infants, and their families. I walked into the kitchen, but my body rejected the idea of breakfast.
My temperature was 99.7 so I called out of work.Then I called my dad, who told me that there was no way God would take away his daughter. Both my grandparents have lost children, and he lost a brother and a wife, so he didn’t see losing me as a possibility at this point. Him listing all the death in his life didn’t make me feel any better.
Because I have no car and don’t want to spread my infection on public transportation, I walked a mile to a walk-in clinic. The doctor looked at my throat, listened to my breathing, took my blood pressure (which was low due to the lack of food I’d had before that walk), and asked me if I knew anyone who had tested positive for Coronavirus. I don’t, so they couldn’t test me for that, and my throat didn’t look enough like strep for them to deem a strep test necessary.
“It seems like you have a virus. Drink plenty of fluids, keep taking Tylenol, and you can return to work once you’ve been symptom-free for twenty-four hours.”
I walked out of the clinic and into the cold rain, wondering why I wasted my time.
At the beginning of this pandemic, it felt as if every person was as vulnerable as my mom when she was sick. I hated the idea that I could unintentionally infect someone. Now, I’m experiencing a less strict version of what my mom went through. At least I’m home instead of in a hospital room. I have the comfort of my own bed and access to real food. My mom complained about being away from home, and now I understand her desire to be with her family. Day two of isolation and I wish I could go outside.
When my mom was first diagnosed, they said that if she had waited a week or two to seek treatment, she could have died. Before the diagnosis, she was the most healthy person I knew. She ate salads and worked out. She never smoked or drank. She wasn’t even fifty years old, so I figured that today’s medicine could help her. The treatments only put her into remission for a brief period of time. The cancer was too strong for the tools that the doctors had. I kept holding onto the idea of her getting into remission long enough to receive a bone marrow transplant.
We had to come to the conclusion that attempting to treat the cancer with aggressive techniques would most likely be fatal, so we focused instead on keeping her comfortable for as long as we could. She didn’t use the morphine or the oxygen tank until her last night.
I feel like we’re getting to the point where treatment seems unlikely. Everyday, we hear about the lack of hospital beds, ventilators, and tests. We’re staying inside like we should, but the virus keeps spreading. I’m holding onto the idea that we’ll get through this, though. I’ll recover from whatever sickness I have right now, and scientists are already working around the clock to fix this. Last time a sickness disrupted my life, my optimism betrayed me, but I’m hoping for a better future.