Doing our best, and sometimes more
For a time, my wife and I were separated.
Not, like, in a struggling-marriage sense. Physically. By walls and two doors.
One door is wood and connects our bedroom to a hallway. During our separation, that hallway was inhabited by a folding TV meal tray. For 10 days, it’s where I left her meals on paper plates with plastic cutlery. It was a preventative measure. She could just throw them away. No handling or washing required. It was also where she left her water bottle or her tea mug when she wanted refills. The latter was just for hot water, no different from tea to her, with her sense of taste pulverized.
The other door is glass and leads to our back patio. Sometimes, when I played with our kids in the backyard, we’d drift over to the entryway, our hands pressing hard to the surface on opposite sides, trying to imitate actual physical touch.
She looked the loneliest in these moments, I think. Almost like my 6- and 3-year-old daughters and I were holograms, flickering and delicate and barely there at all. We were more conceptual than human.
Confined, voluntarily, to her temporary holding cell, she watched us play. And as she watched, her immune system continued to hold the line on the COVID-19 invader.
It all began with a phone call. I had been preparing for another hybrid day of work and Zoom kindergarten supervision. My 3-year-old brought me my phone, which she’d been playing with.
“Come outside,” my wife told me.
I knew right then for some reason, hoped I was wrong. She had left for work already, had just ... returned. Returning like this had never happened. I went outside and saw her standing at the end of the cement path that leads up to our door.
“Stop,” she said, halting my approach.
I did. Again, I knew. For sure this time.
She told me everything. She’d been at work and had started to feel achy. That’s it; achy. She’s a nurse. Her past few months have been spent in full personal protective equipment because of COVID-19, the illness that finally caught up to her. The test she took confirmed it.
We planned. I moved clothes and toiletries and towels out of our room and set up shop in our office space. She re-entered our house through the glass door she’d soon watch her family playing on the other side of, and entered her period of isolation. My kids were quite upset.
“What do you mean mom’s here but we can’t see her for 10 days?”
We got tested that day at a drive-thru clinic near the south Medford Fred Meyer. My children were nervous after I told them what the test would entail, so I went first to show them there was nothing to be scared of. That’s true, but I still hated it, a long testing swab burrowing into my nostril. It felt like it was heading to my brain but over quickly.
Our 6-year-old was next. She wasn’t a fan either. The 3-year-old went last. She swatted the first testing swab away. I moved to stand next to the nurse who looked more like an astronaut than a medical professional and aided her in holding the 3-year-old still. The test struck home and she let the entire Rogue Valley know what she thought about the whole business.
On the car ride home, she offered up a tear-tinted rebuttal to what she’d experienced: “I hate doctors!”
Luckily, our tests came back negative. Didn’t matter, though. The incubation period on the novel coronavirus can be as slow as two weeks. We were jailed, too, but we were in general population. My wife was in solitary, separated from us by a few inches of door.
The first few days were fine. The first few after that were manageable. I worked, oversaw the 6-year-old’s Zoom school, kept the 3-year-old entertained. I brought my wife meals and water refills. It was a constant dance of hat switching. Dad. Reporter. Educator. Husband. Caretaker. Worrier (always Worrier).
The order changed on the fly, but it was fine. I needed to be Super Dad. I needed to level up and stay leveled up.
Maybe you have told yourself the same thing over the past nine months and change, that you need to be more than you’ve ever been. I suspect, like me, that it’s often been an almost-impossible creed to live by. Death, job loss, loneliness, added stress, and complete uncertainty are efficient at unraveling such a delicately knit expectation, have a way of making it seem like daily failures outweigh successes. The latter likely far exceeds the former, though I’m willing to bet you see it the opposite way. You’re human like that.
I think the days where we feel we’ve fallen short are where our people matter the most. Our friends and family were bright lights, bringing or ordering meals, leaving notes of encouragement and support. In one case, some friends left a card game, a small affair called “Sleeping Queens.” My 6-year-old and I have played it at least 50 times since. In another case, a treasure trove of kid’s crafts showed up, including make-your-own crowns. My kids made one for Mom, too. For a minute, the isolated and quarantined transformed into royalty, sharing and admiring their new accouterments over a FaceTime call.
Days wore on, and over time, my wife’s symptoms improved. On day 10 — Nov. 21, 2020 — the wooden door that had separated us opened. Our children were elated. They hugged her and wouldn’t let go. And even if they had, she would not have.
The fallout continues, to an extent. She’s still tired, has periods of shortness of breath. Her taste isn’t completely back yet. It’s this way for some, the effects of the vacated illness continuing to linger.
My wife went back to work for the first time a week after isolation ended. After she left, I sat in our office and attempted to work while supervising Zoom school when my daughter’s teacher started talking about a specific word. Hearing it halted my work cold, prompted me to look at the screen and watch as she spoke.
“Perseverance. That’s a big word. So what does perseverance mean?” my 6-year-old’s teacher asked, her voice rendered slightly robotic by the computer speakers.
It means my wife, I think. It means other health care workers like her. It means their fight against an invisible enemy and the frequent despair and frustration that goes with it, that they keep fighting anyway. Every day. It means holding them up, however we can.
Ultimately, it means all of us, doing our best — and frequently trying for even more — with the hand we’ve been dealt. It means grace for others and yourself in the midst of home things and work things intertwining. It means selflessness and sacrifice, no matter how inconvenient or how much it hurts.
It means falling sometimes — physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above — and getting back up. Because you’re essential, and not just as a workplace moniker, not just during times of crisis. Because you matter and have always mattered.
And whether you know it or not, someone is eager to see you again someday.
Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.