Well, it caught up with us. We ran like rabbits from the start; we dashed into our house and slammed the door behind us. We cancelled office-work and birthday parties, the kids were sent home to study, and we sprayed our incoming mail.
It would be terrible (we thought). We were vulnerable (we thought). We were isolated (we thought). We stocked up against the monster — noodles, beans, and tea bags. We hid and washed and learned. Studied, read and listened. We vaccinated hard and fast, eligibility not dry on the page before we were there, sleeves rolled up, noses scrunched and eyes averted. We refused any help and we worked hard at everything — saving, storing, banking in case we became ill in the future — and we waited.
It took 28 months, and then it caught us, one by one.
It was, in all honesty, a bit of an eye-opener. As a fit, happy, athletic-ish person, I figured I’d probably get off with a glorified cold. Instead, it grabbed me by the throat and shook me till I stopped moving. It started with a weird and almost enjoyable vertigo, a sense of floating, a pre-fever, something — and then all the joy went out of the window when I was clobbered by the headaches, burning throat, heaving breath, fever, stomach aches, and the constant, hacking cough. Lying on my back wasn’t an option; on my front, minor relief. Days 2 and 3 were frightening, when breathing deep or swallowing couldn’t be taken for granted; the next 10 days, just unpleasant.
My children toppled one by one with various degrees of ‘I feel a bit coldy-ish’ to ’40 degrees and migraines’. The theoretically least vulnerable was hit hardest. The most vulnerable child had middling symptoms. There was no obvious pattern; perhaps instead a complex mishmash of different exposures, vaccine timing, immune response and sheer dumb luck.
We drank a lot of tea and lost a lot of planned activities.
The Gold D of E hike went first. My half-recovered, aching son hoicked his pack on to his back, stared out of the window, and then pulled a reality face: a 2-3km walk, maybe. A 4-day, 80km hill-hike under load? CANCELLED.
A Scholars graduation was next. An excited teen, smartly dressed, ready to receive what he’d worked hard to achieve — then a sneeze, another, a cough… 8 hours in a hot bus with fellow pupils and staff? Not really fair. CANCELLED.
A school day. A little boy, just recovered, who had been super-sensible and gone to bed early, who was happy to try doing PE, and was handed back to me at the school gate, nose bleeding. Then a series of explosive nose bleeds and headaches just before a much-looked-forward-to-for-two-whole-years school trip. CANCELLED.
I brought my kids up to say yes. We work like monsters, run like dogs, rock up at school and leap into all the adventure trips. If we’ve said we’ll turn up, we’ll be there. I tell them, if you work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. They worked hard, but ended up sitting in their bedrooms, feeling gross, watching their friends skip out into the sunshine to have fun and collect prizes.
So now I have to teach them the rest — sometimes you can work hard, and watch the rewards slip away through no fault of your own. Remember this feeling: it’s horrid, right? Well, we’re lucky that this is a surprise. So many good people work hard their whole lives and don’t get rewards. Keep going. Keep working. Hold on to this feeling and in the future, when someone screams, ‘I worked SO hard, it’s not fair!’ you’ll be able to reach out and say, ‘I hear you.’ That person could become your most resilient friend.
Also, we need to look for doors to open. The DofE hike has been replaced by a music gig, our house now full of tunes. The scholars program has finished, but there are novels to read and languages to learn (Stranger Things in French — damn, those kids talk fast!). If we can’t visit cities with our friends, we’ll have to build cities in our heads; we have drawing pens and The Edge Chronicles. I’ve ordered a whole new shiny set of 5H-6B art pencils (my inner stationery nerd is dancing): make beautiful things. We have a missed birthday lunch to reschedule — getting the diary out, because one thing Covid teaches us is, while we have people, we’re lucky.
And we are lucky. Friends texted to offer to do our shopping. People asked if we’re ok. Distant friends called to chat (sorry, was too ill, but can’t tell you how much we loved you trying). The last two years threw light on our heroes and friends. Sometimes, those we expected showed up (Mum, Dad, brother, sis-in-law, friends – thank you and LOVE!). Sometimes, others: kind people in shops, sweet food delivery men and thoughtful bin men, a neighbour bringing back my ASBO dog (not the little new energetic one — the geriatric damn fool, neutered-for-12-years, dug-under-the-hedge-again, lucky-I-love-him one), helpful nurses, teachers and the guys on school reception with their kind words even though we are one in 1000 for them to look after.
Yesterday, I tickled my youngest child and he giggled for the first time in 2 weeks. Today, I woke up feeling a bit tired – but not scary-rubbish, or ill. So now it’s time to mend whatever’s within reach. Get up, shower, eat a delicious yogurt, smile, sip tea, push back. Make the best we can out of these strange, bloody days.
Then, always, more tea.