Love in the time of coronavirus

With apologies for butchering Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s title, this last week has brought with it some interesting dilemmas. For many families like ours, the coronavirus outbreak would mostly be a question of making sure we’re not in a position to pass something on to elderly relatives and neighbours, and an acceptance that we’d probably all get it eventually, much as we did swine flu back when, but that we’d be over it soon enough and move on. Not so, this time.

This time it is more complicated. When we faced down swine flu, I was still healthy. The truth is, S and H will probably not have it too badly, if they catch coronavirus. As for me, well, having spoken to the GP yesterday about something unrelated, it’s not so clear I’d be OK. The chest infection I had over Christmas was a wake-up call. I’ve had free flu jabs for a few years now as someone with chronic conditions. I figured there was no harm in doing so because nobody enjoys flu, but they led to a false sense of security.

At Christmas, sick with a chest infection for which I had obviously not been vaccinated, and which other family members shrugged off as “just one of those things”, I found myself in an ambulance, feeling I was slowly drowning. It took me weeks to recover. I saw the GP for different antibiotics when the first ones didn’t work, and saw the same one yesterday to update a few issues and work out what the next steps should be. Inevitably, coronavirus came up. It feels a lot more real when your GP starts saying you need to take precautions.

Just how do you self-isolate in these circumstances? How do you prevent the people you love making you ill, since it’s S and H who are most likely to be the vectors of transmission in our family? We’re a demonstrative family. We hug. I do the bulk of the cooking, and even when I’m ill with a migraine or something that prevents me being able to stand in the kitchen and cook, the chances are we’ll be eating something I batch cooked and popped in the freezer. We have only two bedrooms, so S and I are inevitably going to share a bed when he’s home. And during the week, I have to be there to parent H in the morning and ensure he goes off to school in the right frame of mind. For that matter, if I get sick, will we have to keep H off school as well to prevent onward transmission? Do we paint a big X on the front door?

There is no hand sanitiser available to buy in the area. Idiots have either panic bought or decided to turn it around for a quick profit on eBay. For all the soap we have in the house, it’s the lack of hand sanitiser that places S and H at risk of catching the coronavirus at work or school, where access to handwashing facilities may be limited at key times like mealtimes: H can’t wash his hands before going to lunch at school without then having to touch surfaces that may harbour the virus on his way to the refectory.

It turns out that at times like this, love is my husband tracking down some surgical spirit online so I can make hand sanitiser and try to keep us safe – him in London, H at school, and hopefully me here at home – for as long as possible. Love is washing his hands and beard often. Love is not kissing me or hugging me at the station when I pick him up from the train, waiting until we’ve reached home and he can wash up. Love is H washing his hands more than is natural for a 13 year old to keep his mum safe. And love is me staying home and looking after myself, trying to avoid getting sick so I can stick around and love my family for as long as possible.

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