In mid-March my father returned from a trip back East–travel was acceptable with precautions when he left, and the world changed mid-trip–and went straight into isolation for self-protection. By a week in he was depressed. That Sunday, I stopped in for a masked and distanced visit. The following day the university I work for went into work-from-home lockdown; that Thursday, I had a fever and SOB. Because I’d spent two hours in a room full of pediatricians, nurses and surgeons (administrator for a ped card case conference) less than a week before the lockdown, I was able to be tested. Results were positive, so all the medical staff were alerted (as far as I know I didn’t infect any of them) and my family went into full quarantine. In the dead of night the following night my father awoke in respiratory crisis and called his girlfriend; she drove him to the ER at 3:30 AM, and someone sprinted out of the ER, bundled him into a wheelchair, threw a sheet over him, and wheeled him away. That was the last time she ever saw him in person. He was intubated, rallied briefly and looked to be turning a corner, and then stopped. A week and a half later we got his advance medical directive, which made his wishes clear: he would never want to be where he was, as he was. 14 days after I went into quarantine, I had hit 48 hours without symptoms; that afternoon I set out on a dreary public-transit trip to the hospital (no car) to spend exactly one hour with him, in head-to-toe PPE (hairnet, goggles, 2 masks, gloves, jumpsuit, second pair of gloves to cover the wrists of the jumpsuit and seal me in, booties). His sedation had been lightened and he was semi-awake and recognized me and stared and stared at me; I murmured all the names of everyone who loved him and wanted to be there over and over, and stroked his hair through the two pairs of gloves, until he drifted off to sleep. I promised him I wouldn’t leave until he had fallen asleep, and I didn’t. My daughter had drawn him a card (the elephant mascot of his beloved Oakland A’s), and I propped it up next to his head and told him that anytime he woke back up, he could turn his head just a little and see it there. He immediately tried it–closed his eyes, the opened them again and turned to look, and then closed them again, relieved that it was just as I’d said and his granddaughter’s love note was right there. After he fell asleep, I made the nursing staff promise not to move the card or take it away. I think it was buried with him. So was his cell phone, but that is a whole other story and this story is already much too long to be a brief COVID story. I will never know if I infected him during that brief visit to relieve his isolation and depression, or if he infected me, or if we were both infected separately by completely different people, and I will live with that uncertainty the rest of my life.
– Jacqueline Anne Smay, California