Report from the Fourth Quarantine: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 19

After the first forty days of our new pandemic lives, and then again after eighty, I wrote posts marking off each traditional forty-day period for a quarantine with lists of forty things. I skipped one hundred twenty days because that was the week after North stopped walking and was hospitalized and it wasn’t a good day for me to write or for Beth to post. (It’s true—I am so tech-challenged I don’t post my own blog.)

I missed the one hundred sixtieth day, too, but it was only yesterday, so I’m plowing ahead with forty things about the past week:

  1. On Monday, North and I made an unbirthday cake because it wasn’t anyone’s birthday. I did this five years ago on a whim and North still talks about it so I thought it might be cheering to do it again. The cake was red velvet with cream cheese frosting.
  2. There wasn’t room for the leftovers in the fridge, so I left the partially eaten cake in the oven and forgot it was there while I was preheating it the next day to roast eggplant, but I remembered pretty early in the preheating process and the frosting just got a little runny.
  3. However, the next day when I was preheating the oven again for roast cauliflower, I left it in longer. The crumbs on the empty part of the pan burned, but the cake didn’t, and the frosting actually acquired a pleasant toasted marshmallow taste, so all was not lost. I do think it’s a good demonstration of how preoccupied I am these days. Fortunately we finished the cake on the third night, or who knows what would have happened to it?
  4. Tuesday we got notice that Ithaca College is going completely online for the fall semester. This wasn’t a complete surprise, given what’s going on at other colleges and universities that have opened for in-person classes and had to shut down. I’m not critical of the school’s decision, but I am sad for Noah.
  5. He’d been tracking Maryland’s numbers, which have been trending in the right direction to get off New York State quarantine list, so I think he was hoping to be allowed back on campus. We all have mixed feelings, of course, but it seems no matter what, he isn’t going to have a normal college experience, at least not in the first two years.
  6. On Wednesday North had their longest seizure ever. It lasted more than an hour and a half and sent us to the emergency room.
  7. For several days before this, they’d been having one to three of what we now think of as the medium-length seizures a day, the ones that last around five minutes. (Since then they’ve increased and yesterday they had six.)
  8. When I got home from my morning walk a little before eleven, Beth was sitting with North, whom she’d found seizing. When it had been going on for at least ten minutes (North later told us it was closer to twenty or thirty) we called 911, for the second time in a week and a half.
  9. When the paramedics got there, one of them remembered North. This isn’t something any mother wants.
  10. This time we didn’t get a choice of hospital—we went to the closest one. Given that the last time we called 911, the paramedics weren’t even sure we should go to the hospital, this made it seem more serious.
  11. As we did last time, I rode in the ambulance, but in the front this time, not because I asked to, but because there were a lot of medical personnel in back with North. Meanwhile Beth followed us to the hospital in the car and waited outside. North got two anti-convulsant shots in the ambulance.
  12. When we arrived, there were so many people crowded around North in the tiny exam room that there wasn’t room for me and I had to stand in the hall answering intake questions for people with clipboards.
  13. Eventually, people cleared out. When I got in the room, North had an IV with a different kind of anti-seizure medicine, and eventually they started to recover, though they’d intermittently slip back into smaller seizures. It was sort of like a series of aftershocks. It was 12:20 by the time they stopped all together.
  14. Beth brought North’s stuffed monkey Muffin from home and had a nurse bring it to them. He was conscientious about wearing a mask.
  15. North got their second covid test of the summer and it was negative.
  16. We were there until three o’clock and several times various people told us we would probably be transferred to Children’s. As bad as the experience was, Beth, North, and I were all thinking that maybe it could be the impetus for more timely scans. We already had an EEG scheduled for the first week of September, but we were all hoping for answers sooner.
  17. ER visits have a kind of rhythm to them, in my experience, and once it seemed we were in the wait-alone-a-long-time part, it was hours past lunch time, so I decided—with North’s encouragement—to go see if I could find us some food.
  18. It took me a while and a number of redirects from passersby but eventually I found the coffee shop where I bought yogurt, grapes, Cheetos, and an iced latte. The cafeteria was in sight of the coffee shop but I was in hurry to get back because North was alone so I thought we could get by with what I bought.
  19. I got lost again getting back to the ER and had to exit the building because some doors are blocked off now to stop people from circulating as freely through the building as they did pre-covid. I ran into Beth, sitting outside the main entrance, so I gave her an update. (Of course, we’d been texting the whole time.)
  20. Beth had North’s phone she’d brought from home and she let me know that Zoë, who was supposed to come over that afternoon and had knocked on the door only to have no one answer, had been calling. Beth filled Zoë in.
  21. When I got back to North’s room, they had a balloon and a teddy bear and some hard candies, which had been delivered by a social worker. The balloon looked like a cookie and said, “One Tough Cookie.” Apparently the first words the social worker spoke on entering the room was, “I hear you’re one tough cookie.”
  22. This whole interaction reminded me of the volunteers with the heart-shaped balloons in The Hostile Hospital (Series of Unfortunate Events, book eight), but Beth said, even if they had no way of knowing it the balloon’s message is true of most patients, in North’s case, it is.
  23. Shortly after this the doctor came back and told us North was being discharged, not to Children’s but home. We were surprised, and frankly disappointed not be able to get more answers that day. He also advised us not to come back to the ER, but to ride the seizures out at home, no matter how long they are. He seemed to be of the opinion that it wasn’t any of the medication North received that stopped the seizure but that it had burned out on its own and he said medicating a non-epileptic seizure could do more harm than good.
  24. All the medical professionals we’ve seen suspect North’s seizures are non-epileptic, which seems to cause a lot of them to lose interest. Beth really had to advocate to get the EEG we do have scheduled. When telling us North wasn’t being transferred to Children’s, the doctor actually said “It would be a waste of a transport.”
  25. The next day Beth went to work trying to get an EEG before September. Both our pediatrician’s office and North’s psychiatrist have been working their contacts to find us a bed at either Children’s or Georgetown. We’ll take whatever we can get first. Among other reasons, we need an official diagnosis before the school system will even begin to talk to us about accommodations and it’s clear North is going to need some.
  26. In the meantime, we made some changes at home. We stopped leaving North alone except to go to the bathroom and they’ve been sleeping in Beth’s and my bed with Beth while I sleep in their bed. They are not crazy about the lack of privacy. (And today we relented a little, leaving them in alone in a safe position in our bed for a half hour or so. They did have a seizure during that time, but they didn’t fall off the bed so I guess the experiment was a success.)
  27. So, life goes on. Thursday it was North’s turn to pick the weekly after dinner family activity so we had a faux campfire, with microwave s’mores, votive candles on the patio table, what stargazing was possible on a cloudy night, and a chorus of crickets and cicadas.
  28. Friday in physical therapy North walked 185 feet with a walker, surprising the physical therapist.
  29. After North got back from PT, my friend Megan and her daughter Talia came over for a socially distanced backyard visit.
  30. We all met twelve years ago when North and Talia were in preschool together. Megan is one of my best friends and North and Talia stayed in touch throughout elementary school because they were on the same rec league basketball team—the Pandas, as long-time readers will remember. After attending different elementary and middle schools, they will be at the same high school, and North thought it would be nice to get re-acquainted.
  31. It was nice. I positioned chairs in the backyard in pairs far away enough from each other so that the adults and the teens could have separate, private conversations. This was only my second get-together with a friend since March and it was good to talk in person to an adult other than Beth. It turns out I had a lot to say. I think I monopolized the conversation, but I’m guessing Megan will forgive me.
  32. As for the kids, North said it wasn’t awkward, even though they haven’t seen each other in a few years. Also, we prepared Talia for what North’s seizures are like, but they didn’t have any more than a few seconds long during the visit.
  33. While Megan and Talia were over, we got a phone call from our pediatrician letting us know they were getting closer to scheduling an EEG, and they thought they could get one early next week. Fingers crossed.
  34. Saturday morning, Beth, North and I had a telemedicine appointment with North’s therapist and at the end he offered to write his own letter to the school, in support of accommodations: we want North to be allowed to have their camera off so they’re not seizing online, extra time on assignments if they seize during one, and no penalties for not participating orally if they’ve just seized and can’t speak.
  35. That afternoon we went for an outing at Downs Park in Anne Arundel County. We got Chinese takeout and ate it at a picnic table in the park, then we went for a walk. North alternated between using the walker and the wheelchair. I’d say they walked about half the time, which was encouraging to see.
  36. The park had nice views of the Bay, some wooded trails, an aviary with a red-tailed hawk, a Great Horned owl, and turkey vulture, all injured. The vulture was being rehabilitated to be released, but the other two were permanent residents. (The owl only had one eye so probably didn’t have the depth perception to hunt, Noah guessed.)
  37. While we were there we found a moss-covered stone bench with a plaque saying it was a wishing bench, so of course, we felt compelled to sit on it and make wishes.
  38. I won’t tell you what I wished for because everyone knows if you tell a wish it doesn’t come true. But if I’d had a second wish, it would have been less personal and more political. I bet you can guess what it is.
  39. And speaking of politics, we haven’t been to as many protests as I thought we would this summer, for reasons that are probably obvious, but I’m sorry we weren’t able to make one in support of the post office this weekend. Did you ever think we’d need to protest for the post office? But that’s where we are. For now I’ll have to content myself with writing postcards to voters. I mailed my six hundredth one today, in another batch encouraging Democratic voters in Florida to enroll to vote by mail.
  40. Keep doing whatever you’re doing to help our country weather this dangerous passage and if you have any wishes to spare, send a few our way.

Celebrations

Friday: Mothers and Child Reunion

We’ve had a lot to celebrate the past few days because Noah came home for Thanksgiving break on Friday and that was the day before Beth’s birthday. Actually, he got home so late it was almost on her birthday, but I’ll get to that.

That morning was gray and rainy but I was cheerful as I set out for the 7-11 to get a bottle of cranberry juice and a ginger ale. Back when I was teaching, I always used to assign a paper due the class before Thanksgiving break. I’d collect them and take the stack to the snack bar, which was usually deserted so close to break, so it was a nice quiet place to work. I’d get a cranberry juice and a ginger ale and mix them together in a mug I’d bring from my office and I’d drink this concoction as I started to grade the papers. Every now and then I still get a craving for it and it always brings back that feeling of mingled industry and holiday anticipation. Knowing Noah was attending his last class before break and would soon be on a bus heading south put me in the mood for it.

Noah and I exchanged occasional texts throughout the day, but despite the distraction I had a pretty productive day, writing about a third of an article I’d been struggling to research and outline much of the week. North was at a play with Lyn and then sleeping over, so I asked Beth if she’d like to go out for pre-birthday pizza and she said yes. We met at Roscoe’s and discovered there were no free tables and two parties on the waiting list ahead of us. I heard the hostess tell the people in front of us it would be a half hour, so presumably for us it would be longer. This was the first part of the evening to go slightly awry.

After thinking it over a bit on a bench outside the restaurant, we decided to order to go, as that would probably be faster than waiting for a table. Eventually, we were on our way to the bus stop with our eggplant crostini, mushroom pizza, almond brownie, and chocolate-peanut butter cookie. We needed to heat up the crostini and pizza, but as I told Beth as we finished our meal, it wasn’t as fancy as going out but it was more fancy than eating frozen pizza, which was the original plan.

Meanwhile, Noah was having an interesting ride. The bus driver forgot to stop at Philadelphia and had to circle back when some passengers who wanted to disembark there informed him he’d passed the city. While the bus made its way through the City of Brotherly Love, someone threw a rock at it and cracked a window. (Perhaps the bus driver hadn’t forgotten to stop there after all, but had a premonition.) Anyway, that caused another delay while the driver stopped to assess the damage. Eventually he decided it was safe to continue, but the bus, which was due to arrive at Union Station at 9:40, didn’t pull in until 11:10. Fortunately, Noah was keeping us updated with occasional texts and Beth was tracking his phone’s location so we got there just about the right time and didn’t have to hang out in the bus bay for an hour and a half.

It felt strange to be leaving the house at 10:50, a time when we’re usually fast asleep, but as we drove through residential and commercial streets of D.C., I noticed a lot of lights on inside houses and restaurants and the streets were not exactly deserted either, so maybe not everyone goes to bed at ten on a Friday night in the city. Who knew?

We found the bus, with had “Adventure Tours” painted on its side—a little truth in advertising there—and through the open door of the luggage compartment, we could spy Noah bending down to get his bag on the other side of the bus. I refrained from running around the bus and waited until he reached us to hug him.

In the car we told him about the art show we’d attended the previous night and how North’s been completely off crutches and cane for a few weeks now and he talked about school. I asked how an audio project he’d been working on for his cinema production class at Hershey Park turned out. (He’d recorded people screaming on several of the rides as he rode.) He said the professor said it was “epic.”

When we got home, Beth and I went to bed. It was almost midnight, so I told Beth “Happy birthday,” and she noted it was two minutes early, so I waited and said it again a few minutes later. Noah was up a while, until at least 1:15. Every now and then I could hear him opening and closing doors or rummaging around in the kitchen making himself a bowl of cereal. It was comforting hearing him moving around the house and knowing he was home.

Saturday: You Say It’s Your Birthday

Beth had to take North to therapy in the morning and Noah didn’t emerge from his room until just before they got home, around 10:15. The kids greeted each other and pretty soon North was gone again, off to see Frozen II with Zoë and Norma, but we had time to gather around the table and talk a bit while Noah ate his oatmeal.

After North left, Noah wrapped his birthday present for Beth and he and I started to read Little Brother, which he’s reading for Emergent Media. It was published in 2008 and imagines a post-9/11 future in which U.S. citizens are even more surveilled than they currently are. The protagonist is a teen hacker and his friends who are cutting school and find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when a new terrorist attack occurs and they get swept up into government custody. It’s more like something Noah would choose to read on his own than the novels he reads for school generally are.

Later in the afternoon, I had a nap to recover from my late night and then got up and made Beth’s birthday cake. It’s a dark chocolate cake with coffee frosting and I’ve made it for her birthday so many times the page in the cookbook is stained brown with cocoa powder. When I’d finished that I asked Noah if he’d like to help me make dinner, baked mac-and-cheese from Beth’s mom’s recipe, veggie burgers, and green beans. He said, “I guess it is Saturday,” (his old night to cook dinner) and agreed. He played Lindsey Stirling on his phone while we grated cheese, chopped onions and green beans, and stirred the sauce. It was nice to be reading and cooking with him again.

After dinner, Beth opened her presents. I got her a set of Fiestaware mixing bowls because I’d recently broken one. Ironically, the broken mixing bowl was a birthday present from Noah and me nine years ago when he’d broken a mixing bowl. It made me remember how that same birthday, North got Beth a mug from the same company, and gave her the following hint: “It’s purple, and it has a handle, and you can drink from it, and it’s called a mug.” This has become a family joke.

To go with the new mixing bowls, which are blue and pale green, the kids each got Beth a baking mix with the promise to bake—whoopie pies in North’s case and chocolate doughnuts in Noah’s. When he placed the order he didn’t realize you need a doughnut pan to make them so he ordered one at the last minute, too. I see a lot of doughnuts in our future. Beth seemed pleased with her gifts.

After I finished the dishes, we watched two episodes of Speechless, which we haven’t watched since Noah left for college. North, Beth, and I were all in bed by 9:45, but Noah’s keeping college student hours now. North reported the next day, somewhat indignantly, that when they got up at one a.m. to use the bathroom he was taking a bath.

Come Sunday

North made banana pancakes for everyone for breakfast, but we ate without Noah, who was sleeping in again. Beth was out at the farmers’ market before he got up and when he did, at 11:40, it was only because North set off the smoke detector making a quesadilla roll-up. He had his pancakes then and we read some more Little Brother.

In the afternoon, Beth took North and their friend Jade ice skating and I went swimming. Noah stayed home and when I got home, he was watching CNN impeachment coverage. I warned him against getting his hopes up and after we both talked to my mom on the phone, we read again. (The book is longish and we’re hoping to finish it or come close in a week.) Beth, North, and Jade (who was staying for dinner) came home, and Beth made ravioli and sautéed spinach.

This week North’s got two and a half days of school and Beth’s working from home so we could more easily take North to the pain clinic for a post-physical therapy assessment this afternoon and so we can leave for the beach Wednesday afternoon. I am looking forward to more family togetherness both here and in Rehoboth. I don’t have to wait until Thursday to feel grateful to have everyone under one roof, though. I already am.