Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Mamma Thursdays when it’s all about us! The mammas!
I think my favorite name, after Mom, is Dr. B. It’s my favorite name because it’s the name that my students gave me while I was still teaching, and the name that reminded me of one of my greatest accomplishments — second only to being a mom — which is my Ph.D. in Environmental Health Science and Policy, from the University of California in Irvine.
The program had a fancy name, but really, it was nothing more than a public health degree. Nothing more. When I say those words, given the context which is what our society is going through right now, I am faced with the reality of how important it has been, and always will be, to understand the origin and transmission of disease.
But despite my field of studies, this was when I became a mother, I decided to give up my second love, science and research, for my first love — my children. I didn’t want to live under the stress of “publish and perish” at a university. I wanted to enjoy my kids. So I had technically never used my doctoral degree outside of when I was at the University of California in Irvine, or UCI. And I didn’t specialize in infectious disease. I specialized in chronic disease. But I did take a lot of classes on epidemiology and attended a lot of lectures on infectious disease.
It by no means makes me an expert, and that’s my whole point here. I am no expert. I just know enough to frighten the hell out of myself. So while many of my acquaintances and friends were not concerned about COVID-19 as it emerged in China, I began to hold my breath, which is something that I do when I’m afraid. It just builds up slowly and I hold it longer and longer, till eventually, it feels like I can’t breathe. But I felt that process starting. And I spoke about my fear. I spoke about the possibility, the very strong reality that the virus was going to become a worldwide issue. I really didn’t know how to react to the fact that most people did not appear to be concerned. And I fluctuated between listening to the World Health Organization, who said that the US was not concerned enough, and the CDC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, saying that there was no reason for panic and we were going to have this covered.
Now I know that there is a certain amount of politics that goes in that back and forth but I could see from the numbers that the disease was spreading — and it was spreading very quickly. Whenever I spoke about my concerns, most people pooh-poohed them. They said that I was over exaggerating, that I didn’t need to worry. And yet I couldn’t help it. I continued to worry and watched carefully for that moment in which that first case was going to make its way to the United States. Because at that point I knew I was going to have to address the reality of the disease in our home, in our very front yard.
So at the point where people were saying there shouldn’t be too much concern — this is primarily impacting the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. Why are you so worried about it if you’re getting it? It’s not gonna be anything more than a bad flu?
Well, first of all, I have a lot of elderly relatives that I love and I don’t want anything to happen to them. It’s bad enough that I have to live far away from them. I don’t want something to happen to them. I don’t want to not be there, not be able to help them.
Second, I have pre-existing conditions. I have an autoimmune disorder. And in this past year, after falling, having to have consecutive knee surgeries because of the fall, I put on 50 pounds! And that family history of diabetes came to haunt me. No, I don’t have diabetes, but now I’m prediabetic! And I have to take that weight off. I have to stop eating so many carbs and continue to exercise, right at the point where it’s difficult to go outside, where you have to be concerned about who you come in contact with because you just don’t know what you’re going to bring back home to your family.
I may not be in the most impacted age group, I’m still in my early 50s, but I’m no spring chicken! But I do have young children. Children that need me. I have three twelve-year-old daughters. One 4-year-old son. What happens if I become ill? Worse, what happens if they get ill while I’m ill and I’m not able to take care of them? How would I handle being in isolation? How would they handle being in isolation without their mother? And how would my poor husband handle all of this? Where there is me being sick; me and the kids being sick. Or me passing away. How is he going to handle all of this?
And of course, my mind spiraled out of control. What if my husband passes away, too? Who would my children have to turn to? And then I realized, Oh my god! The people that I chose to be guardians of my children — they have pre-existing conditions too! What if they passed away too?
And then I remembered my grandmother telling me a story about the mother who thought that she was indispensable. And she said, “We’re needed, we’re loved, but we’re never indispensable.” And that forced me to look at my daughters and realize how strong my children are.
Dora. She doesn’t understand the strength she carries yet. But it’s there. It’s just waiting for her to mature. And I know that she’s going to become this great Strength in anything that she chooses to do. She’s also incredibly responsible towards Bug, my 4-year-old son, the hurricane in our household.
Emmy. Emmy and Andy have gotten so much closer lately. They’re back to being friends like when there were little. And I know that she can rely on her sister. I also know that her sister can rely on her. And I know that she would be great at helping out with Bug.
Andy. That girl has so much common sense and she’s so independent. She has an incredible moral compass. Even though she refuses, she doesn’t want to join a church, go to church, and it isn’t the church she wants to believe in. Even though she believes in God and is probably one of the most spiritual people I know.
So I had to accept that my children would be fine if I were gone. If my husband were gone. If the people I chose to be their legal guardian were gone. Because I’m sure their Aunt would step up to the plate and fortunately, she doesn’t have any pre-existing conditions and she’s still young.
But just as I get rid of that fear, or let me rephrase that — as I control that fear — I start thinking of my sister. My crazy sister who, anytime I disagree with her, blocks me — on Facebook, on the phone — and then eventually, she unblocks me whenever she needs me or whenever she’s ready to talk to me.
She’s a nurse, and she’s out there in California, one of the epicenters of this horrible virus. And I worry for her and I wish I would hear from her but she’s in one of her moody stages right now. So I just feel myself holding my breath yet again, hoping, praying that she is okay, that she’s going to be fine. Even though I know that she’s a geriatric nurse dealing with one of the most vulnerable populations; dealing with one of the biggest hospitals in the San Diego area.
And so I worry about her; I worry for her. And I stress the hell out of myself while doing it. And if that wasn’t enough to worry about, I have to find a way to help my children deal with the onslaught of information coming our way about the coronavirus, COVID-19.
My husband loves watching the news so we are saturated — inundated — with information. And right now, few pieces of information are positive. I mean, today the most positive thing that happened was Italy’s number of daily cases finally appeared to be decreasing. So we can be cautiously hopeful that maybe Italy is on it’s way to getting this under control. But in the meantime, the United States’ cases kept increasing.
Yesterday, Dora slept with me. She was afraid. And Andy, last week, voiced her fears. She wants to be an engineer but what if there is no future out there for her anymore? Right now, surprisingly, the calmest one appears to be Emmy. And that makes me nervous because she is very emotional and very expressive. So I can’t quite tell if she’s truly calm or if she’s just seething underneath the surface. So I worry. I worry a lot. And it still feels like I’m holding my breath. Holding my breath, waiting for this storm, this invisible storm to pass.
Who am I kidding…? Not to pass — to just calm down a little. I want to see it begin to recede so that I feel I can breathe again. And then I remember a story that a lady in the church told me about a survivor of the holocaust. He was in one of the camps during World War II. His entire family had been killed upon arrival except for him because he spoke German and they needed a translator. So he survived. And people called him “Wild Bill” because he had that huge mustache that curls in and he had a really positive attitude. And one of the things that he said was that when his entire family was killed, he had a choice — he could choose to die then and there or he could choose to live. So he found a way to live. A way to be happy, under the worst possible human conditions — where there was starvation, disease, and people were being worked to death, randomly killed — he found a way to live.
Isn’t that an amazing story? So if he found a way to live under those horrible conditions, I can breathe. I can stop holding my breath and breathe. And I began to tell my children that this pandemic will pass. It’s not the first pandemic we have faced as human beings and we have survived. And people have already begun to recover from COVID-19. And for a lot of people, it’s going to be nothing but a bad cold.
And I tell myself that I cannot worry about getting it — although yes, I exercise precaution — but I can’t worry that I get it because there is no way to control who lives or who dies. Proof of it was just in the news. A beautiful 30-year-old young woman died of COVID-19 in less than a week — and a 90-year-old woman survived, is recovering, and is ready to return to her normal life. There are too many factors that impact the outcome of this disease that we have yet to understand. So despite me preexisting conditions, I might survive COVID-19!
So is there a point in trying to worry myself into controlling the situation? Not really. Nope. Worrying, stressing, is not going to accomplish anything positive. I can’t control the fact that I fear, but I can control how I respond to that fear. I’ve come to the conclusion that just because we have to live with this threat — this very real threat — doesn’t mean we have to surrender to fear. So I’m going to do my best to follow the example of Wild Bill and learn to live in this frightening situation the best way that I can, enjoy the moment, and find a way to be happy. I hope you find a way to do the same.