Over the past few weeks, my home has evolved into an unwelcome public health experiment that addressed two hot Covid questions: who is immune and who rebounds after Paxlovid? After attending a wedding in Vermont, my husband Tim and I returned home with happy memories and a stealthily simmering case of Covid 19. We had done good work avoiding infection for the duration of the pandemic and we knew we were taking a chance attending a large event. We also knew there were no guarantees the other attendees were taking precautions or wouldn’t be actively harboring the virus. It was a gamble. We lost.
When the first partygoer surfaced with a positive test result, Tim and I began our emotional journey through the five stages of Covid grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We were sure we would be fine. We were angry that someone go to a large-scale event if they were sick or were a close contact who should be in isolation. We felt fine, that is until Tim’s first violent coughing fit during his sleep three nights later. The shrug when Tim’s test came up positive the next day demonstrated his tacit acceptance. The whole thing was depressing.
Although I felt fine, I tested myself, as a matter of course. Even though our house was a hotbed of germs, I was negative. Still, I believed it was a matter of time before I joined the ranks of the afflicted. Or maybe not. As Tim ran the course of symptoms–runny nose, cough, fever–I remained asymptomatic. Text messages exchanged between family members proved we were not alone in our situation. Some of us were sick, others were not. Some took Paxlovid, others chose to tough out the illness. Others dodged the virus altogether. Our extended family became a microcosm of society and a demonstration of the unpredictability of the Covid-19 virus and its variants.
Tim started Paxlovid on ‘Day Two’ and saw improvement quickly. Despite my lack of symptoms, I isolated myself along with Tim since I was a close contact. As time passed, I continued to test negative and after five days, feeling as restless as I did in mid-2020, I ventured out to the grocery store wearing a mask. We needed food and I needed a change of scenery. I mean, I love my husband but the novelty of the early days of the pandemic, when he first began working from home, had worn off. I needed to get out in the world.
Eight days into his illness, he finally tested negative but he sat out being social for a few more days, for safety’s sake. I continued to test negative and I made plans to dine out with a friend. On ‘Day Eleven,’ we embarked on an evening in Boston’s North End. Our friend conveyed some trepidation about our Covid status but we went. The next day, Tim’s nose started running. He tested. He was positive. I was negative. We rapidly cycled through the stages of Covid grief as the infection cycle began again.
It is now Friday of the third week of Covid in our house. Tim’s symptoms continue to plague him and me. We pcr-tested at the drive-thru site in Revere last evening, and the results popped up in the middle of the night. I was awake to receive them since Tim’s fitful sleep prevented me from a good night’s rest. As expected, he was positive. I was negative. Fully alert from agitation, I moved to the sofa in the den and turned on the tv. I dozed until he left the bed at 6:30 am. Crawling back under the sheets, I nestled my pillow and slept until 9:30. I woke up exhausted, not just from lack of sleep.
In the realm of coulda, woulda, shoulda, we have questioned ourselves, knowing what we know now, would we have gone to the wedding? We’ve missed concerts, our grandchildren’s plays, and dinner parties with friends, losses that cause us to be a little raw when we consider the topic. Maybe we will revisit the question once Tim gets a negative test. We played a game of viral Russian Roulette and one of us lost. We wondered why I never got sick. Wacky DNA? Mediterranean genes? An iron-clad immune system inherited from my father? As the experiment wore on, it didn’t really matter. I was a close contact with a conscience. I watched the summer slide by as I cowered in my basement until the all clear. When people asked me if I was ‘negative,’ I responded, “In more ways than one!” I sounded snarky. I didn’t care.
Tim will test again tomorrow and we’ll hope for the best. In the meantime, I’ll depend on my super DNA to save me and others from infection as I venture out into the world tonight without the patient. It’s ‘Negative test-Day Eighteen’ for me so I will assume I’m good to go. My Covid conscience tells me to grab a mask, just in case.