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My husband is a bull of a man.
He’s rarely sick and I’ve never known anything to scare him. He joined the Chicago Carpenters Union at 18, swinging a hammer for years before working his way up to superintendent. When a nail went through his work boot into his foot, he pulled it out and kept working. He’s stitched his own hand up before and laughs when he tells about threats to his life by other union leaders during his time in Boston.
So when I finished a two-hour Zoom meeting a couple of weeks ago and found him asleep on the sofa after work, I thought it unusual. He told me he felt slightly nauseous and had a headache but attributed it to working outdoors all day in extreme heat.
But he came home from work at 10:30 a.m. the next day with more symptoms, including headache, achy joints and a cough. This was the moment I’d been worrying about for the last year and a half.
As strong as he is, he, like many others who grew up in the ‘70s, smoked cigarettes. He’s not one to do anything by half measures, and he smoked a lot. After he quit cigarettes, he took up cigars and he smoked a lot of them, too, before being diagnosed with emphysema. To see him, you wouldn’t know he had a chronic lung disease — it’s low grade; he quit all smokes 20 years ago — but it places him squarely in the class of ‘high risk’ for COVID-19. Add to that high blood pressure and that he’s over 60 and you have my worry in a neat little package.
He tested positive for COVID-19 hours after he came home from work coughing. The physician’s assistant at the clinic we went to told us to isolate him, for me to wear a mask at home and for us to sleep in separate bedrooms.
When he got home, he said to me, “I’m scared.”
I started showing symptoms and tested positive, despite both of us getting double doses of the Pfizer vaccine. I’ve run marathons feeling worse than I did on my worst day with COVID but not by much. The fatigue and brain fog that come with even mild cases are beyond my power to describe: in addition to drainage and cold-like symptoms, my body has felt boneless. I’ve not been able to concentrate enough to read or write for the last week.
But what mattered most to me was that my rock of a husband was afraid and that I was afraid for him. And I would do anything to have kept him from getting sicker and winding up in the hospital.
This is what puzzles me about the fury over wearing masks and particularly having kids wear masks. I give parents a lot of grace, because I figure most parents want what they truly think is best for their children.
I believe Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton loves his children and that he would do anything to keep them from harm. Yet, he recently said, “My daughter’s 7 years old. Making her wear a face mask in the classroom all day long is beneficial to her? I’m not so sure about that,” Sexton said.
I don’t get that. A friend who is a parent of two teenage boys explained that parents get used to kids being sick and being in and out of the emergency room: strep throat, colds, broken arms. So I’m guessing the parents, like Sexton, who don’t want their kids to wear masks truly believe their kids don’t need them and aren’t likely to get sick, or at least, very sick, with COVID.
Yet kids ARE getting sick — and some seriously so — from the Delta variant of COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued recommendations that include proper school ventilation, testing and yes, universal masking for kids in school. Tennessee hospitals are admitting more children with COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, 121,266 cases of COVID had been reported in children ages 5 to 18 in Tennessee. In the last 14 days, there were 7,565, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. And while the vaccine is approved for children ages 12 and older, fewer than 8% of Tennessee’s adolescents who are eligible for the vaccine have obtained one, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
I’m a long distance runner who eats plenty of greens and supplements my diet with vitamin-packed protein shakes. I’ve never had a serious illness. I’ve been vaccinated against COVID, and I’ll bet my immune system is stronger than most kids. And I’ll tell you: I wouldn’t wish my mild case of this on anyone, and I sure wouldn’t wish my fear for my husband’s life on anyone else.
If a strip of cloth helps keep me from spreading illness or in even the smallest percent prevents a loved one from getting ill, I’m all for it. I just can’t wrap my brain around why parents who love their children dearly can’t bite the bullet on this, if even for a few months.
There’s a saying these days: You do you. But when it comes to the pandemic, it’s past time to put that mentality behind us. That means masking and that means a vaccination for those who are eligible.
Wearing a mask might be uncomfortable but it doesn’t kill anyone. COVID-19 can and does. And boy, I don’t want anyone to have to worry the way I did last week.
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