Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

The Weirdest Things About COVID-19

One of these days, I plan to tell you the whole sordid story -- the details of how my healthy, active husband battled COVID-19 for eight days at home and then nearly a week in the hospital, and about the road to recovery ahead.

I’ll tell you about my own COVID infection, which seemed to be a million times milder than his, but still gave me a litany of uncomfortable symptoms and days of dread and fear. I’ll try to capture the crushing anxiety of the past month.

I’ll also tell you about my beloved aunt and uncle --like second parents to me -- who both contracted COVID. As I type, my uncle is fighting for his life in isolation in a hospital.

I plan to share these personal stories once we are past the worst of all this.

But right now, the wounds are too fresh and the endings still unsettled. At least 200,000 Americans have died with COVID-19, and the fall surge of cases has begun.

So for now, I’m going to talk about the weirdness of it all.

At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how my husband, who had followed safety protocols above and beyond, could have contracted the virus. It reminded me of all the conscientious people who follow all the “rules” for healthy living and still get cancer.

Unfairness and bad luck are as much a part of life as serendipity and good fortune.

But the difference between this terrible disease and other ones is that no one is out in the streets protesting that cancer is fake. I haven’t seen viral videos of people calling cancer a political hoax. You don’t hear too many sane people saying we need to defund cancer research or ignore doctors when they talk about it. You certainly don’t hear political leaders saying barely any people have died from cancer.

We all know these bizarre reactions are largely political. But the virus itself is weird, too: Why did I get off relatively easy and my husband get hit so hard? How did our children manage to avoid infection? Why was my aunt spared while my uncle suffers?

When many people get over an illness without major consequences, it’s tempting to write it off as no big deal. But you don’t know who the unlucky patient will be -- it could be you, or someone you love dearly. It’s virus roulette.

That brings me to the strangest part of the whole deal.

A few weeks before getting sick, I took Frankie to the dog park. A man a few years older than me struck up a conversation, which soon came around to the virus. He said a close friend had inadvertently infected her father, who recently died from it. She was devastated, and he felt very sorry for her.

This all seemed like normal human thinking, so far.

Then, he said that he’d been exposed at work, but he didn’t want to get a test because he “didn’t want to be cooped up for two weeks.”

Now I was bewildered. Having just told me about his friend’s father, he clearly knew the virus was real, deadly and easily transmitted. But for him, two weeks inside was too big a price to pay to possibly save someone’s life, or prevent long-term disability or suffering.

Now, for those without paid sick days or the ability to work from home, I can understand the hesitation about getting tested: Two weeks at home means bills won’t get paid.

But that wasn’t this gentleman’s concern. He just didn’t want to be “cooped up.”

I wondered if he realized he sounded like a selfish sociopath.

My kids -- teenagers with busy, active lives before everything was upended -- know about “cooped up.” They had to quarantine for 24 days when their parents were sick, and haven’t been inside their school building since March.

I know this pandemic has dragged on for far too long. Many people have dropped their vigilance about social distancing and masking, especially around family and friends. We want to believe we are safe around these people.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Not even close. And it seems like a lot of people who accept the reality of the virus, like the man at the park, don’t seem to care about doing their part to get us there.

And that’s the weirdest part of all.