This is what my husband William’s new normal looks like.
He dresses in scrubs in the morning, takes his temperature, and heads to the hospital. Before entering the building, he stands in the parking lot eight-feet apart from his fellow staff members. He has his temperature taken by a nurse, and he is issued a mask.
He is the only interventional radiologist working onsite for the next two weeks, because his partners are quarantining; this is to ensure they don’t all get sick at the same time. William performs procedures on patients both at the hospital and the imaging center while his partners read studies from their at-home systems.
Over the past weeks, they’ve seen a huge uptick in patients who have viral pneumonia, which is how COVID-19 presents in the lungs. William said he used to see a few viral pneumonias a month (he reads many, many chest X-rays per day). Last week, he was seeing about two studies a day that looked suspicious for it. A second ICU has opened at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital to accommodate these patients. They have 19 dedicated beds so far.
At the end of the day, William texts that he’s coming home from the hospital. I put the dogs behind the gate so they can’t touch him and listen for the garage door to open and close. William strips off his scrubs in the garage, heads downstairs to the basement bathroom that is now permanently off limits to the rest of us. He showers, dresses in fresh clothes and joins us upstairs.
Meanwhile, I disinfect anything he’s touched.
If he’s home in time, we both dutifully listen to Gov. Beshear’s update. I know William is waiting for the daily tallies. He gets very quiet when he hears them, and I turn on the lights outside that I’ve painted green.
In the evening, we often chat with our friend Bjorn Olsen, who is an intensivist at UK HealthCare treating virus-ridden patients who are extremely ill. For a while, Bjorn was using a welding shield to try to protect himself because they didn’t have the medical PPE they needed. His wife Alicia is a nurse practitioner who works alongside him. Last night, Bjorn sent us a picture of a fajita dinner she had managed to cook for them between shifts.
It was a really big deal for them to have that time and meal together.
Before William gets to researching and researching and researching some more about the virus, we try to talk about big picture stuff. On Wednesday, we signed new versions of our wills. We’ve reviewed our life insurance policies. We know each other’s end-of-life directives.
If this sounds melodramatic, I can promise you it’s not. My husband is over 50. He’s been sick before. He’s around patients who may not yet be showing symptoms of the coronavirus.
So, yeah, we’re taking the biggest precautions we can. And preparing for what could happen.
My one solace is my family is safe in Canada. There are relatively few cases there and everyone, and I mean everyone, is following the social distancing rules to the letter.
I can’t say I always witness the same thing here and that’s what keeps me up at night. I’m not sure how I can convince people to stay home. To make them stop gathering in any way. To make parents keep their teens at home however unpopular that makes them. To believe no one is exempt from responsibility or immune to this virus. To convince them that how well we get through this is directly proportional to how resolved we are to protect each other.
If I had the magic words, I would shout them out at the same time I ring bells (it’s a wind chime, but it’s all I’ve got) each morning at 10 a.m.
But I don’t have the magic combination.
I guess all I can do is write our story and hope that someone will read it. And hope that my husband’s new normal is enough to protect him.