Through the magic of video calling, we saw and talked the other morning with our younger son, quarantined in his home in a Denver suburb.
A grown man and married, he works for the Colorado health department and owns a home with a big, fenced backyard for two playful golden doodles. His work as an epidemiologist and data manager took him for several days recently to a coronavirus hot spot. Grown or not, he’s still our younger son. We worried no end about him. Upon his return, he quarantined. He feels fine. He has no symptoms, but he’ll work from home for a couple of weeks. The assignment almost certainly put him in contact with virus-infected people.
Even at home he’s busy. We have received a text or two, but the other morning was the first time we actually saw his face and heard his voice since he returned from the assignment. It was nice to have the video call, to see for ourselves that he looks healthy, maybe starting to need a haircut. You know how it is if you’re a parent. Texts are great. At least it’s communication. But seeing and hearing is a whole other level of comforting.
This kid isn’t one to panic. He believes in science and reason. He has been washing his hands thoroughly and frequently forever, long before it became the patriotic thing to do in the war against coronavirus. So when he sounds a health alarm, we listen.
In fact, when talk turns the least bit medical, listening is about all I can do. Our son has advanced degrees in neuroscience and public health. His wife is a neurologist. Nancy retired a few years ago after four decades as a registered nurse. When we get together and they start talking medicine, I take my printing and rural journalism degree to a quiet corner of the couch. The three of them are like the medical experts featured in newspaper stories and on television programs. I’m like the guy on social media who once interviewed a guy who knew a guy who worked in Area 51 in New Mexico and saw what’s really going on. One of my best traits, sometimes, is recognizing when I should keep my mouth shut and listen. When Nancy and our son and daughter-in-law talk medicine? That’s one of those times.
So I paid attention when our son got home from his assignment and sounded a clear health alarm. Nancy received a text late one evening that basically said, “Get some groceries, go home and stay there until you’re told otherwise. This is a vicious infection. You can’t mess around with it, not even to hang out with the cute little granddaughter up the hill there.”
He said he had seen scans of the virus-infected lungs of a seemingly otherwise healthy young male. The sight of a human lung completely overtaken by this virus seemed to unsettle him. He said as much in texts and again in the video call. That call came on Monday, the day South Dakota’s positive virus cases jumped to 28. The number had been 14 the Friday before.
Nancy and I live a fairly sheltered life in retirement. Our house sits alone on an unremarkable piece of land near the riverbank. We seldom socialize except with family. Since our son’s warnings, we’ve tried to button up even tighter. We’re both in our 70s. We could be prime targets. Worse than that, we could conceivably carry the infection to others. That would be hard to handle.
I’m not old enough to remember World War II. I have friends who still talk of sacrifices made for the war effort — ration books, gas and tire shortages, victory gardens and all that. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, young men and women in the military sacrificed with their service. The rest of us were asked to go shopping and pump up the economy.
With the coronavirus, health-care workers and first responders are doing much of the sacrificing. The rest of us are being asked to sit on our couches and read or watch movies. People I trust a great deal tell me it’s important.
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