NYC is now the epicenter of the Coronavirus. That’s not shocking in itself. It’s a densely populated city. NYers are tough people. We’re not apt to change our lives unless it’s for a serious reason. It also holds pockets of extreme poverty where folks won’t get paid if they don’t go to work. Many people don’t have the luxury of staying home and working from home so they’ve been braving it to put food on the table for their families. I also think NYC was slow to act, for a variety of reasons. All that doesn’t change the fact that COVID-19 is ravaging our beloved home and there’s not much we can do about it except isolate ourselves.
We’d been quarantining for about 2 weeks. I knew this was coming so we stocked up on groceries before folks started doing it. We’ve also had a very kind friend drop off groceries for us when she goes to get some for herself. We were holed up in our apartment, which was seeming smaller and smaller by the day, cracking the windows when it was nice out to get some air circulating because we don’t have outdoor space. Our family started dropping hints about us leaving NYC as the cases started to increase but I resisted. This was my home. We had enough food and medication. We knew the lay of the land in NYC. We were safe as long as we stayed inside.
But as time passed, it became harder and harder to not consider our options. What ultimately made us leave was one big factor.
Our son has asthma. For as long as we can remember, his asthma has been an issue. It’s been a source of so much anxiety for us and lots of doctors’ visits, first to diagnose this tiny kid with a hacking cough that just won’t quit, then to treat him every time he got a cold and his asthma was triggered. And he gets colds so often. Every single time he picks up a cold, we know we are in for the nebulizer every four hours, and days of him sleeping with us so we could keep an eye on his breathing. When he was a wee thing, I was away on a speaking gig and he picked up pneumonia because of his asthma. I came back into town and, that same night, we took him to the hospital, where he spent the next few days being pumped with medication to get his health under control. Adam and I stayed over at the hospital and our son tried to sleep in this big, elevated kids hospital bed. He was just about a foot away from us but he seemed so far away. Eventually, he refused to fall asleep and came to sleep between us, the three of us wedged together on a hospital pull-out chair, with a nurse coming into the room every few hours to attach apparatus to his face to give him his medication. She graciously didn’t bug us about our weird sleeping arrangement. She probably knew that we just needed to hold each other. Within a few days, he was back to normal but I will never forget what it felt like to give up the care of my son to others. To hear his labored breathing as he tried to sleep. To listen to a cough that threatened to break his little body apart.
If he were to get the Coronavirus, it is almost certain that it would hit him hard. It’s also almost certain that the hospital wouldn’t be as accommodating with us. I’m breastfeeding so that rules me out to be with him. That means that I wouldn’t get to be with him if he were to get sicker. We’ve been hearing stories of people dying alone because they’re still contagious and because hospitals are limiting visitors. We weighed the options and what it came down to was him. We didn’t want to burden the already overwhelmed hospitals in case he got sick. We didn’t want to chance him getting sick. We wanted to give him every fighting chance to avoid this virus.
So we made the difficult decision to leave NYC and quarantine ourselves for 14 days. The process of leaving was in itself intense. We decided to leave late at night so that the kids would sleep through the night. By 10pm that night, we had nothing packed but a ton about to be packed. Emotions were high as we kept questioning whether we were doing the right thing. The idea of leaving and not knowing when we would be back was daunting. The next morning, we started to pack in earnest. Enough clothes for the kids for two weeks. Their favorite toys and books. My son’s school stuff. We started packing food and that alone took up half the car. I packed light for myself, not a thought for cute dresses or getting fancy, as I usually do when I travel. I wanted comfortable clothing that I could live in. Adam repeatedly said he didn’t think we would fit it all in the car. He packed the car while I readied the kids. By the time he was done, every inch of the car was stuffed, from the trunk to below the kids’ feet, to below my feet to between our seats. We put our masks on and drove off, observing in stunned silence this city we loved so much a shell of itself, feeling immense guilt at the privilege of being able to escape it all.
The tough part about this is that we don’t know when we’re going back. It is a relief to be somewhere with outdoor space and to be closer to family, if anything happens. It’s a relief to know that, if he gets sick, he has a better chance of getting decent care. It’s a relief to just have some fresh air. But our hearts are aching for our beloved NYC and for all the frontline workers and essential workers who are keeping the city afloat. We left for love. We left because it was the right thing to do for our son. But it didn’t make it any easier. We hope to be back soon when the curve is flattened and in the meantime, we’re praying every night for our beloved city as we hold our son close.