I am not ready to be a widow. Then again, who is ever ready to be one?
This was my first thought when I found out that my husband tested positive for COVID-19. We were both hoping that he had some other viral disease when he started to show the symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath, lack of energy) but it was clear that this was no common cold.
My first concern once learning that he has been infected was
“what will happen to the children if I get sick too?”
My husband and I, both in our mid-30’s, have 3 young children (4 and under). We don’t have any family in Flagstaff who could provide childcare. Even if we did, sending our children to my or his parents could potentially jeopardize their lives. Hiring a babysitter is not an option either when someone has been infected. Thankfully, I was able to stay healthy during the 14-day quarantine. Otherwise, I am not sure how I would’ve taken care of my husband and the kids.
I remember the nights being hard because I wasn’t able to comfort him as he soaked through the bed sheets with his fever. I also remember the nights being scary because I didn’t know if I made the right call by letting him sleep as opposed to checking his oxygen level and/or temperature. To reduce paranoia, I opened the bedroom door periodically and listened to his breathing to make sure that he was alive. I am grateful that he was able to win this battle without needing a ventilator and any other medical intervention.
This article is not meant to provide medical, legal or financial advice for anybody. Instead, it illustrates what I have learned as I reflect on this experience. Please consult your doctor, lawyer, or financial advisor for any questions and decisions.
- Learn about your significant other’s wish for end-of-life care. It certainly was not easy to imagine how I might have to advocate for my husband’s end-of-life care. Nonetheless, it was better for me to know this now than when it is too late for him to express his wish.
- Decide on guardianship for the children, if you have any, in case both of you fall ill to this terrible virus. Honestly, we should’ve had this conversation pre-COVID. Better yet, we should’ve had this conversation pre-children. But we didn’t. If you don’t make any arrangement for such an emergency, your children may be placed with a family that is not the right fit and this would be an extremely disruptive process for them.
- Get approval from the person you are considering to be a guardian for your children. You can’t assume that they would be able to fulfill your request, and it is better to make another selection if necessary.
- Have an estate plan. I used to think estate planning is just for the rich, but it is not. It protects the beneficiaries and allows you to choose who gets what. People always fight over money, and this minimizes the chances of ugly and costly legal battles.
- Choose a guardian of the estate. This is the person who will manage the money or assets left in your children’s name on their behalf if you die. The guardian of the estate doesn’t have to be the same as the guardian of the children, but they will work together to distribute funds and pay any expenses that may incur on behalf of the children’s well-being. Again, we probably should’ve chosen this person prior to having children.
- Learn the details of your significant other’s life insurance policy, if there is one. I knew that my husband had purchased life insurance shortly before purchasing our house. Embarrassingly, I had no clue what type of life insurance (term life vs universal life, protection period, death benefit coverage, etc) he had chosen until now.
- Talk to your family members and notify who will serve as the guardian of the estate and guardian of the children if you and your significant other become incapacitated. If both parents die, then who gets custody of a minor child isn’t always simple. You don’t want your family members fighting over your kids or your $.
- Get things in writing. Make your choices legally binding and official. I will be honest – we didn’t have time to have our documents “official” by having witnesses and/or notarized because we were writing them in small windows of time when my husband felt well enough to be awake. But again, you should have this done before you have an emergency (see the theme here?).
- Get a pulse oximeter and check your significant other’s oxygen levels. This is a small electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in the red blood cells. It can be purchased at any local pharmacy (price range from $30-$100). Hopefully, none of you who are reading this post will ever need a pulse oximeter, but if you do and it is sold out at the pharmacy, please reach out to me.
*What is the significance of checking the oxygen level? It may not be possible to reliably self-assess shortness of breath, a symptom of this disease because some COVID-19 patients suddenly develop a condition where they look and feel fine (i.e. not noticing any shortness of breath) but their oxygen levels are dangerously low. The oxygen level can be used as one of the deciding factors for bringing your loved one to the hospital. It is important to point out that shortness of breath and low oxygen levels are just two possible symptoms of COVID-19. You should visit the CDC website to familiarize yourself with all of the symptoms that could appear anywhere between 2 to 14 days after the exposure.
- Plan how you will live in isolation. This aims to separate those infected with the virus from those who are not infected. In other words, think about how infected people can separate themselves from others by staying in a specific room and using a specific bathroom.
- Accept help from your friends and family. Our extended families were thoughtful enough to mail snacks, books, and art supplies for our children who were more or less neglected during this time. They were also kind enough to arrange dinner (plus enough left-over for lunch the following day) for most of the nights during the quarantine. I feel a bit guilty saying this, but I am pretty sure I gained weight because I ate too well. DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub – there are many delivery options out there.
- Talk to your kids about COVID-19 while keeping their developmental stage in mind. They need to understand why the sick parent wears a mask inside the house, why he sits 6 ft away from the dining table during meals, why he is unable to kiss them, why he is too tired to wrestle them, why he excuses himself in the middle of a meal to lie down, etc. Listen to their fears and concerns while offering empathy.
- Call your best friend and let out a good cry. I didn’t want to cry in front of my sick husband (who honestly wasn’t awake enough during the day anyway) so I let my emotion bottled up inside. I was afraid, stressed, lonely, confused, tired, all of the above. It felt nice to talk to my best friend and not think about COVID-19 for a few minutes.
- Tell yourself that it’s fine to be the world’s okayest parent right now. No, my children are not going to be engaged in the coolest science experiment. No, my children are not going to produce the most beautiful artwork that will be Instagram-able. No, my children are not going to master simple subtraction. But they will be fed, bathed, and loved. That’s about all I can do at this time.