COVID-19 has shaken the whole world to its core. From one part of the globe to the other, it has all but stopped life as we know it. This scenario seems all too reminiscent of something that the American South will never forget. Living in New Orleans, Louisiana we are accustomed to dealing with evacuations and disasters because of hurricane season each year. From June to November, we are on alert. As you can imagine, Hurricane Katrina’s lasting effects really taught us how to deal with disaster prep along with recovering from the aftermath.
When Coronavirus first appeared on our radar here in New Orleans, I was personally shaken. Not only for me, but for my family. My husband is a physician at one of the main hospitals here in the city. Our two daughters are aged 4 and 2, and I am a stay-at-home dad. They go to nursery school for a few hours during the week but most of the time I am at home with them. Then the public schools closed down, as did most of the nurseries so we got even more time together.
Many people through the years have asked me what it was like to experience Hurricane Katrina. There really has not been an event equivalent to compare it to. That is, until now.
As the mammoth storm churned towards us 15 years ago, everyone panicked and prepped as fast as they could. Pandemonium and fear spread through New Orleans just like this virus. The only difference is today, there aren’t devastating winds or floods. Instead, the fear turned into stocking up on whatever you could so you wouldn’t have to leave your home.
I watched other countries very closely before this virus was found here in Louisiana. I saw the panic in the streets and the death that followed. I knew I needed to act fast before the greedy bought everything in sight.
I am a planner and I like to be in control. I think it is partly why I feel the way I do at the moment. I literally planned our family’s next moves over a week before the mandated ‘stay home’ orders were given. While people were calling me “Chicken Little”, I made sure that our family had everything we could possibly need. Well, except for one MAJOR life changing variable.
Our son was to be born in the middle of this nightmare. My husband and I frantically tried to complete his nursery and buy the essential items from the hardware stores before our ‘lock down’ order was issued. Along with prior preparations of food and essential items for the family, I felt it was incredibly important to get the necessary items for the new baby. I feared panic stricken people would buy everything in sight along with the essential baby care items. I just knew we would be under mandated closures when he was born so I bought the diapers and baby formula weeks ahead of time. I really felt like I was in front of this thing. I planned. I was ready. And then my husband told me how bad the virus had actually gotten. It was like the gulf winds shifted. It was apparent that COVID-19 was about to strangle New Orleans.
Each day that went by, more and more people were diagnosed. We saw this in Italy, and in New York City. But those places were much bigger than New Orleans. All of a sudden, people were dying in numbers that doubled from the day before. Hundreds became thousands that were infected. It quickly became obvious that New Orleans and the state of Louisiana for that matter was the new epicenter for this outbreak.
Hospitals were inundated, especially my husband’s. Ventilators were almost depleted in a matter of one weeks time. Face masks were vanishing. Eye shields and gloves were almost gone. P.P.E. (personal protective equipment) was suddenly rationed and in many cases disappeared, stolen or extremely hard to come by.
From home, we saw local news outlets reporting that faculty were told to reuse face masks and even sterilize them so they could continue to fight this battle on the front lines, even without their armor. Grown men were scared. And many were breaking down.
Douglas has always been my voice of reason. When I get too hyped up, he is always there to calm me down. In the beginning, when I started my rants about Coronavirus, he didn’t stop me. This time he wasn’t ‘devil’s advocate.’ Even when friends and family made it seem like I was overreacting, Douglas listened. I will never forget one conversation we had right after COVID-19 started to spread rapidly here in the city. We were finishing up the baby’s nursery one night when I told him I had been watching the images coming out of Italy and they were highly alarming and at the rate it was spreading, it seemed certain it was going to happen here. I was waiting for him to correct me, but instead his eyes got big.
He got quiet. He regularly does this when he wants to collect his thoughts. Then he said, “There is nothing we can do. The box has been opened and it cannot be closed. This will be the next pandemic in the next 24-36 hours. Most of us will get this virus. And if we all don’t get it, we will personally know someone that has had it or has died from it. Lock downs will not stop it. Our hospitals will become overwhelmed. And there is nothing we can do.”
I was shocked. He is always optimistic. He is the yin to my yang. But that night, he was brutally honest. Twelve hours later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic.”
That’s when the angry tides started turning and the ominous silence fell when I walked outside. I was SHOOK. But I had to keep my cool for my family. My girls depend on me. On us. I can’t let them see my fear.
All of a sudden I became their teacher every day along with being ‘Papa’. I try my best to keep it fun and new. I print out activities and educational things to keep their little minds learning. I research arts and crafts for them. And then we go outside and play different games every day so this isolation doesn’t get monotonously boring.
All of a sudden, it was like my heart stopped. Douglas told me the main hospital was running low on manpower. Some started to get sick. And some were just overwhelmed by the tsunami of patients coming who had fallen ill from the virus. This whole time I had been so thankful for him being a psychiatric resident during this viral circus. Then, he broke some news. The hospital started pulling residents from all the other specialties to fight this virus on the front lines in the Emergency Department. It didn’t matter what specialty. My heart sank into my stomach. I felt ill.
Sure, I get it. He is a doctor. That is what you “sign up for.” But let me stop you. No. That is not what he signed up for. He had a calling to help the mentally ill and the addicts from drugs and alcohol to get sober. He wanted to help them get off the street, get cleaned up and lead a productive life. Fighting in the epicenter of this pandemic without proper equipment could be a death sentence. I would absolutely feel more inclined for him to help if I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had the life saving P.P.E. he needs to stay healthy. He needs it and his family at home needs it. WE NEED IT. As the hours ticked by my anger grew. As I said, I like to be in control. I quickly saw that we were falling into a tailspin that couldn’t be stopped.
Just as I started to feel hopeless, our phone rang. My mouth dropped to the floor. Our birth mother was in labor! Douglas quickly rushed her to the hospital. After the doctors examined her she was quickly admitted. We had been through this before multiple times with our previous birth mother. I just knew she was going to be sent home prematurely. But this time proved to be different. They told Douglas he was allowed to stay the night, but unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, I had to stay home.
Last night, Douglas got to be at the hospital for the birth of our son and officially go on “paternity leave” for over a month! For me, it was like my husband was rescued from the front lines of a viral massacre. An unforeseen force directed us into a perfectly beautiful and peaceful scenario just as hopelessness gripped our future and the walls seemed to be closing in all around us.
Then came Shane.
Our baby boy was born at 11:36 pm weighing in at 7 lbs 6 oz. He is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. Although I have yet to hold him. Smell him. Or see him. It is now 10:43 p.m. the following night and Douglas should be home in about an hour’s time. I am ecstatic. I feel so peaceful and happy. Yes, right now, the world outside is terrifying. But inside our hearts are overjoyed, filled with euphoric gratitude to know we are blessed beyond belief.
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