Navigating COVID-19 with an immunocompromised parent

A+student+watches+her+friends+on+social+media+hang+out+together%2C+but+knows+she+cannot+safely+join+them.

Samantha Johnstone

A student watches her friends on social media hang out together, but knows she cannot safely join them.

Samantha Johnstone, Webmaster

I was in second grade when my mom first got sick. She was diagnosed with the condition gastroparesis on paper, but she doesn’t fit all the symptoms. To put it shortly, my mom’s intestinal track doesn’t function so she receives all of her nutrition through an IV, which has led to a multitude of health problems, one of them being a compromised immune system.  

For the past two years, my mom’s health has been surprisingly stable. She hasn’t been hospitalized since June 2019, which may seem unimpressive to many, but is a miracle to our family. 

 

Despite her recent good health, nothing can describe the fear I felt a year ago as I watched the pandemic make it’s way to America. Even though my mom was stable, I have seen the common cold send her to the hospital, so I couldn’t imagine what COVID-19 could do.

So on March 13, my family and I vowed to each other that we would strictly follow all guidelines in order to keep my mom safe. We isolated ourselves at our house in Tahoe for the first month of quarantine, terrified to come home to the Bay Area where the numbers were steadily rising. But we couldn’t escape forever, so we made the decision to come back in April while continuing to abide by all Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) guidelines and recommendations.

It was easy for me to follow these guidelines in the beginning, as most of my friends and peers were continuing to do the same. But as summer approached, the six feet of distance grew smaller and smaller. In what felt like a matter of seconds, the average teenager hanging out with their friends and breaking guidelines was shockingly normalized.

Scrolling through my social media feed today, I see what feels like endless groups of friends together. It seems to be the mindset of many students that driving in a car with their best friend seems to be a safe choice. Hanging out in a garage with a group of five doesn’t seem to be that risky to them. For a majority of these students, in the back of their minds, they know that even if they were to contract COVID-19, they would be okay. 

But I know that if my mom were to become infected, chances are she wouldn’t be. I don’t get the privilege of being able to pick and choose which guidelines I want to follow. I don’t have the ability to exhale and just be a teenager for a night, because I understand that hanging out with my friends isn’t essential and in turn, could cost me my mom.

I’ll admit, that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true. I would do anything to protect my mom, and for our family, that means minimizing our risk factors. And with that comes the decision to completely follow all CDC guidelines.

I won’t lie and say the past 11 months have been easy for me. Sitting in bed with my dog watching Netflix is not how I want to spend my Friday nights. It absolutely destroys me to watch videos of my friends together when I know I cannot be with them.. It often feels like the rest of the world has been able to move on with their lives while I am trapped by guidelines.

But the strangest part is that I am not creating these guidelines for myself. My mom’s health is simply forcing me to follow the state’s and CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines to a T. 

 

I’m not saying that every teenager has to be perfect, and I’m not saying I am either. In fact, I selfishly spent Halloween night inside with my friends, justifying my actions by a negative COVID-19 test before and after. I was comforted knowing my mom was spending the week in Tahoe, away from the immense risk I was bringing into our household. 

Looking back, I regret my unsafe actions because even though I was able to keep my mom sheltered from my risky choices, I could not do the same for the rest of my community. While my complete violation of guidelines on Halloween wasn’t warranted, it was, at the very least, a one time occurrence.

I am also not saying that one can never break a few rules here and there — I am simply asking for our generation to try harder. Holistically following CDC guidelines does not mean complete isolation from the outside world. It is still possible to safely see friends by staying six feet apart from each other and wearing masks when necessary. For me and my best friend, aimlessly wandering through Target, grabbing some takeout and watching the sunset in separate cars is one of our favorite ways to hang out. It doesn’t beat getting to hug her, but it’s definitely the next best thing.

 

At the end of the day, I have made the choice to fully follow COVID-19 guidelines to protect my mom and the many others like her. From what I have seen from social media, this careful consideration is not often reflected in my peer’s actions. I understand that strictly following guidelines can feel isolating and overwhelming, but at the very least, please try to keep in mind who you could be impacting the next time you forgo social distancing. Even if you are certain you would make it through contracting COVID-19, there are people like my mom in every grocery store, coffee shop and store who wouldn’t.