Coronavirus and Chronic Illness: Preparations not Panic

I have been thinking a lot about the coronavirus lately, especially because I’m the mom of a chronically ill kid.    Because of my child’s complex medical needs, she gets sicker faster and harder than the average kid, often times ending up in the hospital for common illnesses like the flu or a stomach bug.  In 2019, she was at the hospital three times, and admitted for a total of five days.

So as you can imagine, the coronavirus was a bit terrifying. Seeing hospital workers on television in full hazmat suits and masks, watching sanitation workers spraying down marketplaces and basketball courts with some kind of disinfectant, well, it made me feel like I was watching some sort of end-of-the-world-movie that I try to stay away from in the theaters.

But then I realized, in a lot of ways, we as a family are always preparing for illness, but now everyone else is too, and there are a few differences because of the larger scale.  So  I thought I would write a blog post to talk about what we’ve done in the last few days.  I am not an expert in the scientific sense but I am an expert in the being-a-parent-of-a-sick-kid-sense.  So please read what scientific experts have to say too, and I have linked news sources to this blog.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Gather information from credible sources.
  2. Make common sense changes to your hygiene.
  3. Take stock of what you have:  food, medicine, cleaning supplies.
  4. Write a list of what you need, including household items that might run out.
  5. Shop without hoarding.
  6. Contact child’s school to find out a plan, or to help make one.
  7. Talk to employer to make plans for absences.

The first thing I did was start to gather information.  I started watching statistics on the virus, and reading blogs from virologiststo see exactly what we are dealing with on the world stage.  I read scientific articles on the virulence, and spread.  Then I looked at the CDC website to see what they suggested, and theFEMA websitefor emergency preparations.

My husband and I reviewed hand washing with our kids.  We already are pretty good at hand washing, but we reviewed it again.  Wash hands before meals, even in school. Wash hands after the bathroom.  Hand sanitizer after school and supermarkets ( have it stashed in the pockets in each car door, so when we get in to the car, we all use some hand sanitizer.)  I even took the girls to Bath and Body Works and let them pick out special personal hand sanitizers that they liked the smell of to keep in their pockets.

The CDC recommends that we have enough food and medication so that we can use social distance to minimize the spread of the virus.  Covid-19 can spread up to six feet from one person to another, so keeping more than a polite distance is necessary. Now imagine how many times you are closer than that to other people in a given day:  at the supermarket, on public transportation, and at school or work.  If these things close due to coronavirus, do you have enough food and prescription medication to hunker down for a few weeks?  Think of a snowstorm and your preparations, and then times that by four.

So this week, we went through my daughter’s daily medication and her insulin, and reordered what we might be low on in the next few weeks:  test strips, blood pressure medication, and one of her supplements.  I looked in the pantry and it looked pretty good, we had rice and pasta and beans, tomato sauce and canned soup and mac-n-cheese, but I added a few more of each item.  I bought a few containers of shelf stable milk.  I got an extra loaf of bread and put it in the freezer, along with a few extra packages of meat for dinners.  The only really unusual items I bought were some canned fruit and some frozen vegetables, as we usually eat fresh, but there’s no way fresh vegetables will stay fresh for two weeks.  I figure if we don’t use them by the summer that I will donate them to the local food pantry.  And I bought a few items for the food pantry now.

We went through our cleaning supplies, and had plenty of wipes and sprays.  We had enough paper towels.  I ordered more toilet paper from the non-profit that I always order from.  We always have hand sanitizer around as my daughter is immune-suppressed, but we were low on lysol disinfecting spray, so  I bought one of those for home, and one for my classroom. (I teach middle school.)

Then we looked at household items that might run out.  We needed a supply of AAA batteries for my daughters’ insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor….and let’s not forget that AAA batteries also run the television’s universal remote!  We bought more cat food and kitty litter, more tampons and pads, more band-aids.  But really, that was it.  I felt like we were “topping off” our supplies and that were in a good place if we needed social distance to stay away from infected areas, or if places closed.

A word about masks.  Multiple sources say not to buy them, but we already have some because my daughter wears them regularly when she flies.  However, there is a danger of a world wide shortage, so we will not be buying more.  Let the people on the front lines of health care, the doctors, nurses, even receptionists and transport staff have them.  We need important medical personnel to be there and be healthy.

Then I turned to my daughter’s school.  Because of her medical condition, she has a 504, which gives her certain accommodations based upon her medical need.  I contacted the school in order to schedule a time to review and possibly add to her 504, to include remote access learning if illness in the area ran high.  The administration team responded that they were in the process of preparing a tiered response system to the coronvirus problem, and to give them a few days to get back to me. Ok, no problem.  Wendy is on their radar, I will follow up with them next week.

Finally, I turned to my own work.  I teach history in a private middle school with students from multiple towns and even two states.  I spoke with my humanities team and we are creating a “shelf-stable lesson unit”–a unit that can be placed at any point between now and June for three weeks with open domain sources and daily questions. Because we are studying up to the Civil War this year, we chose Killer Angels, The Red Badge of Courage, and Little Women.  This can be transferred to our Google Classroom site at any time and be enacted as soon as it’s needed.  Hopefully we won’t need to enact the unit, but it’s there if we do, that’s why I’m calling it “shelf-stable.”

The best advice I can give is don’t panic, but prepare. There are lots of things we can’t control, I have learned that as the parent of a chronically ill child.  Sometimes, even with the best of plans, the day goes pear-shaped.  But staying informed and slowly preparing will keep you from panicking and will help you in case things get shut down.  God knows if and when that will happen, but if it does, I know I’m ready.  And that lets me sleep at night, knowing that I’ve done the best I can to keep my kids safe, both the healthy and the chronically ill.

One more thing I want to say:  think about donating to your local food bank at this time.  The lowest month for foodbanks is February for a number of reasons.  Imagine going through this worldwide pandemic without the means to feed yourself or your family, and all those kids that are on free or reduced lunch who won’t get fed if schools close.  If we all bought a few food items and a few cleaning items, imagine how that would help others.  Because in the end, we want all kids to be happy and healthy, and that means feeding them.

Feel free to share this blog post with those you love, and the best of luck to you!