By Stacey Cochrane, Contributing Columnist
I stepped outside my front door for the first time in three weeks. While so much in the world has changed since I was last outside, so much is also the same. The birds are singing, the grass is green, and while the beach may be empty, the ocean is still waving and the sky is free of smog and more blue than most Angelenos have seen in their lifetime. The Coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives, in one way or another. With that has come a ton of fear, anxiety and worry about what is to come–but in my experience, it has also brought a bunch of hope, love and a sense of community and “togetherness” that hasn’t been seen for years. My name is Stacey Cochrane, and this is the story of my family and our experience catching and recovering from COVID-19.
We don’t know where we got the virus. We have one possible contact who was maybe possibly sick, but no travel, no confirmed cases close to us, and no clues as to where we caught it. It was a day in early March when it infected my family and changed our lives for the month of March 2020. My husband woke up with symptoms that overlapped almost completely with the flu and Coronavirus, except one: he also had chest tightness, which is only a symptom of COVID-19. While he called his doctor to ask for advice, they told him what many health practitioners are having to tell their patients these days: they couldn’t see him in the office, they didn’t know what he had and no, he couldn’t get a test. At this point in March, unless you had recently traveled to China or Italy, you were not a candidate for testing. During a global pandemic where the advice is complete and total isolation if you have it, this didn’t feel comforting. I took to Facebook and heard from a friend who knew a doctor in Huntington Beach that was doing testing.
For the next few days, my husband Andy’s fever fluctuated between 100 degrees to low-grade to normal. The same happened with all of his symptoms. One moment his legs hurt so bad he couldn’t sit still and the next he was fine. It was several days later that I got to experience this for myself. By this time, I had contacted Dr. Matthew Abinate of Elevated Health, telling him our symptoms and made an appointment at his “office” for COVID-19 testing–a back alley behind his medical building. We decided to only test one of us, since it was obvious if one had it, so did the other. Since my symptoms were more acute at the time, I got the pleasure. I had to pull behind the building and text when I arrived. Dr. Matt said it would be a moment since it would take him so long to put on his protective gear. He also had given me instructions; I was to look forward and not cough. He showed up, we said hello through his mask and my window, and he stuck the very long swab up my nose and then put it in his biohazard sample bag and with a quick turn was gone and back in his building.
It took three days to get the positive result of the test back, all the while we had to be completely isolated in our condo, with our (almost) 3-year-old toddler and our black lab, while both parents were sick with Coronavirus. Many people ask how we did it. I say a combination of not having a choice, a lot of screen time and our survival was also fueled by the way we were wrapped (from afar) in love and community from more people than I can name.
Luckily, when I did talk to the doctor about my positive test result, he noted that he believed we both had mild cases. Our fevers were mostly low-grade, and while we both felt some tightness in our chests, there were no breathing problems. We also had the tremendous luck that our son has been healthy, stayed healthy, and is now out of the incubation period. It is clear we will not pass it on to him. Because of all these things, I realized that our cases could also become a story of hope. In all the bad news and deaths, we provide an example of people who had COVID-19, but are now fully recovered. You hear and read in many articles that this is true, and many people won’t feel more than a cold, but we are here to show that is true. So I started posting about our journey on Facebook and on Instagram. Not only did I want to quickly update our families and friends, but at the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, I also wanted people to know that it was real and people do get this virus. It wasn’t just the story of old people in Italy and a town in China, but their friend, family and neighbor that lives in Playa del Rey.
As my campaign for awareness began, so did the offers of love, support and supplies. We had people offering to drop off groceries on our doorstep, giving us their last three Tylenol and even willing to sacrifice toilet paper–and we all know that is an act of love at this time! We had daily messages from friends we talked to every day, but also friends we hadn’t talked to in years. Virtual strangers from the Moms of Westchester and Playa del Rey Facebook group offered help to us—a family that most of them had never met. Our friends in the MOMS Club of Westchester (of which I’m on the board) offered to cook their hard-found food, when we realized food delivery wasn’t the best in this environment.
This continued for the entire three weeks until we once again opened our doors and walked outside.
The health department cleared us four days before we did this, but since we live in a condo building and felt worried about our neighbors, we kept ourselves inside for just a few more meals and days of making obstacle courses for our kiddo to run off energy, because we wanted to make sure our neighbors and community weren’t in any danger.
I know this time is scary. There is so much anxiety in the world about who is going to catch the virus next, how severe it is going to be and how long the quarantine and shut downs will last.
While the three of us are now ok, we are already worrying about another family member who has been told they either have pneumonia or COVID-19 and are stuck in a different state with no options for testing or location for treatment except isolation at home. All that fear is real and we need to ensure we keep apart from each other right now. However, as I read from a very smart psychologist, while we need to physically distance, we also need to socially connect. We need to show each other love and that we are there. We need to keep doing our Zoom happy hours, virtual playdates, text messages and facetimes. We need to make sure that we remember that this virus can take a lot of things from us, but the one thing it cannot take is our humanity and love.
Posted April 2020.