Even as COVID-19 numbers explode around the country, many Americans are still experiencing the pandemic from afar. But when a family member is infected with the virus, that can change in a matter of hours. In a new essay, New York Times Magazine deputy editor Jessica Lustig describes the impact her husband’s diagnosis has had on her family’s life.
At the time of writing, Lustig’s husband (referred to as “T”) had been experiencing symptoms of the virus for 12 days, including chills, aches, a fever, and a bloody cough. T is 56 with an underlying health condition (severe asthma), and he has been confined to the couple’s bedroom.
Lustig outlines the logistics of caring for T while quarantining herself; she describes sending friends to scour nearby stores for Tylenol, keeping family and friends updated in group chats, and disinfecting every surface in her home. But throughout, Lustig also describes the virus’s emotional toll. She worries about who would care for her 16-year-old daughter if she fell ill. On a phone call with a doctor about whether to bring T to the hospital, she bursts into tears, saying she’s afraid to make the wrong call.
The essay a poignant picture of how differently an afflicted family can experience the pandemic:
It’s as if we are in a time warp in which we have accelerated at 1½ time speed, while everyone around us remains in the present — already the past to us — and they, blissfully, unconsciously, go about their ordinary lives, experiencing the growing news, the more urgent advisories and directives, as a vast communal experience, sharing posts and memes about cabin fever, about home-schooling, about social distancing, about how hard it all is, while we’re living in our makeshift sick ward, living in what will soon be the present for more and more of them.
For those of us who are still healthy, who are watching the outbreaks through graphs and tweets, it’s important to remember that the numbers we see are more than numbers. They are human lives, with their friends and families and everything else they contain.