My father (an anesthesiologist) has been sick for the past 3 weeks. Fever, fatigue, and a patchy spot in his left lung on chest x-ray. Though he tested negative for COVID-19 twice, we still highly suspect that they are false negatives (the tests are unfortunately not very accurate).
He is in one of the highest risk groups–a male, middle-aged front-line worker caring for countless patients infected with the virus. When he got his first negative COVID test result, he tried to go back to work to help out, only to be sent home due to his fever.
He had been trying to downplay his symptoms, until the true weight of his situation hit him that night, and he sat us down for a family discussion (my sister and I had gone to our parents’ house to quarantine since their location was safer than where we were).
“This illness can go very quickly…so I just want us to be prepared.” He admitted quietly, his face ashen and grave. There would be no visitors allowed if he had to be hospitalized. We had never talked about his end-of-life wishes, or how to manage logistics if he were gone, such as my parents’ finances.
These are called “Advanced Directives”–what someone would want in cases of emergency, illness, disability, or death.
Do they want CPR? Do they want to be shocked if their heart stopped? Do they want a tube to be put down their throat if they couldn’t breathe on their own? Do they want to be kept alive by a machine?
What do they want to be done with their body if they were brain-dead? Fully dead? What about their belongings and assets? Who would they appoint to make decisions for them if they were unable to do so for themselves (i.e. in a coma, unconscious, or unable to communicate)?
This greatly rattled my family, especially my mom. It all felt too sudden. As healthcare providers who have taken care of and urged countless patients that it’s never too early to start having these sort of discussions, we were so embarrassingly unprepared ourselves. We tried to stumble through a conversation, but could not complete it out of superstitious fear.
The thought of losing him so soon and so suddenly brought aching cold panic and hot tears. He had been teetering at the cusp of needing hospitalization, with an oxygen saturation of 94%. We all held our breaths as the days seemed to drag on endlessly.
We kept him in quarantine in his bedroom with an attached bathroom, bringing him food on trays left outside his door. We tried to lighten the mood at times, joking about how he was like our prisoner, or in a more positive light, a VIP hotel guest for whom we were bringing room service.
I was so thankful to be able to be there by his side. I also was so glad that I got to spend the past 4 months living close to my parents, seeing them twice a month, the most frequently I ever had in my adult life ever since moving out for college 15 years ago. Previously I saw them only once or twice a year.
I vowed to start showing my loved ones every day that I care for them, even if it’s a simple text or saying “I love you.” I had not been great about calling my parents regularly, mostly due to our clashing values which sometimes led to unpleasant arguments or awkward silences, but that’s no excuse. I know I can do better.
When I go back on the digital nomad road, that will be the biggest downside. Thanks to video chat technology, I know my loved ones will never be too far. But I know I need to make an effort to call at least once a week, and text ideally every day.
You never know when anyone’s time is up. I know how busy we all are, but try to show your love every day to those close to your heart. If you think of them, let them know. It will mean the world to them. (Research even shows that loneliness directly contributes to worsened health and early death.)
COVID-19 is predicted to infect 50-60% of the world’s population, and with a death rate of 2%… that is at least 80 million lives lost. It WILL at some point affect someone we know. It is naive to think we are invincible or will be the exception.
This pandemic is showing us that every day truly is a blessing. If we and those we care about are alive and healthy, that is cause for celebration. In these times, “Good to be Alive” by Meghan Trainer often runs through my head, especially this verse:
Gonna wake up every day like it’s Christmas
Gonna celebrate this life I’m given
From now on (From now on)
Gonna tell my mother every day I love her
And tell her, “Thanks for being such a good mother”
From now on
I’m so thankful to report that so far my dad has been recovering. He hit a turning point a few days ago when he stopped fevering, however he is still weak and short of breath with walking.
He isn’t out of the woods yet, but we are appreciating every moment with him. I don’t have any regrets because I have been, am, and will be doing all that I can, to love my loved ones.
I appreciate that attention was called to what is truly important in life. He even admitted that he learned from this experience to be kinder to himself, as he had still been working overnight and weekend shifts. But he plans to cut back from now on. After all, wealth is not worth sacrificing health for.
ZDoggMD made the perfect song for Advanced Directives. He couldn’t have said it better: “It always seems too soon, until it’s too late. Talk about your end of life wishes now with those you love.”