Opening up after lockdown came with excitement but varying levels of fear. Working in perinatal mental health, I talk to people every day experiencing re-entry anxiety, and my own worry was increasing too.
My Dad is 84 years old and has a raft of health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My 77-year-old Mum is in great shape – she plays golf a few times a week – but her age makes her vulnerable.
They’re both double-vaccinated and live in an independent Canberra retirement village. My three kids are all aged under 12 and therefore not yet able to be vaccinated. My nine-year-old daughter has had multiple bouts of pneumonia and bronchial infections.
The uncertainty of what COVID might look like for my parents (and parents-in-law) and my kids was scary. And then my elderly parents, who had done everything to protect themselves since this pandemic began, caught COVID.
And, unknowingly, my unvaccinated kids and I, together with my sister and brother-in-law, spent several hours with them while they were infected (my husband, luckily for him, was out on a mountain bike ride). All the adults were double-vaccinated.
We think Dad caught it in a hospital waiting room. He had a blood nose that wouldn’t stop and couldn’t wear a mask as he was trying to stem the flow.
He got home early on Thursday morning. My sister and I arranged to visit them on Friday afternoon. There was wine and whiskey, there was a lazy susan with cheese and pate and crackers, and there was tons of love.
I asked my kids to show Grandad lots of love as he had been through a tough time, feeling the need to hold our precious Dad and Grandad a little closer.
On Saturday, Mum rang and said he was a little worse for wear. By Sunday, Mum thought it best for him to get a test, just in case. On Monday morning, the news came through that he had COVID.
My three sisters and I and our partners and kids were horrified. Exposing Dad to COVID was the worst-case scenario. His age and health made him a sitting duck.
My sister in Melbourne, an ICU nurse, went into overdrive monitoring his symptoms and directing his healthcare. My eldest sister, living in Nanjing, felt helpless and so very far away. In Canberra, my sister and I, together with her husband and my kids, went for testing and then into 14 days of quarantine.
We braced for the worst. If people walking past each other in a Bondi mall could catch it, we had surely been infected. Mum returned a positive test on Tuesday morning. She described flu-like symptoms but said it wasn’t too bad.
And then … the worst didn’t happen. Despite sitting at a table with them for a few hours sharing food, everyone tested negative.
Dad spent a bit of time in hospital getting monitored, but this was more of a precaution due to his heart. Mum and Dad’s oxygen levels remained good. They were up and down over several days, but they were able to stay home and manage their symptoms with Panadol and Nurofen.
Critically, they had each other for emotional support. The incredibly helpful and supportive staff at their retirement village (and the local IGA) made sure everything they needed was delivered to their door. Friends and family checked in on them constantly and delivered meals and treats.
Their daughters, sons-in-law, 10 grandchildren (and two great-grandchildren) rang constantly and kept them entertained with Facetime and videos. We waited.
And now, a week after the initial infection, they’re struggling with coughing and exhaustion and flu-like symptoms. They’re definitely not out of the woods, so this is not a tale of recovery and triumph (yet). This is a tale of a canary down a coal mine.
If Mum and Dad weren’t vaccinated, their lives would have been at risk. If they weren’t vaccinated, they would have been more infectious and posed a greater threat to my vulnerable children.
If my sister, my brother-in-law and I weren’t vaccinated, we would have had a much greater chance of being infected and passing it on to colleagues, friends and other family members who we all spent time with over that weekend.
My sister, a midwife, working in a maternity birthing suite, worked two shifts after being exposed. My twin girls had a sleepover with their friend whose Dad is a GP working with vulnerable people. They hung out with a friend whose grandmother is having treatment for cancer. The flow-on effect could have been disastrous.
Vaccines work, and unlike many countries, we’re lucky they’re free and readily available. The worst we have had to deal with is being house-bound and being terribly worried about our parents. Without vaccines, the worst would have been unthinkable.
*Due to sensitivities, Region Media has chosen not to identify the author of this article.