Like every other mother in the U.S., keeping my children safe from COVID-19 has been top of mind since March, but it wasn’t until my 7-year-old daughter, Iliana, contracted the virus last November that my perspective of the virus—and our family changed in profound, positive ways. Here’s our story of COVID-19, what I learned and what I’m grateful for.
In November, I picked up my children, Gabby and Iliana, from school. Iliana put on her seatbelt, slumped into her car seat and rested her head on the window.
“Did you have a long day at school?” I asked, half-joking, wondering if maybe she really did have a busy, jam-packed day of second grade or maybe she was down because she had a tiff with a friend on the playground. “Yes,” she mumbled under her breath and remained quiet the rest of the ride home.
When my kids come home from school, they almost always ask for a snack yet to my surprise, Iliana didn’t have an appetite. For a kid who will eat a piece of fruit any time of the day, I knew something wasn’t right.
We decided to take out the coloring books and crayons and color together before they started their homework, but I could tell Iliana had no interest. She quickly colored a page and shoved the paper toward me, as if to say, “there, I did it.”
She then collapsed on the couch and I could tell she wasn’t feeling well. I scooped her up, cradled her in my arms and rocked her like I did when she was a baby.
“Mommy, my chest hurts, my head hurts—I don’t feel well!” she declared.
Little did I know that phrase would be one I would hear over and over for days and as a mom, it felt like nails on a chalkboard.
STARTING TO FEEL SICK
My kids are in elementary school so they’ve had their fair share of colds, viral infections, and the flu and I know what it looks like when they’re sick.
It usually follows the same pattern: a few sniffles, a fever, and feeling run down until they return to their normal, happy selves after a few days.
Even when they had the flu in the winter and fall of 2019, it was rough and it took several days for them to recover, but it was never cause for panic.
So I have to admit that when I realized Iliana wasn’t feeling well, I begrudgingly called the doctor’s office.
In all fairness, this also wasn’t our first foray with COVID-19.
Over the summer, Gabby woke up with a dry cough and because I didn’t want to put our caretaker at risk in case it was COVID-19, I called the doctor, she was tested and the results were negative.
Then, in early October, when my kids had their flu shots and started exhibiting mild, cold-like symptoms two days later, they had to be pulled out of school and get tested for COVID-19. They were negative.
In the beginning of November, the threat became more real when Gabby was in direct contact with someone at school who tested positive for COVID-19.
I pulled both of my kids out of school, had them tested, and thankfully, they were both negative. Iliana was allowed to return to school but Gabby had to be in quarantine for 2 weeks.
As a result, there was no more soccer, no church, no dance ministry at church, no playdates, no gatherings—nothing.
My husband went to work every day, but he always wears a mask, washes his hands, and practices social distancing.
I went to Target once.
The only place Iliana went was on an outdoor hike and to school.
So by the time she started to have symptoms, it was exactly 2 weeks to the day that Gabby started her quarantine.
After so many months worrying about COVID-19, getting tested, and trying to keep my kids—and the other kids and our community—safe, I knew it was my responsibility to call the pediatrician. After explaining her symptoms, they suggested we come in that night and have her checked out.
A few minutes later, however, Iliana seemed fine. She watched TV with Gabby and I wondered if maybe I had jumped the gun.
About an hour later at the doctor’s office, Iliana said she had a slight sore throat, and Joe, the PA, said her glands were indeed swollen.
He ran a strep test, which came back negative, and also tested her for COVID-19. The results would be back in about 2 days, he explained, so for now we were all back in quarantine.
We went home and Iliana was back to normal. She was happy and hungry. I made a quick pasta for dinner, but instead, she made herself a salad and devoured it. She’s absolutely fine, I thought.
COVID-19? NO, IT MUST BE A MISTAKE
The next morning, Iliana felt fine and logged into her Zoom session for school. Yet around 11 am, she crashed on the couch and complained that she didn’t feel well. Within an hour or so, she felt fine again and finished up school.
The next day was much of the same.
My kids dressed up in their Little House on The Prairie costumes and played outside for most of the day.
At around 2 pm, I hadn’t heard from the doctor’s office and decided to log into the patient portal—in my mind, to pull up Iliana’s negative COVID-19 test results so she could go back to school on Monday.
I logged in, clicked on the “lab” tab, and in red letters next to COVID-19, read POSITIVE.
I stared at my computer screen in shock. How could she be positive?! I thought. It must be an administrative mistake. The office is going to call me and tell me it’s an error.
Again, the only place Iliana had been was at school and on a hike.
Could it be that one of us had COVID-19, been asymptomatic, and passed it onto Iliana? Sure, it’s possible.
Did she pick it up at school? Yes, that was also a possibility.
Then an image flashed in my mind: on Wednesday, the night before Iliana started to experience symptoms, she sat next to me, planted her lips on my cheek, and continued to kiss me over and over like she always does. I’m totally going to get it, I thought.
As a Christian, I’ve been reading many of the Bible verses about worry and anxiety this past year such as:
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
—1 Peter 5:7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”—Philippians 4:6-7
Despite what I knew to be the truth—that God was in control and I shouldn’t worry— I started to panic.
I also worried about Gabby getting the virus. My kids are inseparable, share a bedroom, and were playing together all day.
Gabby also has asthma and a heart condition. Both her allergist and cardiologist assured me in March that if she were to contract the virus, she would be fine, but I was still worried.
My next thought: What if I do get COVID-19?
As a mom with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and health anxiety, I often have an ache or pain and think: I have cancer.
In my mind, if I did get COVID-19, it would be one of my worst fears come true.
Not only did I not want to get sick but I worried if I did, how would I care for my kids?
I called the girls in from outside and told them to sit down—just like in the movies, as if they would faint when they heard the news.
“Iliana, you have COVID. You both need to get your masks on and separate.”
They were in just as much shock as I was and immediately put their masks on.
Then the phone rang. It was Joe, the PA from the pediatrician’s office who I trust and like so much, I request him for my daughters’ well visits.
He confirmed that Iliana was indeed positive for COVID-19.
He explained our quarantine periods—Gabby wouldn’t be able to return to school for more than 2 weeks.
He said that since Iliana’s symptoms seemed to be mild—or even nonexistent at that point—we should expect that new symptoms wouldn’t surface.
Still, we should isolate her in a separate room and have her use a separate bathroom. Whew, what a relief, I thought.
COVID-19 ISN’T THE FLU
That night, the girls ate dinner sitting at opposite ends of the dining room table. I cleaned the bathrooms and sprayed the house with disinfectant sanitizing spray.
Iliana felt fine and was acting like the normal, happy kid she is.
The next morning, however, all that changed. I woke up to her calling me from the guest room down the hall, “Mommy?! I don’t feel good!”
Three days later and the symptoms that weren’t supposed to show up were now in full effect. She had a headache, felt dizzy, was achy throughout her body, and had chest pain.
She also had hot flashes and sweat so much that I’d open up all the windows and put the ceiling fan on. Then a few minutes later she was back to normal.
Unlike the flu, she could sit up in bed but she felt too sick to leave it unless she needed to use the bathroom.
She watched TV and what felt like every 5 or 10 minutes, yelled out, “Mommy?! I don’t feel good!”
Her condition became progressively worse throughout the week. On Monday morning, she woke up and asked, why is my head shaking?
Sure enough, it was shaking back and forth as though she had tremors. As the day went on, it became less noticeable but it was still concerning.
The nurse from the provider’s office checked in and left a note for the other PA.
Later in the day, they told us to come in and have Iliana checked out. Her lungs were clear and her heart was fine. She didn’t have a fever and her vitals were normal.
The tremor? “Just” COVID-19, the PA explained.
To my surprise, day after day went by and Iliana wasn’t improving much at all.
I knew she didn’t feel well but I also knew it couldn’t be good for her to be in bed all day either.
I desperately tried to get her outside, even if it was just for 5 minutes to get some sunlight and fresh air but five minutes was about all she could handle.
She wasn’t lethargic like she was when she had the flu. She could sit up and her appetite was more voracious than ever before. I felt like a waitress working the dinner rush, walking up and down the stairs, bringing her omelets, cinnamon toast, fruit, almond milk, and homemade cookies.
I’ve written about how my kids eat sardines, lentils, and Brussels sprouts, and why it’s important to model healthy eating habits, but now it was all about comfort food. Whatever she wanted to eat, I served it up.
As the days went by, her declarations of “I don’t feel well,” became less frequent, but now they were mixed in with fits and thrashing about.
She would throw pillows, and throw herself around the bed in utter frustration.
Several times, I picked her up in my arms and put her in a warm bubble bath to calm her down and get her mind off how bad she felt.
We tried Motrin, then switched to Tylenol, for the aches and pain in her chest, but nothing worked.
Every night, I sat in her bed, played Bible scripture lullabies, and stroked her head until she fell asleep.
COVID-19 LONG HAULERS
The day before Thanksgiving, the pain in Iliana’s chest worsened. I called the pediatrician’s office and they said she should come in to be seen.
The PA checked her again and said her heart was fine and her lungs were clear. I said to her “if this was your kid, what would you do?”
She explained she would wait a few days, but in case it worsened, she put in an order for an EKG for Friday.
On Thanksgiving, Iliana came downstairs to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but after half an hour or so, she was back in bed.
She ate dinner in her room, while my husband, Gabby, and I ate dinner socially distanced downstairs. As I ate the stuffing my sister-in-law dropped off, my heart sank.
Iliana’s condition stayed the same throughout much of the weekend. On Sunday, she seemed to have improved. She walked around outside and enjoyed the sunlight. We put up the Christmas tree and she and Gabby decorated it.
By Sunday afternoon, however, she was back in bed.
On Monday, she tried to participate in distance learning but only lasted a few hours before she was back in bed.
At her follow-up appointment the next day, I said to Joe, are we missing something?
By this point, it had been 12 days since she first experienced symptoms and I was growing concerned that something was wrong with her heart. Research suggests COVID-19 may lead to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), another condition that can also affect the heart.
Joe checked her out and again, her lungs were clear and her heart was normal. He said, however, that for “long haulers” like her, it was best to have an EKG and see a cardiologist once I was out of quarantine and they would allow me to bring her into the office.
Every day, I prayed fervently. I asked the Lord to heal Iliana. I’ve never laid hands on anyone but I felt compelled to as I prayed. Please Lord, remove this virus from her body. Please, help her to feel better.
One night, as she was trying to fall asleep, Iliana asked, “Why isn’t God healing me? He can do anything.” I suggested maybe he was helping other people. To which she replied, but he’s God, he can do everything at once.
I explained to her that yes, He’s working on it but maybe he’s trying to teach us something during this time. He will use everything for His good, I explained.
Although I knew God was with us and He would heal her, there were times I asked, why aren’t you healing her? Why is this taking so long?
PERSISTENT COVID-19 CHEST PAIN
Two weeks after Iliana’s first symptoms appeared, she complained that the pain in her chest had worsened. Then, the next morning when she woke up, she said, “Mommy, it hurts so bad, it feels like a million men are pounding on my chest.”
I called the pediatrician’s office and within 20 minutes, Joe called me back. He asked me about her symptoms and said we should drive to the children’s hospital emergency room which is an hour away in Hartford, CT.
The entire way there, I prayed and surrendered my daughter to the Lord.
Although I had intense anxiety and tried to do everything in my power to help her get better the past few weeks, I realized nothing was ever in my control, everything was in His.
I felt His presence but I still feared. I feared it was something serious. I feared I might lose her and begged Him not to take her from me.
I went over and over in my head the events over the past two weeks:
Had her providers missed something? Should we have done something earlier?
When we arrived at the ER and were given a room, Iliana’s eyes welled up and I could see she was scared.
I prayed with her, talked to her about the tests the doctors were going to do, and reassured her that nothing would hurt and I would be with her the entire time. Her fear lifted.
We saw several doctors throughout the day. They did an ultrasound, an EKG, and an x-ray. They listened to her heart and her lungs and gave her Motrin.
Everything was normal and they explained her symptoms were typical of other kids they had seen with COVID-19.
The doctor pointed to the dark circles under Iliana’s eyes and explained that her body was still working through the virus.
If the pain worsened, or there were new symptoms, however, they said we should return to the ER, but for now, all we could do was wait.
COVID-19 IN KIDS ISN’T ALWAYS MILD
While Iliana was sick, my friend’s son was also diagnosed with COVID-19 and his symptoms were mild: low-grade fever, congestion, and fatigue—very much in line with what we’ve been hearing on the news and from researchers.
New research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that COVID-19 cases in children have exceeded 2 million, making up 12.4% of total cases in the U.S. and most of the cases are mild.
When it comes to more severe cases, the CDC states that some children can be seriously ill, may have to be hospitalized and in rare cases, may die.
Children who have underlying health conditions have an increased risk for more severe illness. According to one study, 42% of kids hospitalized with COVID-19 had one or more underlying health conditions.
Iliana doesn’t have any underlying health conditions and although she wasn’t hospitalized, she continued to have chest pain and feel run down more than 4 weeks after being diagnosed.
We recently followed up with a cardiologist and although she still has soreness in her chest, thankfully, there are no concerns about myocarditis.
NO ONE IS IMMUNE TO COVID-19
To date, there have been 19.9 million cases of COVID-19 and the death toll has passed 344,000.
Although I knew the threat was real, and I knew people who had been diagnosed with the virus, I never thought it would affect my family.
And like I mentioned, the only place Iliana had been in the two weeks before being diagnosed was at school and on an outdoor hike.
With each new case in our school district, we were told that the cases were occurring because of community transmission—activities where safety protocols weren’t being followed, at playdates and social gatherings.
Yet that wasn’t our story and it’s something I communicated to the school district. Don’t get me wrong—I think our school district has done everything right when it comes to protecting the kids in school but kids can be asymptotic and still spread the virus. It’s still anyone’s guess where she contracted it and we’ll never know.
THE BLESSINGS OF COVID-19
As you can imagine, caring for my 7-year-old day after day while she yelled “Mommy, I don’t feel well!” and knowing there was nothing I could do about it, tore me apart. If I could somehow transfer her illness into my own body, I would have.
While I never would have wished for her to get COVID-19, and I could have done without feeling severe anxiety every day, there were many blessings that came from her illness and from the Lord.
Gabby was worried and felt sad too, but with all of my focus on Iliana, Gabby was forced to become more independent. She didn’t have her playmate and she didn’t have my attention as much, so she had to play more on her own.
She also tried to help me out more, and spend time with her sister (on the other side of the room, mask on). Of course, being on distance learning for 5 weeks also helped her mature a lot.
Another blessing of Iliana’s diagnosis was that despite how physically, mentally, and emotionally draining it was, my daughters and I became so much closer. It was all hands on deck and we came together for Iliana, for our family. We learned about each other and became more empathic towards each other.
I also have gained confidence in myself that no matter what life throws at me, I can handle it.
When you go through challenging times in life, you also find out a lot about other people.
I had family and friends who checked in on us frequently, if not every day, brought us meals, and ran errands. My mom, who is elderly and at risk for COVID-19, was ready to hop on a plane to help out.
My friends prayed with me and prayed for our family. I’m also grateful to Joe, the PA, who was always a consummate professional, but above all else, a human being who truly cares for his patients.
I certainly won’t claim that I had an unshakeable faith during this time. I felt the Lord’s presence every day. I knew he was working, I knew he was with us.
Whether it was my blood type or sheer luck, I know the Lord protected me and our family from contracting COVID-19.
Still, there were many what if’s and worries. In addition to asking questions, advocating for my daughter, and taking care of her as best I could, I did all I could do and that was pray. My faith has become stronger as a result.
Iliana’s pain is gone, the dark circles have disappeared, and she is back to her healthy, happy self.
She’s only 7, but I hope this ordeal has made her stronger and made her realize that God was with her every moment and He healed her. She certainly will never forget this time in her life.
Recently during online church, one of the worship leaders shared something that resonated with me and something I think the Lord placed on my heart. He said:
“Going into 2021, we want to make that choice to give thanks in every circumstance, it’s not necessarily giving thanks for every circumstance.”