Lessons Learned
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Lessons Learned

Caring for a family member with COVID-19

On March 17, my 20-year-old daughter Gillian tested positive for the coronavirus. We immediately quarantined her in our home. My husband Brian and I went into isolation as we struggled with the urgent problem of how to care for Gillian while continuing to keep ourselves well. We were up to date regarding the spread of the coronavirus and its symptoms but now we found ourselves struggling to find practical advice about how to take care of someone who became ill.

Together Brian and I devised a game plan that we hoped would limit our exposure while providing our daughter with much needed symptom relief, nutrition, love and care. These are our personal tips — they have not been medically approved or come with a “you won’t get sick too” guarantee. These are simply our lessons learned, shared in the hope of helping the countless other people mired and overwhelmed in a situation like ours.

The first thing that we did was to quarantine Gillian in her bedroom and give her exclusive use of a bathroom nearby. Preparing for 14 days of quarantine and isolation (at a minimum), we knew that we had to put some safe caregiving practices in place. Here’s what we did.

Communicating and connecting: It is emotionally and physically difficult to care for someone you love from a distance. We relied on our cell phones and computers to bridge the gap. As tele-caregivers and tele-parents, we resorted to FaceTime calls to comfort Gilly, assess her condition, respond to her needs and most importantly, to stay connected. The phone and the computer became our lifeline, literally.

Symptom tracking: From the very start we knew that it was important to stay on top of Gillian’s illness as it progressed. We had multiple conversations with her doctor who often needed to know the length and severity of her symptoms. We kept a daily digital diary on our cellphones with input from Gilly. In addition, we noted her temperature and when she took over-the-counter medications for symptom relief. These details are important, whether you track them electronically or opt for the low-tech solution, pen and paper.

Quarantine central: To keep Gillian isolated yet with some degree of independence, we stockpiled her room with self-care items. Supplies included boxes of tissues, a roll of paper towels, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, disposable gloves and masks, a large pitcher for water (hydration is a must) and garbage bags. In addition, we gave her a small hand bell that we had in the house. If she was too tired to call us or coughing very hard, we wanted her to be able to quickly let us know that she needed us.

Room service: To avoid having to go into Gillian’s room to serve her, we set up a small end table in front of her door. We placed her meals on the table and went downstairs. Gilly opened the door when we weren’t nearby. She brought the food into her room and closed the door. Wearing a mask and gloves, Brian or I would wipe down the table and the doorknob to her room with disinfectant following each meal.

To further minimize potential viral exposure from Gillian’s dishes, we served her on disposable paper plates, with paper cups and plastic utensils. After she was done eating, Gilly could throw them away in the trash bag in her room. When the bag was full, she would tightly close it and place it outside her door. Gloved and masked, we would grab it and carry it outside immediately to our trash bin.

Staying healthy: Most people already know that hand washing is a key defense against the coronavirus. Brian and I took this recommendation to heart and you should, too. To be effective, the CDC Guidelines say to wash hands with clean water, apply soap, create a lather, then scrub them together for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. Don’t forget to clean between your fingers and under your nails. While it is tempting to be lazy at times and skip doing it, please don’t. Brian and I keep each other honest, constantly asking, “Did you wash your hands?” We credit diligent hand washing for helping us to stay healthy.

This week we reached the 14th-day milestone. Thankfully, Gillian is much better! We knew that she had turned the corner when we heard loud music coming from her room and she started ignoring our texts. What sweet relief!

Our doctor suggested that we extend Gillian’s quarantine for three additional days from the time that she became symptom-free. We can’t wait to spring Gilly from her room — or “house arrest,” as we jokingly call it. We knew that we were a strong and resilient family, but the coronavirus challenged us to be problem solvers and caregivers in the face of great stress and uncertainty. We hope not to repeat this experience — this is one lesson we never want to relearn. PJC

Lisa Lurie is the co-founder of Cancer Be Glammed, a lifestyle company that educates and empowers women recovering from cancer. She lives in Squirrel Hill.

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