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Sean Prentiss

Updated: May 23





How are we? We are great.


During this time of isolation, my wife, daughter, and I open our doors and, some days, hike up onto Solstice Mountain to see wildflowers preparing to bloom. Other days, we head to canoes, rowboat, kayaks and paddle our small lake. One of those lake days, we watch three loons fight over territory just thirty feet from our boat.


Warm evenings, we have dinners on our deck. Cold evenings, we eat beside the woodstove, burning hot.


Nights, we listen to owls, loons, and spring peepers each singing their own songs of love and home.


***


But that is just one version of our life.


***


How are we? We are frazzled.


We are two parents furiously working, two parents watching our wild three-year-old girl. We race from job to parenting to job throughout the day: one of us racing after our girl while the other dashes into a video meeting. We try to be physical therapists and professors via computer, a model which mostly fails. It is a sprint to get in enough work hours each day, to finish a work video meeting before our daughter breaks into our offices. We try and fail to keep up with grading, students, paperwork, house work, yard work.


Nights, we fall into sleep shortly after our girl does.


***


But that is just another version of our life.


***


How are we? We are in ruin.


After a short hike, my wife dislocates her ankle (a wonky ankle that has bothered her for decades). Since no doctors or physical therapists are seeing patients during COVID-19, my wife waits until our daughter falls asleep. Then she video chats with another physical therapist many states away. After my wife does a shot of vodka, the other physical therapist teaches me how to relocate my wife’s ankle. She walks me, a damn poet, step-by-step until my wife sinks into the couch just a bit, some of the pain reduced.

Now we are a broken math equation. There are three of us but somehow we become:

· one child,

· two working parents,

· one patient (who cannot see a doctor),

· one budding physical therapist

· and one daycare provider.


***


But that is just another version of our life.


***


How are we? We are saved.


With our lives in disarray and my wife trying to limp through the day, my mom and sister break self-isolation to support us. For us, it’s the only way this family of three can stay afloat. It’s the only way my wife’s ankle can recover. My mother and sister step into danger to save our sinking ship.

We grow into a family of five, which feels glorious during this time of self-isolation, like eating ice cream for dinner. Indulgent.


Evenings, we post pictures to social media of our time on the lake, our time on the mountain, maybe as a reminder that nature cares nothing about COVID-19, maybe as a prayer that we will survive these days, maybe a lie we are sharing that all is normal.


***


But that is just another version of our life.


***


How are we? We are made to feel guilty.


My aunt texts my mother, “Please stop showing pictures of the wonderful times you are having with your granddaughter. Do you have any idea how much this is breaking all of our hearts to not be able to be doing that? Please stop. I’m happy for you, but it’s not fair for us.”


We think every day of people not lucky enough to have space like we have space. We think of apartment dwellers, stacked one on top of the other. We think of suburbanites with no great expanses of space to wander. We know how lucky we are.


***


But that is just another version of our life.


***


How are we? We are terrified.


After her tirade about our social media posts, my aunt also texts, “I hope Jay is healing up.”


Since before most of us worried about COVID-19, my brother had a mild version of the coronavirus. He talked to us of burning lungs and other symptoms while he skied up and down mountains in Crested Butte, Colorado. We knew that even though Crested Butte was overrun with COVID cases, maybe many hundreds or even a few thousand in a county with only ten thousand residents, he would be one of the lucky ones since he was only 49 and a mountain biker, skier, and all-around athlete, the kind of athlete we aspire to be.


One night, his wife raced him to the ER as his breathing deteriorated. Since we were so far away and he was so sick, I do not know what he went through. Maybe it was a sense of drowning, of having your head held underwater. Maybe it felt like a thousand pounds placed upon his lungs. I know it was chills, fevers, his brain “burning,” and a slew of other symptoms that went for horrendous to whatever word is worse than horrendous.

Once at the ER, the doctors told him “If you are not dead, don't go the hospital.” My brother says, “In the span of forty days I saw two doctors in the emergency room. Both sent me home. Both were great. Both helped how they could but told me that if I passed out or if I turned blue in the lips to call 911.”


Since mid-March, he’s been isolated—just my brother, his wife, and his four-year-old son. For forty days, they had no doctors, no nurses, no family—all of us forced to isolate from him due to his (and his wife’s milder) COVID-19 sickness. For 99.9% of his sickness, the only one to help him was his wife. Of her, my brother says, “thank you to all the spiritual beings in all the universe that I have her.”


About this aloneness, Crista responds, “Although we are physically alone, I don’t feel as if I’m on my own. We are surrounded by loving, caring friends and family who have lifted us up. If there is anything we need help with (besides the stuff that requires physical presence), all I need to do is ask.” Crista goes on to mention how their Crested Butte community offered “housing in Denver to oxygen machines literally delivered to our doorstep in Grand Junction” and their larger families are there with so much support. Finally, she mentions that “written words, through email and social media, have given us something to look forward to.”


Though not emotionally isolated, along with being physically isolated, they were not in their Crested Butte home. Not only were they isolated, but they were not home. In the early weeks, they realized that Crested Butte was so high in elevation, nearly 10,000’ above sea level, that they had to leave home with my brother’s breathing failing. For weeks, they stayed at an Airbnb in Grand Junction.


There were weeks in Crested Butte and Grand Junction where my brother says, “I kept the phone open with 911 on it for more nights than I would ever like to think about again.” My brother says, “you feel like you are going to die every second, every minute of every day that you are ill.” He says, “For me it was weeks.” Later, he says, “I no longer feel like I am going to die.” Then he adds, “really, no joke,” so we understand that he felt (or was) thisclose to death.


Being that close to death takes its toll. My brother says, “This virus has attacked my lungs (of course), heart, and, possibly, my liver, and who knows about my brain, kidneys, etc.” He knows this because after forty days fighting this alone, National Jewish Health hospital in Denver, Colorado, offered my brother doctors to see him. He is only starting to learn of what comes next, part of which is moving to Denver to rehab.


Being that close to death makes my brother think about the world of COVID-19 and what we think we know. He says, “My doctors do not understand this virus yet, and they really don't know how to handle it. They all agree on the fact that the statistics, numbers, data, etc. that we are reading, seeing, observing and basing all of our information on are not indicative of the actual situation in this country and around the world.” He adds, “When you read about confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries, you are basically reading nothing. Most of the people I know who have this virus will be unrecorded and not part of any statistic.”


Three people who are excluded from all the statistics are my brother, his wife, and his son, who all had COVID-19 but who never got tested due to a shortness of tests. If you want others who probably had it, I can add two of my best friends, who both had all the symptoms but never could access a test. And each one of those people knows many other people who had COVID-19.


And this lack of knowledge leads my brother to say about the confusion over COVID-19: “The reality is that most people won't get very sick, unless they do get very sick. Most people won't get tested, unless they do get tested. Most people will have antibodies unless, of course, they don't have antibodies.”


He closes out his ongoing fight with COVID-19 with a message of hope: “I'm hoping that any update from here on out is about a bike ride or a ski or a climb or a surf or a family photo … one day. But for now, I can dream and hope to forget about the nightmare.”



How are we?


We are splashing in our mud puddles from our spring rains.


How are we?


We are paddling our lake, gazing upon territorial loons.


How are we?


We are posting pictures of trilliums nearly, ephemerally, in bloom.


How are we?


We are terrified of our mothers and sisters getting sick.


We are terrified of our fathers and stepfathers and stepmothers getting sick.


How are we?


We are terrified of our brother, sick going on fifty days.


Is he finally through the darkness?


If we are that lucky, what does his recovery, if there is one, look like?


How are we?


We are guilty over all our play.


We are guilty over all our work, our paychecks.


We are guilty for our life on this lake, beside this mountain.


How am I?


I am embarrassed that fear kept me sheltering-in-place while my brother was drowning in coronavirus, while his wife was caring for my brother and their son alone. Alone. Alone.


How are we?


To paraphrase my brother, we are hoping and dreaming to forget about this nightmare.


How are you, Karen Hausdoerffer?

What about you, Todd Davis?

And you, Danielle Book?


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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020