The Isolation of a Special Needs Family
Having a special needs child is isolating in the best of times, but it’s like living on a deserted island with no way out in the times of a pandemic.
When COVID 19 became a worldwide pandemic situation and our entire country went into lockdown, I was both scared to death and relieved. I was relieved to have my family with me and know that I could keep them safe, but scared that we would reach a point one day that I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. Having a medically fragile child means that you already are always cautious about their health and do everything you possibly can to make sure they stay healthy, because even a common cold becomes an ambulance ride and weeks in the hospital ICU ward.
On top of wanting to keep my child safe, I also worry for myself and my husband’s safety. What happens to Bennett if we’re sick or even hospitalized? Who will take care of him? We are the only two people who know how to care for him and operate his medical equipment. There is no one else who knows how to mix his medicine that comes in powder form. There is no one else who knows how to set him up in his CPAP machine at night, or knows how to get him to eat or take his meds when he doesn’t want to open his mouth. There is no one else who can sense that a seizure is coming on, so we need to get him to a safe place and position him so he doesn’t aspirate. I think that is my biggest worry.
Our community is starting to open up and everyone is over it and ready to get back to “normal.” What is our new “normal”? Maybe it is “normal” for a special needs family, since we are ALWAYS concerned about illness, since a cold virus can be life-threatening. When my 6 year old came home from school last winter with RSV, I bought him a mask to wear in hopes of not spreading it to Bennett or the new baby, but it was so contagious, that they all ended up with it and Bennett won an 18 day stay at the Pediatric ICU. What would COVID do to him? I know that “kids aren’t affected the same way adults are”, but he’s not a typical kid. A typical kid doesn’t end up in an ambulance struggling to breathe because of a cold. I shudder to think about what that virus would do to him.
I also feel loneliness. Isolation. Left out. I’ve been so kindly invited to social events and I love being thought of, but I have to turn them down. Every invite I turn down, I feel like a little chip is chiseled off my friendships and I feel sad. I watch on social media as people are at the beach, restaurants, parties, weddings, parks, happy hours, and “feeling normal again!” I feel pangs of envy and think how that won’t be us for a very long time. I could never forgive myself if I got sick and passed it to Bennett.