The thread of rapid test photos, daily symptom reports and deep dives into possible treatments for his son’s sore throat, congestion and fatigue prompted ferocious dogpiling on the good doctor. The ribbing would have been funny if it didn’t elicit immediate empathy for a father who has seen the worst of COVID illness. Every parent worries about their child, even if they process population-level risks intellectually.
We have been hounded into precautionary practices for 22 months now. While many have begun to smirk at the theater of wiping down pens and doing fever checks, when Covid comes home to roost all bets are off. Most parents convey an outward appearance of courage – it’s a cold, he’s young and strong, she’s fine – but inwardly they’re counting the days. Everyone knows that day 7 is the day.
Parents who have lost a loved one to Covid or any other tragedy in the last two years are particularly sensitized to risk. They are primed for protection-mode and will do anything to minimize risks which are within their perceived purview. They’ll be more likely to advocate for testing, masks, and longer quarantines. They want the option for virtual school, at least during surges. They are ok with vaccine mandates and rare adverse events, preferring not to do the math on vax versus virus. Vaccination is something we can do to offset virus-driven risks.*
Risk is a personal palette. I don’t wear makeup, but if I know that foundations come in a palette customized to my complexion. People will respond better to risks that are perceived to be within their control. A father who has lost his wife to an autoimmune disorder enjoys the privilege of flying with his only child because that is a celebration of LIFE. He wants to share his joys with his son, even if he knows intellectually that the risks of flying in a small plane outpace his son’s risk at school during a COVID surge. That is his privilege as a parent. This is a courageous and introspective person who is choosing a set of risks because they confer value to him and his family. My sons play ice hockey, a sport which was wrecked with grief last week as a young man died in a collision on ice. The rhythms of life bring both joy and grief. These are tradeoffs that we have made for all time.
As we emerge from one surge, and consider the possibility that surge after surge awaits us, we should probably consider the notion that an investment in developing options compatible with a wide range of risk palettes is the only way forward. We may need to direct funding to a standing option for virtual vs in-person schooling for parents who have been traumatized by the pandemic. We absolutely must make health care universally accessible, and why not make school a hub for wellness – intellectual and physical? Could we embed mental health care options at school as well? Honestly, many of our family’s mental health challenges are triggered by power struggles over homework, grades and communication deficits.
The Covid response continuum is not binary. People will emerge in time and drop their fear-laden baggage at their own appointed times. This process cannot be rushed. I once thought that the curtains would be closed at the “end” of the pandemic. It is now clear that the “end” is defined person by person. Human connections that provide healing to the psyche are the way forward. Oddly, this may require people with very DIFFERENT risk perceptions to reach out to each other. When my son is sick, I don’t turn to people who are fearful, I turn to those who appear wildly courageous and informed. I know, intuitively, that I need balance to manage the next week or so.
Let’s be that person to each other in our micro-connections. This is the only way forward.
*Note: Vaccination saves lives, even young lives, but the interval between doses and the decision to boost or not is one that should be informed by unique personal and household risks in consultation with a trusted health care provider.