Caregiver Log: Typhoid Mary

I know people are bored with staying home in the wake of COVID-19. I know people are rightfully concerned about employment, bills, money, the economy. As I walk the grocery aisles, many are clearly too afraid and others not afraid enough. But in the midst of this pandemic, I am also preparing for the end of life care of my mother, who has acute leukemia.

‘Asymptomatic’ is what scares me.

Staring in 1900, a woman by the name of Mary Mallon, also known as ‘Typhoid Mary’, cooked for affluent families in NYC and infected them with typhoid fever. She carried typhoid bacteria in her gall bladder and was asymptomatic- meaning she showed no symptoms but carried the disease. She would always leave her employers shortly after outbreak and move onto the next family. She is believed to have infected 51 people, 3 of whom died.

COVID-19 is known to infect people who never show symptoms of the disease- but are just as contagious.

I am as healthy as a horse and am rarely sick. Over Christmas, I caught a terrible cold that steadily worsened until one morning I woke up with a painful cough and ended my vacation a day early without saying goodbye. I practiced social distancing, I washed my hands, covered my cough, and no one in my family caught that virus. That cold virus could have killed my mother when her immune system was more intact than it is now.

My stress levels have been running high. I moved into a new condo last week, drove from MN to IL to set-up my remote workspace in my sister’s home, and started working half time in order to be available to help my mom. I am scared that I will become sick and not know it, infect my family, and hasten her death. Do you want to live with the knowledge that you killed your mother or your brother or your lover?

Me either.

I have heard the offhanded remark about how COVID-19 is only affecting the big cities. Why should downstate Illinois be put under lock-down because of Chicago? And the answer can be found in the average age of the populations of small towns. Rural communities’ percent of population over age 65 is increasing. When (not if) COVID-19 arrives in small town America, it will be devastating, and the nearest hospital will be 30 minutes away.

COVID-19 has no agenda, no politics, no bias, no borders. It finds the host, ravages their lungs, and moves onto the next.

I am sorry people are bored but voluntary quarantine is saving lives. We are at the beginning of this epidemic and I already see the impatience, the lasting consequence of our instant gratification society. When the resolution of this pandemic takes longer than people think it should, the restlessness will set in. If those who die of this disease remain faceless and nameless, some may come to disbelieve its seriousness and demand an end.

And if you are of the mind that the world needs a population reduction or that this disease isn’t a big deal because it kills old people- FUCK YOU.

The suffering is always more palatable when it happens to someone else.

I want to thank every person who is doing their part to slow the expansion of this disease and allow lives to be saved. Hand washing, social distancing, and self-quarantine when sick are making a real difference. It allows me to shop for groceries for my mother with less anxiety.

I get to keep my mom another day.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2020

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