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Column: What life was like when my mom had COVID-19

April 16, 2020
State News reporter Jayna Bardahl poses with her parents, Richard Bardahl and Mariellen Bardahl. Photo courtesy Jayna Bardahl.
State News reporter Jayna Bardahl poses with her parents, Richard Bardahl and Mariellen Bardahl. Photo courtesy Jayna Bardahl. —

My family did not binge-watch "Tiger King." We watched the first episode on our couch one night, finding comedic relief in Joe Exotic, but that’s as far as we would get for a while.

The next morning, my mom woke up with a 102.5 degree fever and a headache that left her screaming in pain. My mom, an active 50-year-old who you would never even know left college when she visits me, had COVID-19.


For the next two weeks, no day seemed to get any better than the last, and they all went something like this:

10 a.m. — Wake up. Sometimes this wake-up call would come earlier than 10 a.m. at the sound of my mom crying out from her pounding headache. I’d want to help, but I knew I was no match to the virus and nothing I could do would ease the attack it was throwing at my mom's body.

11 a.m. — After my first Zoom lecture, where I would act like everything was all normal and like I had all this extra time on my hands, I’d check on mom. I’d walk about halfway down the long hallway that leads to her bedroom and call out to her, “How are you feeling today?”

I never really got an answer. Some days she would still be sleeping, others she would murmur through her pillows words I could barely understand. But it wasn’t like a flu or a cold where her symptoms would ease at certain times of the day. It was a constant feeling of defeat, pain and weakness and no matter what murmur she left me with, it always meant those feelings.

Noon to 3 p.m. — These hours were the hardest, as they were the ones where my dad and I were most busy with remote work, and we didn’t have much time to check up on her.

One day she told us she had fainted on her way to the bathroom. She said she got out of bed and the next thing she remembered was waking up on the tile floor no more than six feet away. Neither my dad nor I had known this.

5 p.m. — Dinner time. A time when I saw my friends’ families coming together, cooking fun quarantine meals and playing board games. In my family, my mom's dinner table turned into a wooden tray she could place on her lap in bed.

As a small family of three, my dad or I would make dinner every night. We’d put my mom's meal on her tray and bring it to her room, leaving it at the foot of her bed. We’d leave the room and immediately lather ourselves in our homemade hand sanitizer, since the stores were running low, to avoid spreading the virus from my mom's bedroom-turned-hospital-room to anywhere else in the house. But every time we left her room, we knew there was a chance.

Watching how this virus attacked my mom proved no amount of hand sanitizer could stop its rage once it caught a grip on your body.

Later that night, we’d go back for the tray, which was usually not even half eaten, to disinfect it and to wash her dishes for the next day.

10 p.m. — Mom goes to sleep. She told me she hated sleeping during these weeks. She said she was scared of sleeping, scared of how she would feel when she woke up the next morning. Those short hours of no pain were nothing compared to the pain she would feel when she woke up, the screaming headache that became my new alarm.

This went on for two weeks straight, with no break whatsoever. There was never a day when her headache went away, or her fever went down or she moved from her bed even the slightest.

It was not a cold where she just felt “under the weather,” or a flu where her symptoms gradually crept up on her, giving at least some time to prepare and gulp down Vitamin C. She was fine until she was bedridden and the sickest she had ever been.

As her symptoms lightened, she started to move around more, still confined to her bedroom. She tried to fold her laundry, but couldn’t finish. She had to stop midway through and take a nap, her arms too tired from the movement we all consider so simple.

Flash forward a couple weeks, and life has started to get back to normal, or at least the twisted kind of normal we have nowadays. Mom has been symptom-free for about three weeks now and is in the process of being cleared to go back to work as a nurse at a local hospital. She wants to “save other lives,” she says.

We eat dinner at the table together and have finally finished "Tiger King."

We will celebrate my mom’s birthday this Friday, and it will indeed be a celebration. One for my mom and for our family and the fact that we can be together, eat together and spend time together instead of the hallway-long conversations we had just weeks ago.

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