My Dad and COVID

I was fortunate. Fortunate that my parents could fund my college tuition, that our health insurance covered most hospital expenses, that my dad made it home alive, and that my family is finally together again. Despite all this I don’t always feel that ‘fortune’. Many things went on behind the scenes that most didn’t know about, like the new responsibilities I didn’t want that forced me to grow up all too quickly.
When my dad first tested positive for COVID, my most pressing problem was that I wouldn’t be able to participate in my high school musical due to being quarantined. I cried about it for hours and felt a stabbing kind of sorrow when I watched the livestream. All the hard work I put in for months had come to nothing. How naïve I was.  
It didn’t take long before breathing issues put Dad in the hospital. COVID pneumonia was an opponent that was quickly winning. So much so that the phrase, ‘lung transplant’ was thrown out within three weeks of that positive result. On Easter Sunday, Mom told us that, and it crossed my mind that this was real and it was getting serious. Still, I was mad that mom wasn’t celebrating Easter with my sister and me. We were left with my aunt, uncle and cousins while she stayed at the hospital. I no longer blame her for wanting to be there with him, but at the time I wished that we could’ve celebrated with at least one parent.
Mom would stay in the hospital with him a lot. This became more frequent when Dad was transferred to UPenn, and mom stayed in Philly with my aunt and uncle for weeks at a time. Em and I couldn’t visit because of the hospital’s restrictions. Plus, someone needed to deal with things at home. A lot of responsibility was left to me, being the oldest child. I would plan meals, take care of the dog, and essentially be a parent to my sister. One time my sister said she saw me as both her sister and mother. She thanked me because she knew she was a lot to deal with sometimes.
I hated so many things about that year. It was my senior year when dad got sick. He missed my 18th birthday, my senior ball, my last orchestra and choir concert, and when I was applying and getting accepted to college. He even missed my first flat tire and my first break up. After he got his transplant and was finally awake, his first memory is of Facetiming me from the hospital when I graduated, while my mom handed me my diploma.
He wasn’t home for my first day of college. He didn’t come home until Labor Day weekend. I had to deal with so much while he was gone and couldn’t process any of it until now because I haven’t had a break since before this all started. I was immediately thrown into college before he was home and had to focus all my energy into school. I struggled a lot in my freshman year because of this. It still isn’t over. We know that any number of complications can happen from receiving a transplant, and I sometimes don’t know how to process that.
The worst thing is that no one thinks to ask me about it. They love to hear about the survivor and the white knight caregiver. But not me and my sister. Not the kids. We’re mentioned in passing if we’re mentioned at all. I understand that our story isn’t sought after because it’s horribly depressing, but it’s one that needs to be heard. People need to hear the ugly truth about what happens to the kids when a parent gets sick.
I wish so badly that I could warn the girl I used to be and tell her that she’s not going to be ready for what comes next. That being quarantined during her spring musical isn’t going to be the worst thing to come. She’s going to have trauma to deal with, and she’s not going to know how to do so. Yes, my dad survived and I’m fortunate for that. I lost a lot though.
I want that innocent little girl back who wanted to be in the spring musical.
Maggie Bressler is a daughter, sister, and student at Lock Haven University who wants to share her experience having a critically ill parent with COVID to promote vaccination and masking.
Published: 7/9/22

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