Making the Right Call to Avoid Dangerous Germs in Public
My husband Todd’s lung strength is weak from ALS. He’s gotten sick a few times in the last several years, and each time we wondered if he would pull through. It was scary, and it has caused us to calculate the risk of going out in public or receiving visitors in our home.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, people made an effort to avoid spreading germs. Businesses required masks, and most people stayed home if they were sick. While those efforts didn’t entirely stop the spread of the coronavirus, Todd’s doctor said that last year his clinic saw very few cases of traditional colds or influenza.
Another cold and flu season is upon us, and although some people are still vigilant, I’ve noticed more people coughing in public spaces. I know that a cough can linger after a person is no longer contagious, but I’m leery. Todd recently got his COVID-19 vaccine booster, so we aren’t too worried about him getting really sick from that, but any other bug could still threaten his life.
So what do we do? How do we navigate life with compromised lung function in a world of germs? What risks are worth taking?
We both agree that we don’t want ALS to take more of our kids’ childhood than it already has. They need socialization and in-person classroom instruction, so they attend public school and participate in extracurricular activities. When one of them gets a cold, Todd quarantines in his bedroom and office, and I serve him his meals away from the household germs.
Since Todd can’t sleep independently and I can’t do without uninterrupted sleep and still provide care for him, we take the risk of having caregivers in our home. We have a strict policy that they should cancel if they have any cold or flu symptoms, and the same applies to friends and family. We like having visitors, so we are willing to risk the germs to see people we love as long as they are symptom-free.
I assess the risk of Todd or me heading out into the public more carefully. How crowded is a space likely to be? What is the culture of the venue we are considering? How likely is it that people with colds will show up?
We used to like getting out to a few hockey games every year, but after our last experience nearly two years ago, when a college student coughed openly on Todd, I’ve decided that sporting events with throngs of excited young adults probably isn’t worth the risk.
We attended our daughter’s school band and choir concert last week. I didn’t hear anyone coughing, and I was glad Todd got to attend.
Last weekend, my daughter and I attended a performance of “The Nutcracker.” I thought it would be relatively safe because the theater has strict COVID-19 mitigation policies, but we were seated a few seats away from someone with a bag of throat lozenges who kept coughing and drinking water. We moved farther away from her at intermission. Maybe she just had a lingering cough and wasn’t contagious, but it made me nervous.
At church on Sunday, Todd and I sat with our son in the back, behind the last row of seats. A handful of people coughed occasionally during the service. “Is the coughing concerning to you? Should we leave?” I whispered to Todd. He shook his head, but he did leave the sanctuary before the closing song was finished so that he could beat the crowd.
Part of me just wants to hibernate. If Todd gets sick, that might be it, but he wants to get out of the house while he still can. I want to make the most of his remaining time with us without shortening it. It’s hard to know what the right call is.
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