It’s been a little over 20 years since I last saw or spoke to Saratogian Will (he asked that I not publish his last name), and I wish the phone call I just placed to him, as a journalist, was under different circumstances. A little background: Will and I both graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1998, and had been friendly for a bunch of years beforehand—despite the fact that Will was, without question, the most formidable pitcher I ever faced in the years I spent playing Little League baseball. I mean, there was Brian Hackett—certainly, a flamethrower in his own right—but whenever I faced Will, I always felt my knees buckle. He would fire in strikes before I even had a second to think about swinging the bat. (It’s possible that he and I were on the same team at some point, so I would’ve had a brief reprieve in the batter’s box, but I honestly can’t remember.) Eventually, Will would go on to play two years of college ball at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and then, two more at the University at Albany, before blowing out his shoulder senior year of college. That injury got him interested in sports medicine, and life eventually brought him to the Chicago area in 2005. He currently lives in Hinsdale, IL, about 20 minutes southwest of Chicago, where he’s director of business development at Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy in Libertyville, IL. He’s the father of a four-year-old boy and two-year-old identical twin sons, so he’s got his hands full.
Like most of my friends from high school, whose lives have taken them to disparate parts of the country/world, the only way to stay in touch with them has really been Facebook. And Will had been active on the platform this past week for not-so-uplifting reasons. I first noticed his videos on March 28 and assumed they were some sort of comic meme; Will always had a great sense of humor. (In ninth grade English class, we were paired on a project to create a fantasy world we, of course, dubbed Willy World.) But then I started reading the comments on his videos, and it became clear that it wasn’t a joke at all. A worst case scenario was unfolding in real time: One of his two-year-old twin sons had been experiencing shortness of breath, a bad cough and fever—the tell-tale symptoms of COVID-19—and Will had had to bring him to an urgent care, miles away from where he lived, to get tested. This was on Friday, March 27. The doctors there had then sent [my son] directly to the hospital to get the COVID-19 test. Will’s last video is raw with emotion and frankly, hard to watch. “[My son is] on oxygen, IV fluids, they’ve given him steroids,” Will says, fighting back tears. “He’s tested negative for the flu, he’s tested negative for RSV [Respiratory Syncytial Virus], so now, because of everything that’s going on, we have to wait until tomorrow morning to get the results of a COVID-19 test. Until then, we are all under quarantine.”
Below, Will explains his five-day ordeal in his own words.
Which one of your sons is the one who you think has been infected by COVID-19?
Well, thankfully, we just got a text from a physician that [my son] tested negative for COVID-19. I’m filling a prescription for him now, and am sitting in the parking lot, trying to fight back tears and compose myself, because the stuff we’re seeing is just crazy. My son was sent home; he was just well enough that they could say, you can go home, confident that in the next 24 or 48 hours, he was not going to have a regression that would require us to go back to the emergency room. They needed the [hospital] bed!
Can you give me an idea of what the last several days have been like for your family?
It started [on March 25] like anything, with a sick kid. [By March 27,] he was miserable, upset, coughing, and any other time, panic would’ve never run through my head. I would’ve been, like, let’s give him some medicine, water, do an extra nap today. No big deal. But with the current situation, we immediately ran to “Oh my god, did he get exposed?” That was our primary concern right off the bat, and then from there, of course, our imaginations can run wild, where it’s like, “Holy crap, he’s been exposed to his grandparents, who are in their 60s; we’re now exposed,” so immediately, we went into full-on lockdown mode, while his condition continued to get worse. And as his condition got worse, our imaginations continued to get the better of us to where now it’s like, “We need to get [him to a doctor] immediately.”
But here’s the problem: You can’t just take him in to see anybody. There are no urgent cares, walk-in hours; it’s got to be by appointment only. So, we’ve got this sick kid, and the earliest we were able to get him in was 3pm at an urgent care center miles away from where we are. And the only reason we were able to get him in was I had to call in a favor. I had to call a physician friend of mine and say, “Look, I’ve got a sick kid here, and I don’t know what’s going on. Can you help us?” That’s how we were able to get him in, and from there, within five minutes, they were like, “We’re sending you to the emergency room.” When we got to the emergency room, he was immediately put in isolation—and I couldn’t go [see him]. Because the second they made the determination that he needed to go to the ER—that there’s something more going on—we immediately had to go into lockdown. At 11:30pm, [my son’s] mom called me and said, “This might be my last phone call; there’s no phone chargers, I can’t leave the room. Can you bring one over to the hospital?” I called the nurses’ station and said, “Hey, look, I need to bring a phone charger over to the hospital.” The nurse said, “Do not set foot on our premises. Stay home, and if your son is in isolation, that means that you’ve probably been exposed.” We’ve been on full quarantine [since]. The only reason I’m out right now is to fill a prescription [for my son], and I’m out because we just got the negative COVID-19 test.
Obviously, you’re out and about now. Normally, you wouldn’t be outside anyway, right?
First off, no. But I’m sitting in the grocery store parking lot right now. I dropped off the prescription and I left, because there were probably 30 people waiting out front of the Walgreens trying to get in at 8:59am. But here’s the problem: I’m sitting in my car waiting, and I see one guy walk out with a case of Coca-Cola, another woman walks out with one roll of aluminum foil, another guy was walking out with a carton full of deodorant. This is the problem. I’m not seeing people walk out of here with cartfuls of groceries. They’re walking out with [an] “Oh, I needed nutmeg for this recipe I saw on TV” sort of mentality. And this is why we’re not “flattening the curve.” This is why. I’m out, as an absolute necessity, to get a prescription for my kid. But I’m watching these people…yep, there’s another guy right now. He’s walking out with a case of Lacroix, a thing of paper towels, and that’s it.
The point of the [Facebook] videos that I put up was people need to understand that if you’re showing any signs of respiratory illness or distress, to the point where you need medical care or to see a doctor, this is how they’re going to treat you. I continue to try to urge people to just stay home. Don’t go anywhere, don’t leave your home unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is the reason when my kid gets sick, any other day, we wouldn’t have panicked. As parents, we never would’ve thought twice about it; we would’ve followed the same exact steps, but there would’ve been no panic. I haven’t slept in two days, and I haven’t seen my other two sons in two days.
This is the process and the protocols, and people need to be aware of what’s going to happen to them. Because I think people still don’t understand the severity of it; there’s still a lot of misinformation out there. I put it this way, and it’s not an original thought: We need to be comfortable with accepting the criticism that we’re overreacting. Because right now, I think there are a lot of people that feel that this quarantine, this shutdown, this shelter-in-place is optional. Or it’s just a suggestion. Not what it needs to be, which is stay in your damned house.
Read the other “What It’s Like” features below: