Gray Tv

It’ll Never Happen to Me: An Indiana University Junior tells his family’s COVID-19 story

A college student shares an intimate look at what it's like to help care for his father who is currently ill with coronavirus.

By: Lucas Sellem, Special to InvestigateTV

Originally Published: April 4, 2020

ARLINGTON, Virginia – On Saturday, March 7, my parents traveled to Paris for my 13-year-old cousin Noah’s bar mitzvah ceremony, to be held the next day. The party to celebrate the bar mitzvah was on the following Thursday, March 12.

Bar/bat mitzvah parties are very close-knit gatherings filled with friends, family and other loved ones. It is a time to celebrate for families and young adults going through the Jewish coming-of-age process. When I had mine in 2012, my entire family was there. Even my relatives from France including my aunt and uncle, Michelle and Daniel Surman.

March 7: COVID-19 reported in 100 countries, 109,000 infected

When my parents, Bernard and Pam, left for France, the COVID-19 virus was steadily grabbing the attention of the world. I knew that my parents were slightly more at risk for an exposure because they were in Europe where more cases were being reported than in the United States. But I stayed reassured knowing that they were going to be back in the states only a few days later. There was no way that anything would happen to them.

March 16: 181,000 infected worldwide; 4,500 in the United States

On March 16, my parents returned home. When I arrived home on March 18 after my brief spring break trip in Toronto, the total number of cases in the U.S. had doubled in just two days to 10,442.

Later that week, my father got sick. We weren’t sure what it was, so we didn’t want to assume the worst right away. He was extremely fatigued and was coughing throughout each night.

After being bedridden for a couple days, we finally got him tested by his doctor. As we waited for his results, my aunt Michelle from Paris called and informed us that many of the family who attended the bar mitzvah were also sick, including her husband Daniel who had to be hospitalized.

March 25: 79,000 people are infected in the U.S. in all 50 states

When I got up the morning of March 25 to get ready for what surprises our quarantine would bring me that day, my mom told me that my dad had tested positive for COVID-19.

I had to sit down and think about what this meant. What changes were going to come from it and, is my dad okay?

From this moment on, my days in quarantine went from slouching around to making sure that my dad, 69, was stable and had everything he needed. He stays in our guest bedroom where he can rest and keep a safe distance from my mother and me. We leave him trays of food at the guest room door When he’s done eating, we have to disinfect his dishes.

Once in a while, he comes downstairs to use the bathroom and my mom and I have to stop what we’re doing, move as far from the bathroom as we can, and disinfect everything he has touched after he leaves.

April 2: 1,706 infected in Virginia and 238,000 in the U.S., around 50,000 dead worldwide

April 2 is a day that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

At 10:30 am, my father received a phone call from his sister Michelle. Her husband, my Uncle Daniel, had passed away in the hospital. He turned 81 just a few weeks before.

The last time I saw Daniel was in 2012 when I had my bar mitzvah. I was unable to attend Noah’s in Paris because of school, and it is something I will regret for the rest of my life. “March 12, the last time we saw Daniel,” my mom said while crying. “We were at the same table.”

The feelings of uncertainty, confusion and fear raced through my head. What does this mean for my dad? Is the whole family at risk now? Could it soon be my responsibility to take care of him and my mom?

My dad has always been a very active, energetic person. Throughout my years as a kid, he’s pushed me to by the best person I can be by showing rather than telling. He always gets up early and works out. As well as constantly moving in and out of the house handling chores and other tedious responsibilities. He is someone who I view as a top role model in my life. But I would be lying if I said that the virus has allowed him to carry on with his life as he normally would. Seeing him have to rest and stay in bed constantly because of the virus’ effect on his body, is hard to watch. With each day that comes, my father’s temperature slowly rises and is, currently, above 100 degrees.

I hope that many can learn from my story. COVID-19 virus is a serious threat. And it needs to be handled with care and attention. You never know if it can happen to you, until it does.

April 3: 2,012 infected in Virginia, 135 in Arlington, one in my house

Lucas Sellem is part of the Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism at Indiana University.