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A COVID Christmas

Georgia quarantine and a squirrel named Karl
By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, January 21, 2021
My niece was not thrilled with how I greeted her at the bus stop after her last day of school before the “COVID Christmas” break last month in Georgia. Photos courtesy Bryan McConnell

My niece was not thrilled with how I greeted her at the bus stop after her last day of school before the “COVID Christmas” break last month in Georgia. Photos courtesy Bryan McConnell

Karl the squirrel checks out the surveillance camera during one of his nightly romps in the attic. Photos courtesy Bryan McConnell

Karl the squirrel checks out the surveillance camera during one of his nightly romps in the attic. Photos courtesy Bryan McConnell

My brother and his family live in Georgia, an hour north of Atlanta and about a half hour or so south of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Over past few years we have been swapping out Christmases with them coming up here to go skiing at Big Sky or my parents and I going down there.

Last year we went to Georgia the week before Christmas and my dad and I took a road trip into Florida and up to South Carolina to get some shots for a music video I had been working on. The day after Christmas my brother, dad and I drove an hour northeast to the Chattooga River to film additional scenes. The Wild and Scenic Chattooga River is known partly for being the South’s premier whitewater river, but is most famous for being the main filming location of the movie “Deliverance.”

It was a fun Christmas and we all bid farewell until my brother, sister–in–law and niece were to come to Montana for their annual 4th of July trip.

Then the virus hit and the world changed.

My brother and his family weren’t able to come up for their summer trip and almost a year passed before we were able to see them again.

My parents flew to Georgia the week before Thanksgiving and planned to stay 1 1/2 months for some quality time with their 10–year–old granddaughter. They made it without incident and had a month of relaxation while staying safe, mostly remaining home and not going out to eat very often.

On Saturday, December 18, I flew to Atlanta from Billings and my brother picked me up at the airport. I learned my dad hadn’t been feeling well since Thursday and had gone to an Urgent Care center to get checked out for a possible bronchial infection, which he seems to get at least once every winter.

Other than that, the big news was a squirrel named Karl (by my niece) who found a way to get into the attic at night and could be heard pattering around in the wee hours of the morning. They learned it was a squirrel after setting up surveillance and catching a video of Karl mugging for the camera.

Everybody was at the house when we arrived and I hung out with my niece–her playing ukulele and me playing banjo–and then sat in the living room next to my dad who had a cough and was obviously under the weather. He wore a mask when he was out of his room, but other than that nobody thought anything.

On Sunday afternoon I started to feel a little off but it was no big deal and thought I was just run–down from traveling. On Monday and Tuesday my dad continued to deteriorate and I kept feeling worse. I started to get a cough and had low energy.

My dad had taken a test for the virus on Saturday before I arrived but, while the Urgent Care center had the capabilities for a rapid test, they didn’t do it for some reason.

On Tuesday I dressed up in pajamas and met my niece at her bus stop to give her a Montana banjo welcome after her last day of school before break, plus with hopes to embarrass her a little in front of her friends on the bus.

That was the last moment of humor before things went south.

By Tuesday night dad had deteriorated to the point where we started talking about getting him to the emergency room. He had a fever, his blood sugar level was sky high and he had slurred speech, difficulty walking and nausea.

My mom, brother and I loaded him up and rushed to the nearest hospital. The nurses were set up in the foyer with computers as no one but patients were allowed in the hospital. They understandably treated every patient as if they had the virus.

Once we got him checked in we had to wait in the parking lot for the doctor to call with the test and blood work results. At around 1 a.m. we got the call and put it on speakerphone. “He is COVID positive,” were the first words she said.

The hospital was packed and since no one was allowed inside we had no choice but to go home and wait for more updates, while my dad waited in the ER for a bed, of which none were available.

The next morning we all went and got tested. My brother, sister–in–law, niece and myself were all positive, while my mom escaped it by some miracle.

Fortunately, my brother has a large house so we could all isolate in separate rooms to protect my mom. We wore masks when we were moving around and spent the next three days avoiding each other and waiting for news about my dad.

He finally got a bed the next evening and by then everyone’s symptoms had peaked.

My niece had it easiest; she didn’t feel good for a day, then shrugged it off. My brother had it for about two days then was mostly recovered. My sister–in–law and myself had it worst with just about all the common symptoms associated with the virus between us. I didn’t have a fever but had a bad cough, stabbing leg pain, no energy and was miserable. It mostly felt like the flu but was still quite different. I never lost my sense of smell or taste but had odd rusty/smoky smells for a week after I recovered and felt run–down until only recently.

We watched more TV and movies than ever before in our separate rooms and were “treated” to all the political commercials associated with the Senate runoff that was happening down there. Every commercial was a nasty attack ad, came from both sides and were relentless.

About 1:30 a.m. every morning Karl would either enter the attic or wake from a nap and spend the next couple hours running around and scratching. This went on the entire time we were there and I found a measure of comfort in it, looking forward to his arrival during the sleepless nights. He never ended up in the Christmas tree downstairs like in the movie “Christmas Vacation,” so we were able to avoid that drama.

Dad was given a cocktail of drugs in the hospital including the anti–inflammatory steroid Dexamethasone which has been shown to cut deaths by 1/3 in patients on ventilators and 1/5 in patients on oxygen.

On Christmas Day, four days after he was admitted, we received the phone call from the hospital and they said he was well enough to go home later that afternoon.

We got him home and gave my mom strict orders to stay away from him (and us) but that proved difficult.

The worst of it lasted three days for me and I flew back home 10 days after I had started showing symptoms (per the current guidelines), but it took my dad another week and a half after that before he was well enough to fly home, and still hasn’t fully recovered.

We will never know who got the coronavirus first or when they caught it, but it had been going around my niece’s school so it is likely she brought it home from there.

It’s easy to call it the worst Christmas ever, but we are all basically recovered and lived to tell about it.

Next year I’m going skiing.

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