When we launched into our 533-page copy of “The Swiss Family Robinson” with our then 5- and 7-year-olds at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, my husband and I assumed that the Robinsons, shipwrecked on a remote desert island, would eventually rejoin humanity.
It’s not because we love staying in our yard and giving the hairy eyeball to the happy neighborhood kids who run together in a pack outside our house, or because we don’t want to go back to church or pick out our own groceries at the store.
That includes me. I was diagnosed a few years ago with multiple sclerosis at the age of 40. Some of the fingers on my right hand had gone numb — from playing tennis, I thought — and I was getting a funny sensation in my neck and legs when I looked down. It took months of physical therapy before anyone did an MRI to determine that it wasn’t carpal tunnel or a herniated disc, but MS attacking my spine.
Before it wreaked more havoc, doctors put me on a big drug — a repeat infusion that knocks out a subset of my B cells. These are the cells that appear to overreact and attack a perceived invader in those of us with MS — but they’re also important cells in creating antibodies.
Since then, the attacks have stopped, and the disease appears to be under control. I pretty much operate as a healthy 43-year-old. But we took great care to enforce a strict quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic, not knowing if MS would prove to be a dangerous underlying condition in a Covid-19 infection. It’s likely not, at this early stage, according to my doctors.
Like many people in the same boat — we’ve been living as though the medicine that may be my salvation could also be my undoing.
But with high vaccine rates and Covid-19 numbers falling in our state, we were starting to look forward to going back into the bookstore or out with friends. Now, with the new CDC rule saying that masking will be required only for unvaccinated people on an honor system — it feels like we’re even more trapped.
My kiddos are too young to get the shot, and while my husband and I both are fully vaccinated, I need to maintain precautions in case my immune system has not produced any antibodies. The new CDC guidance does away with the additional layer of protection widespread mask usage provided us.
So, it’s looking like we need to stay the course and remain isolated. And I have to say, I’m tired of it. For two years, I wrestled with whether or not to tell people I had MS — I was worried about being pitied or looked at as less capable than others. Now, I tell nearly everyone that I’m immunosuppressed so they can maintain a safe distance at the vet or understand why I can’t attend their neighborhood gathering.
It’s toughest on the kids, who are in kindergarten and second grade. My children are some of the last ones still learning remotely; most everyone has trickled back to in-person school. We’ve also had to turn down play dates with families we love.
Of course, in many ways, being alone, together, has also been wonderful.
But until that happens, we’ll be staying our six feet apart, masks up. Not unlike those Robinsons, for now, we’re going to build some forts in the backyard, plant our garden, and enjoy each other’s company.