My Sister Had Covid. Now I’m Tired.

Not Being Able to Do Much For Someone Is Exhausting

Johanna Tatlow
4 min readNov 28, 2020


Woman hides under covers on bed
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

My sister came down to visit me for the first weekend of November. We’d both been playing it safe during the pandemic— masking, avoiding crowds, etc. She figured that the early part of the month would be better for traveling than Thanksgiving. We didn’t reckon on Chicagoland having a massive outbreak the week she left.

Since the epidemic started, it’s been my sister’s health that I have worried about more than my own. Her immune system is not the best.

She felt fine the day that she traveled. The next day, she had a sore throat. Her roommate also developed COVID-19 symptoms that day. Positive tests for both of them confirmed their suspicions. Who knows who got it first? Both were always masked and distancing to the best of their abilities.

My immediate family had now been exposed. We tried to minimize germ load. The first few days were easy. The weather was lovely. We could all hang out on the lawn, eight feet apart, my sister wearing her mask.

Then things got rough. The weather turned drizzly. My sister’s breathing became labored. Her oxygen levels started tanking when she had a mask on.

By day five, she couldn’t walk up the stairs to get to the shower. On day seven, she couldn’t cut up her own pancakes. She started requesting liquid food because chewing and breathing at the same time was too much work.

What Can I Do?

I am primarily a stay-at-home mom while I write part-time. For the two weeks that my sister was sick, I didn’t write a thing. I just hovered like a mother hen.

I cooked yummy foods. I tried to figure out how to make eating appealing when she lost her sense of smell. I cleaned. I did extra laundry since she’d only brought enough for a weekend. Every few hours, I watched her use an oximeter to test her blood oxygen and remained on standby in case I needed to get her to the emergency room.

Surprisingly, her oxygen never tanked low enough for that to be necessary despite her having rather poor odds. On the second day of not feeling good, she wrote out her various pre-existing conditions, diagnoses, and pharmaceuticals down on a piece of paper for me. The list covered back and front. She added emergency contact information and included the number for her priest.

I never needed the contact numbers.

I just spent two weeks making a lot of tea. I made two pots of chicken soup, one pot of turkey soup, a chicken curry, a turkey curry. I refilled the humidifier every evening. I kept my toddler from pouncing on his aunty too much, spinning the recliner in circles, or stealing her cups of hot honey lemon tea.

Somehow, I stayed healthy. So did my husband and son. My best guess is that at some point last winter one of the many daycare respiratory plagues must have involved a version of coronavirus that gave us some immunity. But that’s a guess. Maybe we just got lucky.

When Is It Over?

Quarantine is 14 days. But disease course is a different matter, particularly for someone who is immunocompromised. After 14 days of lying on an air mattress in my living room, my sister was still not well enough to fly. She could go upstairs to take a shower again, but her oxygen levels were low by the time she was done showering. Standing up made her pulse rate rocket. An e-visit with her doctor confirmed our hunch. She was absolutely not to fly until after she could get her heart examined.

That presented a difficulty. Her insurance covered only her local hospital network back in Chicagoland. There was no affordable way to get her to a cardiologist in Charlotte, NC.

After pushing her flight back twice (or was it three times?), my sister canceled the return trip. My husband took the car in for an oil change and prepared for a long road trip. I prepped road food and packed them into the car with pillows and blankets. As my husband drove 15 hours up north, delivered my sister to her house, and then drove another 15 hours down, I solo parented for two days and deep cleaned the house again.

My husband returned on Tuesday. Still today, Friday, I’m exhausted. Why? I didn’t DO anything. I wasn’t sick myself. I have a negative test to prove it. All I did was make tea and soup and hover over a sickbed.

Caring for the Caregiver

Caring for an immunocompromised person through a serious disease is nerve-wracking. Dealing with it all while wondering if you will get sick yourself or if others in your family will get sick — there’s a latent anxiety in it all that taxes your reserves.

You can’t get someone else through COVID-19. They can’t do much for themselves either. You give every ounce of supportive care you can. You watch. You track vitals. You make contingency plans in case things take a turn for the worse, and you pray that they take a turn for the better.

This coronavirus is exhausting for everyone. Certainly, it’s worst for the patient. But it’s also nerve-wracking and tiring for the loved ones who are taking care of the patient. And I can only imagine what it is like to be a health care provider right now.

If you find yourself in the same circumstance of caregiving, pour a cup of tea for yourself when you pour one for someone else. Take long soaking baths. Give yourself the grace to rest and recover afterward. You may not have been sick, but you still deserve a bit of pampering and some extra sleep.



Johanna Tatlow

Freelance writer trying to make the world a better place