It begins in the middle of the night 11 days ago. No fever, but the kind of head-to-toe body aches that keep you awake because it feels like a villain in a James Bond film is torturing you with an electric current through the bones.

I get out of bed the morning of Friday, Feb. 21, my head now also pounding. I get to the kitchen. So does my husband. Before we reach for the kids’ lunch bags, he takes one look at me and assesses the situation thusly: “You look like $@%*.”

That’s not saying much when you’re the working mom of 7- and 5-year-old boys, and looking unglamorous is your baseline. But this was a harbinger of a horrific week whose brutality, as I type this on Monday, is still not over. The flu — supposedly just the flu, but who really knows, given all the lack of testing for coronavirus thanks to the government’s horrible handling of things — would take out not just me, but my husband, my first grader, and my kindergartner.

Boom, boom, boom, boom. We went down in Delco like ducks at a carnival stand. Tamiflu for all. Antibiotics for some. Urgent care, doctor visits, body aches and fevers — and a chorus of medical folks telling me how we are in the strangest, most punishing flu season in years, even as coronavirus is emerging as the bigger, scarier foe.

Add to that how my only line to civilization while bed-bound last week was the Twitter account on my iPhone.

As body aches radiated, Twitter shot out fever charts showing the stock market tanking and coronavirus panic exploding. And this odd missive from President Donald Trump after the Dow lost more than 800 points in one day: “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Surreal. I share this tick-tock of my family’s plunge into viral madness as a public service: Wash your hands, yes. But also, be ready. This is no cakewalk, whatever it is.

“Mommy,” the 5-year-old is yelling from the couch as I type these words: “Bring the trash can. I’m going to puke.”

Yes. We are in Day 11 of this. And my kids had the flu vaccine.

Imagine some version of this playing out in tens of thousands of American households in the weeks or months to come, only they call it coronavirus, which has no vaccine and could send many more people to the hospital.

This mess, for us, began with nuanced symptoms: Fatigue. Like someone threw you into an industrial-size dryer and knocked you around for a good half-hour.

You blow it off. You’re a mom who works. Why whine about a washing-machine-threw-you-around headache? Your plate is always full. Maybe the body aches, you think, are just hormones.

By a week ago Monday, denial is off the menu. I drive to the doctor. A receptionist has me wear a mask. She asks if I’ve traveled overseas in recent weeks.

The doc then sees me. His people swab my nostrils. Again, they ask if I’ve been overseas. Minutes later comes word: “You have the flu.” Go home. Sleep. Take the week off. This will not be easy.

Tamiflu is ordered for me, as a preventive thing for my husband, too, and also for my older son who, when I wasn’t looking over the weekend, drank from my germ-drenched grape juice bottle.

Wednesday morning, the juice-gulper is sick. He misses the next three days of school. We go to the pediatrician. He starts on Tamiflu.

That same day I get a chest X-ray because I am wheezing. Doc wants to make sure I don’t have pneumonia. I spot a Giant supermarket and sneak in to buy gallons of juice and cans of chicken soup.

In the car, CNN is telling me stock markets have plunged for another consecutive day. President Trump will be briefing the nation about coronavirus by dinnertime. I look for Purell but find only two small bottles in a Giant that serves the Main Line in Radnor.


Once home, I open the laptop. The kitchen clock says 4:30 p.m., which means the president won’t speak for another couple of hours. I act fast: I order antiseptic alcohol, hand sanitizer, children’s Tylenol, Motrin, and adult-dose Tylenol. I’d been going through so much of this stuff that bottles in the house were going empty. And now they’re talking coronavirus?

A sign with coronavirus information at the prescription counter of a CVS in Montgomery County, Pa., in suburban Philadelphia, Feb. 29, 2020.
A sign with coronavirus information at the prescription counter of a CVS in Montgomery County, Pa., in suburban Philadelphia, Feb. 29, 2020.

Thursday night, the first grader develops an ear infection. We go to urgent care. He gets antibiotics. We hear how the flu has been ravaging kids across Haverford and Marple Townships. That it’s been a terrible, terrible few weeks.

Friday, I get the gift of a sinus infection. Friday night, the 5-year-old comes home from school with a bad cough. He is down for the count by Saturday. Same low-grade fever and aches as his brother. I strip all the sheets and blankets and boil them in my washer. I am ready to scream. I actually do scream.

Saturday night, I head to urgent care. Four prescriptions later for infected sinuses and lingering respiratory issues, I am at a CVS. A customer is telling the pharmacist that all of her kids are home with the flu and double ear infections. The pharmacist says it’s one of the most brutal flu seasons he’s seen.

A coronavirus sign is plastered above a credit-card swiping machine. Nearby shelves have been mostly cleared of Vitamin C and antiseptic wipes.

We now know more about the problems that have plagued coronavirus testing. We don’t know what’s floating out there, or how far and wide it is. Thankfully, I’m better, and so are two others in my house.

If what lies ahead, though, is anything like these last 11 days, I wish everyone — and our economy — a speedy recovery. But don’t bet on it.