By Maddy.

It’s a tough time for ‘the shielding’

Especially shielding parents of school-age children, like me, who are in a particularly horrible position. I am Clinically Extremely Vulnerable due to lung fibrosis (scarring, caused by chemotherapy in my teens), and a hodgepodge of other conditions. We CEV parents have to choose between our health (and possible risk to life), our children’s education and social well-being, and our interaction with our children, which impacts on us all emotionally and practically. I’m lucky that I have a husband (M) and that his work have been amazingly supportive (despite this, it’s wearing him down having to work and provide 90% of the childcare). But there are many CEV single parents out there who can’t possibly shield from their children or have the support that I do. We need to be heard and considered when it comes to decisions being made.

For insight, our lives currently look like this:

Weekdays: I get the kids up and get them downstairs for breakfast, all while trying to stay 2 m away from a 6 (T)and 8 (R) yr old, whenever possible. They’re well trained (at least T is!) so they get their own cereals while I supervise from the kitchen, keeping my safe distance. Then it’s time for them to get washed and dressed. I cannot help with this – I just have to hope that their teeth brushing is up to scratch and they get dressed nicely. They often don’t, and lots of nagging from the side-lines ensues. All of this is made more difficult by R’s additional needs (possible ASC/ADHD – cannot remember to distance etc). M finishes his morning meeting about 8:40 and gets them out and down to school for 8:45 start time (often late!), before returning home to work. I mostly stay in my room during the day and work from there (we have had separate rooms since lockdown 1, to minimise the risk). I could go downstairs, but with everything going on my Fibromyalgia and ME are flaring and I struggle to be anywhere other than my adjustable bed. M picks the kids up from school at 3pm. They strip off in the utility room and come straight up stairs for a bath/shower to decontaminate. At least, they should come straight up, but they’re 6 and 8 so often run round naked first. M then has to look after them for the rest of the evening, either squishing in his work day to pre 3pm, or trying to work and keep an eye on the kids. I wish I could help more during this time and I feel so incredibly guilty, but my fatigue is at its worst in the afternoon and the only way I could do this is to lay in the living room… but I cannot be 2m away from the kids in there – so I cannot safely help. So, at 5pm I come down and make tea and we all eat together round the table. This is the biggest risk I take. But it is just for 15 minutes of family time. I then head back upstairs and that’s pretty much my contact done for the day. I chat to them a little as they are doing bedtime, and we sometimes risk a quick cuddle. A potential hug of death. It’s worth the small risk for the great benefits to us both. And then M has the tedious task of bedtime with kids that’s are struggling through a unprecedentedly unsettling time. Most of all R with his additional needs and brain that won’t switch off. It can take hours for R to drop to sleep. By which time M and I are beyond tired so just go to sleep ourselves, in our separate lonely rooms. Rinse and repeat, Monday to Friday.

Weekends: I mostly hide away in my sanctuary while M does most of the childcare. I try and do laundry, but don’t always have the energy. Where possible we have tried to get outside, as this is an environment where we can be together with less risk. For example our walks of a couple of weeks ago. However, my illnesses and the weather can prevent this from happening. I can be either too fatigued/painy to go, or the consequences of fatigue and pain last a long time afterwards. I’m still struggling after 2 weeks. Also, R wants to do nothing but Minecraft, and will argue and fight the whole time getting ready, despite loving it once we’re out. Last weekend we got the Christmas tree and decorations up. This was lovely, much needed, family time. But I was filled with anxiety afterwards having spent hours in one room with everyone. I regretted it. I actually regretted that lovely time with my family. What if the result of said lovely time was me getting Covid and dying? Was it worth that risk, just for a few hours of yearly tradition? I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have stayed down as long. I should have worn an N95 mask. We should all have worn masks. We shouldn’t have done it. Should we? The result – I’m being super extra careful now and seeing and hugging them less than before. I am seeing them via Minecraft and dropping in on the Amazon echo’s… where T still manages to be up in my Minecraft avatar face and talking non-stop! “MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY, come and look at this!”. We’re about 3m away from each other, through a floor/ceiling. So we don’t touch. We don’t breathe the same air. I am safe, for now, so that once the extremely vulnerable can get vaccinated, I am still here to hug my children again.

This also brings me onto my thoughts about vaccination priority. Although we (the CEV under 65’s) may or may not be as vulnerable as certain age groups, our activity in society (children & work) put is at greater risk of contracting Covid than, for example, my retired 65 year old mum or 70+ In-laws. Yet we are below them in the priority list. I believe that we should be somewhere around 2nd or 3rd. Certainly before independent healthy over 65’s of any age. But perhaps this is just my opinion, and the opinion of aforementioned older family members.

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