The restless patient

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My 78-year-old mom has Covid. What she does not have is the patience for having Covid.

This morning I went to check on her and caught her vacuuming – with Covid.

Me: “Mom, what are you doing? You’re sick. You’re supposed to be resting.”

Her (looking pale and feverish but also exasperated): “Well, I can’t just sit around here all day!”

Me: “It’s only 9:30 in the morning.”

But she couldn’t hear me over the roar of the Dyson. She had viruses and dust bunnies to do battle with. She didn’t have time for crazy questions.

My mom and I are a lot alike but not when it comes to sitting still. I don’t understand why she thinks it’s so hard. I’m excellent at sitting still and can do it all day, especially when I feel terrible. If falling asleep while reading was a sport, I’d be a gold medalist.

But Mom is on the move. She always has been. Like many in her hard-working generation, she flunked out of retirement. A few months into what was supposed to be her phase for leisure and hobbies, she sat down in my kitchen and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got to get a job.”

She’d been working since she was 18 and long before that if you count her childhood picking cotton on a farm. For her, the adage is true: You can take the woman out of the workforce, but you can’t take the work out of the woman. She’d spent decades serving as a head bookkeeper, so she recognized when her own life was out of balance. Not only does she love work, she needs it.

But it had been more than 25 years since she’d had to apply for a job. And at my insistence, my parents had moved four hours away from the small town where they’d worked so they could live near me.

So I helped Mom navigate the online application process, and soon she landed a job. She became a part-time teller at a bank and then ramped up to full-time when she had the chance. Her cash drawer and her life are back in balance, and she has been in her post-retirement job for more than 10 years now.

When my dad died earlier this year, having a job to return to helped mitigate the loneliness of missing his larger-than-life presence. She has her home family and her work family, too – some of whom have started calling her “Memaw,” just like my kids do.

She cooks for co-workers’ birthdays, and when her work friends have stomach pain or headaches, she gives them remedies from the stash of over-the-counter medications in her purse. She’s a community Memaw now, and I’m happy to share her simply because it makes her so happy.

Covid, on the other hand, is not making either of us happy. I had to administer three Covid home tests on Mom to convince her it was real and not just a bad case of allergies. While she waits out her quarantine, she is washing all her bathmats, triple-watering the petunias, and counting down the days until she can get the heck out of here.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting, too. Because I ran errands with Mom the day before she tested positive, I’m stuck in the “incubation window” – the five or so days when you don’t yet know if you’ll get sick, too. Every time I feel even the slightest tickle in my throat, I worry it’s proof that the virus is stalking me like a dragon gathering steam. I’m trying to brace myself for the moment it roars to life on a Covid test stick.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and dodge it. Maybe I won’t.

But if I do, I’ll be okay because Mom will be over it by then. She’ll make me her famous potato soup and hand me a can of ginger ale with a bendy straw. Because doing things – work, cooking, caring – is what she does best.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon. 

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