Wednesday, March 18
This is my first run upstate, ever. I’ve been coming here since the late 80s so this feels like a major achievement. Here I am. A city gal running in rural upstate New York.
I head in a direction I know, making a right onto Route 28 toward Main Street and its one stop light. From there, I’ll turn left four times until I’m back at my dad’s house. Google Maps says it should be about 6.5 miles, and thank goodness for Google Maps because otherwise I would not know how to get back.
MacGregor came upstate with me. He’s too old to run so he’s back at the house with my dad, although not on the same floor. My dad is in his room on the downstairs level. MacGregor is on the main floor where the kitchen, living room, and my bedroom are.
I took MacGregor for a walk this morning and we stumbled upon a ribcage. Probably a deer or a coyote. Hard to tell, but I am assuming it’s not human. I let him sniff it.
There are two types of road up here: paved main roads where I risk getting hit by a car and narrow dirt roads where I risk getting eaten by a bear. Despite their drawbacks, they each have a major advantage at the moment in that no one besides me seems to be on them.
It’s always been quiet up here, but it feels even quieter than usual. People are being told to stay home. Restaurants are closed. Only essential businesses are open. I imagine the antique shops on Main Street are not included in that category. Route 28 is a nice, gentle downhill. I know this means there will be an uphill somewhere but I try not to think about that right now.
After passing the police station I turn left onto Main. It’s such a tiny town. I would guess it’s been described as “charming” in more than one New York State brochure. Besides the antique shops, there’s a small gas station with an accompanying food store that reminds me of something out of Little House on the Prairie. There’s an art store that used to be a Mexican restaurant. A vintage clothing store. The Andes Hotel, a wide, white house that includes a restaurant, surely closed right now. It looks a bit like what my Long Island hometown probably looked like a hundred years ago. It’s eerily quiet. I’m the only person out here. I wonder if people are looking out their windows at me, wondering who the crazy lady runner is.
I realize around the 2-mile mark that I can’t do the full loop – by the time I get back it’ll be close to 12:30 and my dad needs to take his antibiotic at noon. If I’m not there to remind him I’m afraid he’ll forget. He’s not doing well.
I turn around after 2.5 miles. Five miles is better than nothing.
Of course, the downhill on the way out becomes much harder on the way back. It’s good for me, I tell myself. Maybe this whole trip will be good for me.
Friday, March 20
Today, I plan on running the route I cut short two days ago. I don’t need to get back home to my dad at any given time because he is not there.
Yesterday, I took my dad to the hospital.
That morning had been filled with worry about my dad’s eating, my dad’s coughing, my dad’s breathing. He’d been sick for six days, the reason I came up here. I begged him to eat. When he requested a hard boiled egg, I was ecstatic – maybe he had an appetite after all. But he only ate two bites. I wouldn’t leave his room until he ate three more. He joked that I was going to make a chart of how many bites of food he’d taken. He was coughing a lot. I wore a mask and stood in the doorway. I don’t know what he has but I guess I shouldn’t take any chances.
I counted his breaths while he rested because they seemed high, then phoned his pulmonologist to tell him the number. That settled it: to the hospital it was. I felt good about the decision, even if it meant a risk of him contracting COVID-19 there. It’s not like he was getting any better at home. There’s only so much chicken soup can do.
As I run along 28 today, I think about the moments before we left for the hospital. He asked me if we could go later in the day. I said no, I thought we should go soon. Then he asked if we could go tomorrow instead. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t have to say it. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I think he was scared.
I helped him sit in a chair and pull on his jeans over his feet. As he slipped into his sandals and sighed with exhaustion, I rubbed his back. I told him everything was going to be okay.
I run along Main Street, quiet as ever, then turn left onto a long, even quieter stretch. A few houses dot the road until it becomes lined with just fields and trees. Ah yes, here are the uphills. At one point I stop to catch my breath and take a look behind me.
I reach a more wooded area. I know there are black bears upstate. What happens if I see one? Is that the kind of bear you get big and loud around, or do you curl into a ball and hope it leaves you alone? My mind goes back and forth between bears and my dad.
There are hills everywhere. The run is exhausting. Eventually, I get to a clearing. I feel better when I can see what’s around me. I stop worrying so much about bears.
Saturday, March 21
Today, I decide to run down Route 28 and keep going. There will be no turn onto Main Street. Instead, I cross it, continuing past the tiny post office and large cemetery. It’s a main road with double yellow lines but there are so few cars out that it doesn’t feel dangerous.
Anyway, today I’d rather take my chances with cars than bears.
I like this route. It’s less hilly than the dirt roads. I make a left next to the cemetery and run up a quiet road for maybe a quarter of a mile, then turn back to continue on the main road. There are some twists and turns in the road; while I like to run facing traffic, sometimes I cross the road so I can run on the outermost corner, which is safer.
Before we had left for the hospital, he’d sat up in bed while I stood next to him, preparing to help him get up. He said, “My lungs.”
I was expecting him to follow this with “they hurt” or “are in pain.” Instead, he said, “are the bane of my existence.” He said this with such clarity, but there was a lifetime of exhaustion in his voice.
My dad has always had lung issues. He developed asthma in his 30s after spending too much time installing attic insulation maskless. He’s used an inhaler for decades. He’d had a bout of pneumonia within the last year. If he had one weak body part, it was his lungs.
The drive to the hospital had been quiet. He coughed when he talked so I avoided too much conversation. I tried keeping the mood light. When we arrived at the hospital I pulled into a parking spot – genuinely relieved to have made it there safely as I am not a regular driver – and asked, “How was that? Did I pass the driving test?” He chuckled. “You did a great job.”
I wasn’t allowed inside the hospital. No visitors. As a nurse helped my dad from the car to the emergency room entrance, I told him, “I’ll be waiting right outside.” He said “Okay.” I assumed I’d see him in an hour.
I sat on the curb in the quiet parking lot for a while. At one point I took a picture of my feet, then immediately felt foolish. Why was I taking a picture of my feet? What was this for? Who cares? I kept it anyway.
I got up and spent the next hour pacing. I hate sitting still. When it started to get cold, I sat in the car. Three nurses came out over the course of three hours to update me.
The third one told me it looked like my dad had COVID-19.
I’m not sure how much time passed between her saying those words and when I spoke next. It was probably two seconds. It felt like seven years.
My dad was transferred to a larger and better equipped hospital that night, about an hour away. I was gutted that I wasn’t taking him back with me but I knew he was in good hands.
My run today feels relatively easy, probably because it’s been a slight downhill the entire way out. I turn around at the 3.5-mile mark, near the entrance to a farm. This will make the run a nice 7 miles, probably my favorite running distance. The run back is all slightly uphill, of course. I take short breaks when I need to. It’s fine. It’s not like I’m training for a marathon anymore.
When I get home, it’s time for lunch. I spend most of the rest of the day as I do most days, standing in the kitchen at my laptop, reading news about COVID-19 and going back and forth between various social media sites. News. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snack. Repeat. Other than running and walking MacGregor, this is my life now. I consider watching a TV show or a movie. I can’t. I have no attention span, no focus. Not to mention no desire for fiction right now.
I miss having my dad here, but it’s nice to know he’s being looked after. I guiltily feel a sense of relief that he’s not in my hands anymore – not that I wouldn’t rather have him healthy and home, but at least in the hospital he’s not having coughing fits while lying in a bedroom all by himself. He’s being monitored by experts. That’s a good thing.
Sunday, March 22
It’s Sunday, which means Long Run Day. I may no longer be training for the now-cancelled Boston Marathon but that doesn’t mean I can’t have structure in my week. I feel adventurous today. I decide to explore a new route.
This time, I make a left onto 28 and soon turn onto one of the many quiet, dirt roads around here. I’m planning on another counterclockwise loop, this one about 9 miles. I checked out the route in Google Maps but was unable to see exactly what the smaller roads are like up close – apparently, no Google Map cameras have ever recorded them.
The first section is peaceful and heavily wooded. Once again I wonder about the possibility of bears. They have coyotes up here, too. What else? Cougars? Is that a thing around here? I scan the woods around me as I go up and down the dirt hills. I keep looking behind me when I cross the road to avoid potholes, an instinct I’ve developed after years of running in more urban areas. There is no one else around. Not even a car passes by. It truly feels like I have the planet to myself.
Finally, I see open fields and then a paved road up ahead. I stop to look back at the last section of dirt road.
My dad is the same. Stable. I never know how to feel about this. Stable is good in that he’s not getting worse, but it’s also not good in that he’s not getting better. I feel so helpless. I came up here to help him and there is nothing I can do at the moment to help him. Running seems to be the only productive thing I can do right now.
I’m relieved to turn onto a busier road. A few cars pass. Some go out of their way to give me a wide berth, which I usually try to acknowledge with a wave. I see no other humans outside. At one point I stop at the side of the road and attempt a selfie but the light is terrible for the direction I’m facing. I abandon the selfie and just take a picture of fields.
I’m tired. I’m not sure if it’s the hills or just mental exhaustion masquerading as physical fatigue. I feel like lying down and taking a nap. I should not be feeling this way after 6 measly miles.
Eventually, I make it to Main Street and head up 28, and then finally reach the steep road back up to my dad’s house. I walk most of the hill.
I have a late lunch and carefully wash all of my dad’s bedding, towels, and dirty clothes while wearing a mask (which I have reused several times) and gloves. In an attempt to keep anything from touching my clothes, I decide to do laundry topless, probably the least sexy topless scene ever. I jump in the shower immediately afterward.
I know I could leave everything in place for a week before washing it, letting whatever virus might be on it time to die out, but I don’t want to. I want to wash it. I want it all clean. All of it.
Later that day, my dad is placed on a ventilator.
Monday, March 23
I’m not running today. I don’t normally run on Mondays but my legs are shot anyway. I need a break. The hills up here are killing me. I consider taking Tuesday off and maybe Wednesday, too. It’s just as well because it’s snowing today.
I wonder about the possibility of getting sick. When I feel winded from running, I wonder: is it just the hills or am I coming down with something? Are my lungs tired from breathing the crisp upstate air or do I have COVID? Once 14 days have passed since I’ve seen my dad I’ll know if I’m out of the woods. Until then, I’m left to wonder. I talk to my sisters about what to do if I get so sick I have to go the hospital – one of them has a friend in Brooklyn with a dog rescue; she’d be willing to drive up here and get MacGregor. This makes me feel better.
My dad is still stable. I talk to a nice nurse tonight and she tells me he’s mostly sedated and that they’re adjusting levels of meds, the vent, everything – she admits that it’s such a new disease, nobody is exactly sure how to treat it. It’s a lot of guesswork.
I hate that I can’t see my dad. I admit this to the nurse and she explains that every time one of us calls, my dad is told about it. So he knows we’re calling. He knows we love him.
It snows for the next couple of days. I have enough food up here – my dad is nothing if not prepared. With my dad’s stockpile and the perishables I brought from home, I should be good for the next week, at least. Just to be safe, I start to ration some produce, dates, anything I’m going to run out of soon. There’s still plenty of pasta, marinara sauce, frozen chicken, frozen vegetables, frozen waffles, two tubs of frozen soup, and plenty of nut butter, jelly, and bread. I’m fine.
Plus, I have MacGregor with me. It’s nice to have company. I wonder if he misses the city.
Thursday, March 26
I walk MacGregor in the morning when it’s still overcast and foggy. Most mornings up here are cool, sometimes frigid, and foggy. A few hours later, the fog has lifted and it’s warmed up.
I think my legs are okay. I’ll run today. I don’t feel like going far so I settle on hill work close to home: I’ll go up and down the long, steep road leading to my dad’s house from Route 28. I haven’t brought a lot of running clothes with me but my dad has so much here, each closet packed with all sorts of winter clothing, including long underwear. I have never known someone more prepared than my father. He thinks of everything, plans for anything.
I decided to run in a pair of men’s leggings (complete with pee flap) and a men’s long sleeved shirt. If I can’t be physically close to my dad right now, I can be in his clothes.
It’s warmer than I thought it was going to be, mid 50s. T-shirt and shorts weather. I roll up my sleeves. My plan is to go up and down the nearly mile-long road six complete times, but in the end I do three. It’s hard. Nothing in the city compares to this. It’s like if Harlem Hill was a mile long, covered in gravel, and steeper. I take short breaks on the way up each time.
So far, I still feel okay. I’ve been taking my temperature twice a day as requested by employees from the county, who are checking in with me every day to make sure I’m still here. They’re all very nice to me. My temp has not been above 97.3. This morning, it was 96.4. So I don’t have a fever. Maybe I managed to escape this virus after all.
I call the hospital later. My dad is still stable. Not worse, not better. More waiting.
Friday, March 27
I plan on a 7.5-mile loop today. I make a left onto 28 but at the 2-mile mark I get weirdly anxious about getting back. I abandon my plan and turn around, going down 28, a bit past the road to my dad’s house, then make another turn back toward home. The entire run is on 28. It’s not that hilly so I manage to speed up here and there. I feel strong today.
Part of why I want to keep running is so I can have a good barometer for how I feel. I figure if I feel normal while running then I’m probably still okay. Every day feels like a waiting game to see if I develop symptoms. Waiting to feel sick. Waiting to hear if my dad is better. Waiting to hear if my dad is worse. Waiting for news of anything.
His oxygen level is at 60%. The lower, the better. If it gets down to around 40 they could take him off the vent. The hospital has been so nice to us. My sister calls every morning and I call every evening.
I’m glad he’s up here, in an area COVID has not ravaged (I hate to say “yet” but can’t help think it), and not in the city. I keep seeing news about how bad it’s getting in the city. Long lines outside hospitals, people unable to get tested. My lease is up for renewal soon and I wonder if should stay. Where else would I live? Up here, I guess. I think about what it would be like to live upstate with my dad. I’ve always loved New York City but right now, the idea is strangely appealing.
Saturday, March 28
I decide on another relatively easy run today, similar to my first: a right on 28, left on Main, a little farther, then turn around and head home. I feel fast today and surprise myself with how strongly I come up 28 on the way back, an 8:45 pace, which for me isn’t too bad on an easy day uphill when I’m not training for anything. Maybe all the hills are finally making me stronger. Maybe it’s all the bread.
My dad’s oxygen is down to 55%. Vitals are good. This brings me some relief. I want him to fight this. I imagine what it will be like when he’s finally home and we can all breathe a sigh of relief about how close he came to the edge. “Remember when you almost died, Dad? That was crazy!” We would all laugh.
I want to tell my dad about all the miles I’ve been logging while waiting for him to come home. He’d love to know how much of Andes I’ve explored. He’s always been supportive of my athletic endeavors. When I was a kid, I would want to eat dinner as quickly as possible so I could head outside to practice riding my bike, my dad right behind me, guiding the back of my banana seat until I knew how to balance all by myself.
He’s always been there when I needed him, but he’s known when to let go, too.
Later that day, I go up to the carpeted loft space on the top floor – mostly filled with boxes of books, photos, papers, and winter clothes – and start looking through my grandmother’s old photo albums. I love looking at old family photos. At the bottom of an album page, under a crinkled plastic sheet, is a small photo of my dad at around 7 or 8 years old. Head turned to the side, big grin, white collar. Probably a school photo. What a smile. He looks so sweet, so happy. I find myself thinking about how I drove that little boy to the hospital. That poor kid. He was probably so scared to go. I cry for the first time in a long time.
Sunday, March 29
As if I don’t have enough to worry about, MacGregor hates it up here. I know it. He’s bored. He is trying to turn around after shorter and shorter distances on his walks. He’s gotten ticks every day which I pull out – thank goodness my dad has tweezers because I forgot to bring mine. He’s refusing to eat from his bowl. Only out of my hands. Probably because it’s not his usual food. Dogs don’t like change.
It’s Sunday so I decided to run 8 to 10 miles. I have no desire for anything longer than 10 miles these days. I go down 28 and cross Main, following a similar route as the day I ran 7 miles. I’ll go a little farther this time before turning around.
My left foot is starting to bother me. I’ve had plantar fasciitis since September and it’s usually manageable, even unnoticeable. Lately, it’s bugging me. It could be all the hills. Or the fact that I brought only one pair of running shoes up here instead of rotating through four like I normally do.
There’s a bit of drama at one point when I pass a farm with two dogs who bark incessantly at me from behind a wire fence. Never been more grateful for a fence. I say hello, pretending they’re greeting me warmly and not wanting to rip me to shreds. I pass them again after I turn around and they bark again. I wonder how many runners they see. So far, I have seen exactly one other runner since I’ve gotten here, on Main Street, wearing a long sleeved Boston Marathon shirt.
On the way back, I stop at a stream to rest and take a few photos.
I call the hospital later that evening, as I’ve been doing all week. This time, a new nurse answers. She asks me my name and when I tell her, she says she’s not allowed to give me any information as I am not listed as my dad’s proxy. This is news to me. She explains it’s because of HIPAA. I’m familiar with HIPAA. Still, I feel unsettled, as I’ve been getting updates all week.
She lowers her voice and says, “Off the record, I can tell you that there have been no changes.” I thank her. After I hang up, I cry.
Wednesday, April 1
I’ve taken two days off from running.
There have finally been some changes to my dad’s status in the past 48 hours. Unfortunately, they are not in the direction we were hoping. I got word on Monday that his kidneys were failing.
Kidneys. I never considered his kidneys. I thought this disease was all about the lungs. The bane of his existence. Of course, it never occurred to me that other organs might be affected by the lack of oxygen his body had been receiving.
They put him on dialysis. There was still hope for recovery, but much less than there was a week ago. Even if he did come out of this, he was going to be in bad shape. He might need round the clock care.
The doctors realized quickly that dialysis was not going to work. His heart wasn’t going to be able to take it. A decision was made to take him off the ventilator. There was nothing else they could do. He might last another day. If that.
I wake up Wednesday morning wanting, needing, to run. Anything to distract myself.
My plan is to make a left onto 28 and do a repeat of the 9-mile route I’d done two Sundays ago, but the hills are daunting today. It feels immensely harder than it had the last time I was on this road. I stop so many times to rest. Plus, my arches are starting to ache. That’s new. I turn around at the top of a hill after not even three miles and head back. My feet hurt. My legs hurt. I have nothing left in the tank. I don’t even have the energy to take any photos – a sign things are pretty dire.
I’m growing more confident I don’t have COVID, or at least, not showing any symptoms. I think I’m just drained.
When I get home, I still have so much pent up energy that I decide to go public with this and tweet about it. I have to let it out. Facebook feels too personal, too many people who know my dad. Twitter, and its thousands of strangers, feels safer. I don’t want to make a lot of people upset. I just need to vent.
I get more replies than I’d anticipated, from friends and strangers alike. I feel less alone.
I go up to the loft space to vacuum and organize, two things I like to do when I need a distraction. I bring the phone with me. I know the call is coming today. I invite MacGregor up there to keep me company.
The phone rings at 4 pm. He had taken his last breath a half hour earlier. A doctor and a nurse had been at his side. The nurse had been holding his hand.
He wasn’t alone. It’s the only thing about the call that surprises me, and I’m so relieved to hear it.
After I hang up, I lie down on the rug next to MacGregor and cry for a while.
I went home two days later.
Seventeen days upstate. I did not spend them as I had expected to spend them. It felt like the wrong ending to a bad movie. I wanted a do-over. A rewrite. Maybe a recasting, a new director, a few script doctors to fix the plot holes and add some jokes. It all felt wrong.
If only, if only. Has anyone ever had a loved one die and not said these words? If only I had gotten there sooner. If only we had been more prepared. If only our government had taken this more seriously, and earlier. If only I had known the trip to the hospital was going to be our last conversation, the back rub the last time I touched him, the driving test joke the last time I’d make him laugh.
The thing is, this kind of thinking is pointless. You can’t make decisions based on events that haven’t yet taken place. It becomes an impossible, senseless paradox.
I spent a lot of time the next few weeks writing about my dad everywhere. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. Texts. Emails. This blog. I want the world to know about him, how great he was, how he had spent 50 years teaching English, how he had raised four girls and had four grandsons who worshipped him, how much he loved my mother, how quietly funny he was, how organized he was, what beautiful handwriting he had. I couldn’t let him fade away into obscurity, robbed by an unfair, uncaring disease, part of a number on a line graph on a screen next to Governor Cuomo. My father was a human being. And he wasn’t done living.
His name was Charles William Scott. He was 76. I want everyone to know how much I love him, how much his friends and family love him, and how terribly we all miss him.
I love you, Dad. If you ever need me, I’ll be waiting for you right outside.