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How We Stave Off Panic Over the Coronavirus

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
03/09/20  9:58 AM PST

In a world that runs out of toilet paper when the coronavirus is on the rise, I realize my son’s early years as an immunocompromised infant have prepared me for the potential panic.

The NT News, one of Australia’s satirical newspapers, had a solution for the toilet paper shortage. It added eight extra blank pages in the latest edition, including handy cutout guides. It’s comment on this addition: “Run out of loo paper? The NT News cares.”

It seems nobody is quite sure what to do about the outbreak, which started in China and has since lead to Italy’s closing its borders and the most recent outbreaks in the United States, causing worldwide conferences to be canceled and schools to shut down.

When the first case was diagnosed in my own county, my children’s school closed for two days for deep cleaning. Currently the CDC does not recommend canceling school, but we are operating under the “better safe than sorry” principle.

As I see people panic—the standard “bread and milk” response—I realize that I have been in training for this kind of epidemic for the last eight years.

When my oldest son, Charlie, was born premature and with a rare syndrome, I panicked. He was my first child. I had no other experience of motherhood other than the NICU and emergency calls in the middle of the night to inform me that he had be intubated yet again. I did not know how to mother him when there was so little I could touch, so little I could control over his condition.

So I did everything I could. I overrode my own natural response to panic and jumped in with both sanitized hands. I learned to feed him through his nasal gastric tube. And to take his temperature. And change his pulse oximeter. And later, when he came home with a tracheotomy, I became a master at keeping his airway clear with the suction machine and boiling water and sterilizing the trach for his weekly change. I also operated the Kangaroo pump for his G-tube like a pro.

When Charlie was less than a year old I took him for a walk in the neighborhood. A mile from home, the suction machine, the one I relied on to keep his airway clear, stopped working. After one sad whirring sound, it shut down. There were, standing on the side of the road under the shade of a giant oak tree, and I had no way to help my son breathe. My own breath came in hitches and starts as I considered my options, all of which felt too significant for a sunny Wednesday. In the end, I called the medical supply company’s emergency line. They sent out a dispatch with a new machine. While they were on their way, I pushed Charlie’s stroller slowly home, praying for his throat to stay clear until they arrived. When it didn’t, I stayed as calm as I could and used the old-fashioned blue suction bulb you can buy at Walmart for $2.99. It worked in a pinch. When the new machine arrived shortly after, I felt like a I’d survived a storm.

The truth is, you can never be entirely prepared—the coronavirus, tornadoes, housing crises, cancer, car wrecks—they come of their own accord.

The one thing I can control is my reaction to the crisis. I can stay calm and carry on and refuse to give in to the panic, though I am so dearly drawn to it. I will prepare, or course. I will order extra TP and sanitizer on Amazon Prime and cancel that unnecessary flight across the country. But then I have to let the rest go. Worry isn’t going to help my family. It’s a reminder that control is, in fact, the illusion everyone always said it was—as much as I hate to admit it.


child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

Follow her on Facebook.


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