Life in a High Risk Family

Nick Kallipolites, Staff Writer

I never thought I would become a member of a high-risk family during COVID-19. As it turns out though, a global pandemic has not been 2020’s only life-altering surprise. Although my grandfather has struggled with other medical complications for the past decade, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in early September has changed my family dynamic considerably. With an easily contractible respiratory virus looming over the country, practically anything can disturb his fragile immune system.

My household consists of my mother, my grandfather, and myself. My parents are divorced, however my father is still in the equation and regularly visits us and helps out where he can. He lives in a separate condo complex in Mashpee and works full time as a creative director at Cape Cod Broadcasting. Because he’s trying to support himself independently, he’s not available during the weekdays to help out with my grandfather’s care 

My mother works full-time at Mashpee High School and has to physically be there every day while I only leave the house on Thursdays and Fridays because of my place in Cohort B. That means for three days out of the week, I am my grandfather’s primary caregiver. Although he is recovering swiftly, I need to make him lunch, bring him the correct medications from the mountain of prescription bottles we have, and restrain the family dog whenever an actual doctor visits him. I have had to abruptly leave online class on multiple occasions because I heard a sound upstairs and needed to make sure he didn’t fall. On Thursday and Friday when I’m physically attending classes, I don’t have a G block class in my schedule, so I can leave over 90 minutes early and head home to make sure he is alright after being left alone for a number of hours. Unfortunately, this means that I have begun racking up dismissals and it makes my attendance look questionable. 

I wouldn’t say my life has been dramatically altered because of a major event, like moving away or something. I still wake up in the morning in the same bed as last year, put on the same clothes, and use the same razor. It’s a lot of little things that cascade into an uncontrollable waterfall of adversities. What were once regular doctor visits became multiple-hour waits outside of the doctor’s office from the car because of social distancing measures. He’s still too sick to enter grocery stores. If the paramedics have to come to our home, I have to do last-minute cleaning in order to provide a clear path for a stretcher and stay at least six feet away. I feel concerned every time I step into  school, with the anxiety of my classmates potentially not wearing a mask or respecting public health protocols constantly occupying my thoughts. Even though I wouldn’t have many friends over during a normal time, I have to fully prevent anyone from coming over. I am usually the one transporting him to appointments and going out to pick up his medications. 

Some of those appointments are in Plymouth. On those long drives, it’s awkward to sit in silence for upwards of 20 minutes, so inevitably we start chatting with each other. Politics have not escaped the conversation, even though I try to avoid it with my grandparents. The handling of the coronavirus at the federal level has had local consequences, and has influenced my grandfather’s political views. In the past he was an avid Trump supporter because he was against the establishment and felt the president would return America to its isolationist glory. However, as he was diagnosed with cancer and witnessed Trump’s flagrant disregard of the hundreds of thousands of Americans dying due to the pandemic, he began shifting away from Trump. My grandfather still has disdain for the government as a whole, but because he is physically at risk of becoming ill, he has alienated himself from supporting the president.
I certainly wouldn’t elect to live this kind of life. It’s stressful, pressuring, and unpredictable — but I have learned some valuable things from it. Please, for the safety of my grandfather and other immunocompromised members of our community, wear that mask and restrain the urge to senselessly party. It could be the difference between another birthday or another grave, even if it doesn’t directly impact you.