With each flu season comes extra caution. Many of the precautions people have been exhibiting now in combatting COVID-19 are ones of long-time habit for my family - for a bad cough could mean weeks in hospital for Zach. With a pandemic around, life became even more isolating than it was prior.
When I asked Zach how he felt at the beginning of the pandemic, he described it as an overwhelming time.
"I was told to stay clear of other people, even family, and not to go outside or to certain places. At that time, I didn't have much of an idea how this would later affect me."
Last year, Zach moved from our North Queensland hometown to live with me in Brisbane, where he would be closer to his hospital. This was a readjustment for us both; me taking on responsibility as his carer, and him having to increase his treatment with regular visits to clinic at The Prince Charles Hospital. By the time we found our footing with the new routines, it was just as quickly uprooted by the influx of COVID-19 cases in Brisbane.
Back in February, Queensland Health reported on multiple COVID-19 patients being treated at The Prince Charles Hospital. With Zach's regular appointments coming to a holt, his access to hospital care took the form of over-the-phone consultations and drive through pharmacies. Before this, Zach would see his doctors, dieticians, physiotherapists and support workers as often as weekly or fortnightly. While he has been fortunate to have access to medication and more recently, at home lung function monitoring equipment, his only contact with medical staff during this time has been through phone conversation.
In a statement from the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre at The Prince Charles Hospital on April 20, they spoke on telephone consultations, with plans to conduct clinic through video conferencing in the near future. While there were no video consultations for Zach, the hospital has since worked on reintroducing patients back to the hospital.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of our family's experience during COVID-19 has been a fear of the unknown. For Zach, he explained that his isolation experience during this time has been more intense than ever.
"It's definitely been scary. Not listening to the media too much helped because it was overwhelming sometimes. But I've been lucky to have Mum around to help get me through it.
"I've been distracting myself by playing computer games, reading manga and watching anime movies and TV shows. But I do really miss things like going out for sushi and of course, being with all of my family."
In caring for Zach, our Mum has gone to extra lengths to keep him safe, which included keeping a safe distance between her and Zach as much as possible. When leaving the house, upon returning she would ensure her hands, and anything touched was properly cleaned. Certain areas in the house were cleaned daily, as were the household items that were used regularly.
"I've had this fear around not doing things thoroughly enough and potentially passing the virus onto Zach if I was to get it myself. And then there's the fear of not knowing if he would be able to fight it if that did happen," she said.
When Zach and I talked on what he found most difficult about it all, he said:
"Being a close family, it was hard not having everyone around and having to be more cautious around Mum. She was always nervous about possibly catching the virus and passing it onto me. It was really hard for all of us."
I can tell you that Zach is big on hugging, so distance between family was quite a struggle for him. But with COVID-19 cases settling and restrictions easing in recent weeks, the occasional hug has felt slightly less dangerous.
Zach has thankfully been able to safely return to The Prince Charles Hospital as of last week and has since been admitted for treatment. However, despite returning home myself, his visitation is limited to just our Mum, meaning Zach and I are yet to reunite.
It seems as though the worst of his experience during COVID-19 is slowly coming to an end, and hopefully he can soon return to an abundance of family hugs and trips out for sushi.