With Two COVID-19 Positive Sons, Arlington Family Faces 'Greatest Fear'
Scott Carlton is an 11-year-old Arlington boy who typically smiles with his whole face, loudly giggles contagious belly laughs and always enjoys applause and music.
But by July 14, Scotty’s bodily systems started to shut down or go haywire, one by one.
First came the daily retching, which began about two weeks earlier. Then Scotty became constipated – not unusual for a day or two but a cause for alarm by Day 4, when suppositories and digital stimulation had no effect. At the same time, he was retaining urine; nothing for 30 straight hours.
Then his fever spiked – 102.9 under his arm – and he required supportive oxygen. In an emergency telehealth appointment, Bankole Osuntokun, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Cook Children’s, ordered Scotty’s parents Catherine and Jeff Carlton of Arlington to take him to the Emergency Department at Cook Children’s Medical Center.
When his COVID-19 test came back positive later that day, the Carltons were devastated.
“This had been our great fear since mid-March when all of this started,” said Jeff, who works at The University of Texas at Arlington. “Scotty has numerous underlying medical conditions that make him susceptible. If there’s a cold out there, Scotty will catch it.
“For Scotty, COVID-19 can be a death sentence. We’re frightfully aware that it still could be.”
The second shock came a day later. With Scotty under careful watch in the hospital’s COVID unit alongside his father, the rest of the family went for testing. The Carltons’ sweet, high-energy 9-year-old son, Jeffrey, with no underlying medical conditions, also tested positive. So did a beloved home health nurse who cares for Scotty during the workweek.
“It was just too much to take – the fear, the uncertainty, the logistics of care,” said Catherine, who works at My Health My Resources of Tarrant County. “We realistically prepared ourselves for the what-if possibility of Scotty getting COVID. We never considered what might happen if we had to face more than one case at a time in the house.”
What comes next?
A little more than a week after their boys were diagnosed, here’s where things stand:
- Thanks to what they say was “exceptional care” by hospitalist Maxie Brewer, D.O., and a team of nurses in the COVID unit, Scotty was able to go home after three days. “He is tough, though still a sick boy,” Jeff said. “We get choked up thinking of the courageous docs and nurses who cared for Scotty.”
- Scotty continues to need supplemental oxygen and has problems with retching, but is improving each day.
- Jeffrey spent several days feverish and fatigued, and he says his sense of smell and taste are diminished. He also has mysterious headaches that come on suddenly and last for several minutes. “Is it COVID? Is it stress?” Jeff said. “We don’t know.”
- Quarantining together safely, they say, is a logistical impossibility. The Carltons divided up their house as best as possible to limit shared space, trying to keep their daughter, Jenna, safe. They say they can’t send her to family or friends, because she may be asymptomatic and still spread the virus to others. Their grandparents live down the street, but it is not safe to see them.
- The rest of the family remains healthy. “We’re OK so far, though we’re hyper aware of every sniffle and cough,” Catherine said.
- The physicians at Cook Children’s say if the boys are fever-free through this weekend, approximately 10 days after their diagnoses, then the family must quarantine for an additional 14 days. All told, they will spend about 24 days together in their home.
- “Our worst fears are too terrible to talk about,” Jeff said. “But a secondary fear is that both Catherine and I get sick at the same time – or worse. That’s something that’s nearly impossible to prepare our family for. And it would extend this long in-home quarantine further, along with the logistics of protecting the kids all over again.”
The bigger picture
The Carltons say they are grateful for the support they’ve received at Cook Children’s. But they remain discouraged that their personal struggle comes against the backdrop of a public response they describe as “bizarre.”
“Earlier this month, people were making obviously false claims that children can’t get or transmit the virus,” Jeff said. “We may not all agree on the plans moving forward, but we all have to acknowledge the same set of facts.”
They say they are fortunate that they have understanding employers who currently allow them to work from home, good health insurance and a large support network of family, friends and neighbors. Due to Scotty’s life-threatening medical conditions, they also have 11 years of experience dealing with medical crises alongside his physicians at Cook Children’s.
“We’re probably better equipped than a lot of families to handle some of this, but how do other families find that balance?” Catherine said. “This is difficult and scary in the abstract and terrifying up close. There’s so much we don’t know.
“It’s important to tune out the noise and listen to the health experts. We don’t know all the answers. But we know this is real, and we don’t want others to live this nightmare.”