Hugs in the Time of Coronavirus: A Single Mom’s Fears in Spain

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My daughter is a hugaholic. She is six-years-old and would hug all day if she could. It’s not just me either. She hugs the staff at her school, her waiters. “It’s time for a hug, mamá,” she says in Spanish. “I just hugged you a second ago,” I say in my native English. Feeling germphobic, I had just given her a quick, stiff hug and averted my face from hers in the act. “I know,” she says unsatisfied, “but I need ANOTHER!”  Under normal circumstances this would be a Mommy-melt moment with heart-faced emojis. But in “life´s a party” Madrid right now, we´re in a convent-like lockdown that prohibits not only going out, but a lockdown of affection since there’s concern for infection. 

Why can’t I give her the hugs I want to give her and that she starves for? Because as I write this, I am not sure if I have coronavirus or not and don’t want to infect her. Since the coronavirus outbreak escalated two weeks ago here in Spain, medical centers have asked people not to leave their homes for social distancing. The country was not prepared, and to the public’s frustration, coronavirus tests are now only been done on serious cases, especially vulnerable older people, and health workers with symptoms.

I am a teacher and am social like everybody else in this city that never sleeps. I live smack in the center of the Spanish capital, which is transited by tourists at a similar pace to my hometown of New York, thus why I chose this part of town. It’s likely that at least one of my students (you double kiss your students hello, welcome to Spain!) or someone in the building (neighbors are kissy too) has coronavirus. I live in fear, but try not to think about it. I’m a single working mom and exhausted, too, so overthinking is a luxury.

I feel kind of under the weather right now, but I’ll be fine — I hope. Like the majority of Spaniards I have public health insurance (I gave birth for free in this country) and when I called the coronavirus hotline, I spoke to a trained nurse who calls me practically every day now to see how I am doing and if I have symptoms. They are calling everyone because they do not want anyone to leave their home or go to medical centers. “If you have trouble breathing or have a fever that doesn’t go down, then go to the hospital, if not, stay home, cariño,” she always tells me in her raspy smoker’s voice. 

On a spring-like Saturday afternoon, the country was given its last few hours of freedom before the lockdown at sundown to be where they needed to be. The first eerie screeching of the closing gates of all the small businesses in my district began to sound in the distance. Over a period of hours there was less and less pedestrian traffic. Only a few confused-looking tourists and homeless people were on the street. 

Then it was time to say goodbye to my mother, who had come over for the last time to help with the last bit of food shopping in my fridge for her daughter and her granddaughter. We kept our distance and did not touch or kiss each other. She is a high-risk case of vulnerability, being that she is over the age of 65. We did not cry saying goodbye for what we initially were told would be two weeks, but deep down knew it would be more. We were strong in front of my daughter. 

That Saturday night, after lockdown, my normal bustling neighborhood of drunk tourists and rowdy locals was dead silent. By Monday morning, even the clan of gypsies that gathers in my square was mysteriously gone. Now the only time I see others is at 8pm every night when we go to our balconies and clap and bang our pots in tribute to this country’s health workers. 

Then the fever erupted. 

On the second night of the lockdown my daughter came down with a fever in the middle of the night. I wanted to die thinking that she had contracted the virus. She threw her arms around me in a fever cry. So I hugged her back tightly with all my heart. It wasn’t my rational side of the brain, it was motherly instinct. My love will make her stronger, not my social distancing at this moment. Turns out my heart was on science’s side for once: Turns out hugging stimulates the thymus gland, regulating the body´s white blood cell production, which helps fight infection, according to research.

The next morning I struggled about whether to take her out of the house and to her pediatrician’s office. Normally it would have been a 10 to 15 minute walk from our home. But now, it was an odyssey. I called her father for his opinion. I called my mother for her input. Finally, I decided to brave it and go. If things were going to get even worse in the health system here in Spain, I wanted to take advantage of a human doctor in person and not on a screen or by phone. Instead of walking we jumped in cab through a city that looked like a scene from the movie Vanilla Sky with such an empty Gran Via, a street that looks like Fifth Avenue. 

We were the only people at the pediatrician’s office and the receptionist and doctor weren’t exactly as relaxed and chatty with us as they usually are. I helped my daughter onto the examining table and removed her plastic gloves. “Does she have coronavirus, Doctor ?” “No, but she needs an antibiotic.” Relief. We jumped in another taxi and went directly back home after stopping at the pharmacy around the block. We removed all our clothing we had worn on our outing and washed our hands with tons of soap like they recommend you do, trying to get back to normal, our new normal of insular isolation at home. 

All over Spain you are only allowed to be seen on the streets if you are going out for food, pharmaceuticals, to attend health centers, or to provide employment services, or to walk your dog. If you have the proper documentation, you can also leave to assist and care for seniors, minors, the disabled, or people who are particularly vulnerable. All premises and establishments that carry out public-facing activity are closed. Cafés and restaurants are shut down, but they can deliver food to people’s homes. El Prado is closed for the first time since the Spanish Civil War, as well as cinemas and theaters, sporting events, local fiestas, and marches are suspended, and even Easter Week processions around the country have been called off.  Spain´s First Lady has tested positive with coronavirus, which she likely got at the Women´s March they say, but for now President Pedro Sánchez remains negative in his testing.

Today the National Police launched a message via Twitter to remind people that even though today is Father´s Day, traveling to second homes or to visit other people is still prohibited. That means my daughter couldn´t even see her dad on Father´s Day, since he lives in another home. If he were to risk coming to pick her up, and he were caught by the police, he could be fined 30,000 Euros. Instead, they had an extra-long video chat and she made him a card that I sent him via Whatsapp that depicted all of us on a plane flying to Colombia on vacation with happy faces. I didn’t tell my daughter that the country where her ancestors are from is not letting any flights from Spain with Spaniards like her on it into their country anymore. But I did give her a hug.