This is a happy story about Lawrence and Stacie Alexander, and a family that needed a happy ending. A few months ago, Lawrence was in the hospital fighting for his life as he experienced organ failure caused by COVID-19. Stacie, the Vice Principal at Cabrillo High, was home with their children Sydney (9 years old) and Marcus (6), unable to visit Lawrence and hoping he’d wake up so they could at least talk to him.
Lawrence came off the ventilator and steadily recovered once he began a dialysis treatment. After more than two months away from his wife and children, he got what he’d been asking for: a date.
“Once we got the date, Daddy’s coming home May 26th, that’s when the kids started having meltdowns,” said Stacie. “’When’s Daddy coming home?’ nonstop. I’m saying, ‘He’s been gone for two months.’ But they held it together through that unknown, and when you finally know he’s coming home you let go and become a basket case. Every day they counted down until we finally picked him up.”
Lawrence was just as eager for that “go home” day as his wife and kids, of course, and said he doesn’t have the words to describe getting to see his family in person for the first time after his terrifying ordeal.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” he said. “Just to touch them, to see them, to see their smiles not through a phone. To hear their noises, their laughs, the arguments, the sarcasm—not through a phone, but in person. It’s priceless. You can’t even express the gratitude you have just getting back to wonderful normalcy.”
Stacie’s fellow LBUSD administrator Ngoc Nguyen had drawn a mural on a wall in the family’s backyard, and there was a literal parade of well-wishers honking their congratulations to Lawrence after his return.
“It was surreal,” he said. “They’re glad you made it through. It’s a bit overwhelming to have that much love and praise heaped on you just for being alive.”
Of course, the damage from COVID-19 didn’t disappear the moment Lawrence crossed the threshold of his home. For one, he lost his mother to the disease—she passed away while he was on a ventilator. That’s obviously a pain that won’t fade quickly—but the disease left physical scars as well.
“I have made a remarkable recovery in terms of the organ issues I was having,” he said. “For me it’s the core strength and stamina. Being in a bed for months that deteriorates. You hear the medical staff using the word ‘decomposition,’ and I get what that means. I lost 50 pounds in the hospital.”
Societal & Money Woes
Stacie is a longtime LBUSD administrator and Lawrence was an educator before becoming a stay-at-home dad. Both are opinionated on the idea of re-opening schools, especially given their family’s firsthand experience of how devastating COVID-19 can be when it gets a food into a house.
“The reality is that nobody knows,” said Lawrence. “That answer, the right answer, is not politically acceptable. We teach kids to have patience—we’ll get ice cream later, you’ll get this reward later. However in larger society everyone’s impatient. This is a once in a century event, and nobody has the answers yet. We have to be organized and patient, because Corona don’t care. It just wants to get into a new body and infect it—it is singly focused.”
“Teachers went from heroes to ‘oh they don’t want to work’ in the span of a few months,” said Stacie. “That’s not true. I wish schools were open—absolutely. I miss the kids, the teachers, the daily life at a school, and I also miss being out of the house. So many times we think it’s an either or instead of a both. I want schools to be open, but we need them to be closed right now. None of it is easy, and none of it is preferred.”
Both Alexanders also said they’ve become somewhat radicalized around the issue of healthcare, and a belief that it should be free, simple, and accessible to all. Stacie said that just the room and board for Lawrence’s ICU stay came to around $700,000. That doesn’t include doctors, medicine, or treatments—the total bill was more than $1.5 million, according to Lawrence.
Even for a family like theirs, with good insurance that covered Lawrence’s treatment, it’s been a struggle.
“There are so many games and tricks,” said Lawrence. “The whole process is exhausting.”
“The patient advocacy was a full time job,” said Stacie. “Constant phone calls, just a frustrating and almost shameful amount of time spent on billing and insurance. That’s probably one of the ways our system is the most broken.”
There’s one other lingering issue for Lawrence and the Alexanders. While he was gone, Sydney and Marcus started sleeping in he and Stacie’s bed, a nighttime ritual that helped ease the kids through their father’s absence. It’s a habit both kids have been reluctant to leave behind.
“There’s something about that time when we’re all in the room,” said Lawrence, who is still only able to sleep a few hours at a time.
“We’re still in this thing, we can’t process it yet,” said Stacie. “We can’t see family and friends, we lost Lawrence’s mom. It’s not something that will ever be resolved—it’s just a thing that we lived through.”
For Lawrence, the little joys that most take for granted have been his way through the sorrow and pain his family has experienced.
“I was laying in bed and my daughter crawled up and laid in my arms and fell asleep,” said Lawrence. “It’s such a beautiful experience. I’m cherishing little things like that. Head butts from my son—all of it. It’s all beautiful.”