One family’s lockdown - why we must all wear masks

By John Lewis

Alexandrena Parker is only 31, but she is among the most vulnerable of all Victorians living through the coronavirus pandemic.

The former Shepparton woman suffers from the debilitating lung disease cystic fibrosis, meaning even the slightest brush with coronavirus could prove fatal.

For people like Alex, the simple act of other people wearing a mask can mean life or death. At the very least, it could help shorten the time she has to spend in isolation, which so far stands at nearly 150 days.

Cystic fibrosis clogs the body’s organs with thick, sticky mucus and can considerably shorten sufferers’ life expectancy. To ease her breathing, Alex relies upon daily doses of Kalydeco and other prescription drugs, as well as daily physiotherapy sessions to loosen the build-up of mucus in her lungs.

Alex, husband Mike and three-year-old daughter Ruby have been in self-imposed isolation since March 9, venturing outside their Beaconsfield home only briefly for a short walk, wearing masks, each day.

Food is delivered weekly and Alex's vital medication is sent from the Alfred Hospital by post.

The only visitor they have had is Alex's mother, Karen, a former nurse who now teaches at Shepparton's Notre Dame Secondary College.

Karen underwent a COVID-19 test and locked herself in quarantine for two weeks so she could visit her daughter and grandchild.

“We're lucky we have a backyard and Mike's family live nearby. But it is isolating — and I feel extremely vulnerable. We call it the Corona Coaster — we go up and down each day,” Alex said.

Before coronavirus arrived, Alex travelled the world as a commercial photographer working for big brand names such as Nestlé, David Jones, MasterFoods, Panadol, Big W and Country Road. Despite her crippling disease, Alex had built up a large international portfolio showcasing her speciality — photographing children.

Alex completed her last exterior photoshoot in February.

Carpenter Mike stopped work a week later to be with his family. They then went into lockdown to protect Alex from the potentially deadly virus.

The couple now relies on JobKeeper payments to keep the family afloat.

“I've done a couple of small indoor shoots, but my income has dropped 95 per cent,” Alex said.

She said at first, their self-isolation felt strange because everyone else was outside and living with the early stages of restrictions.

“We thought perhaps we were over-reacting; we were taking action well before our friends. But now we feel we're ahead of the game,” Alex said.

Alex and Mike take it in shifts to play with Ruby, they keep mentally active and try to keep their indoor lives as normal possible. Ruby celebrated her third birthday in isolation and has been baking with her grandmother on Zoom, seeing her friends via FaceTime and making backyard tents with her mum and dad.

“The longer it goes on, the stronger we feel. But we know we can't live like this forever. We're just longing for the day we can go out and see people again and do normal things — even hugging a friend would be wonderful,” Alex said.

Alex supported the extension of mask-wearing across the whole of Victoria.

“Science backs the wearing of masks, and they are a powerful visible reminder that this is real. We are all in this together,” she said.

Alex called people who refused to wear masks selfish.

“I think the majority of people are doing the right thing, the rest are just completely selfish,” she said.

Despite the lockdowns, the fear of infection and the economic disruption of COVID-19, Alex can see a positive side to the legacy of the pandemic.

“I hope culturally it makes people change their behaviour around spreading disease — such as going to work when sick. I hope it makes vulnerable people feel more protected. I think everyone knows somebody who is vulnerable,” she said.