Say you are 11 years old, say your mom has tested positive for COVID-19 and is pretty sick with the virus in your apartment. Say your dad takes you and your brother and sister to get tested, and you all test positive. Though you have no symptoms, a few days later, you get appendicitis. That is what happened to SF Tenderloin resident Rodney Gongora. His mom, Landy Polanco, says they all were exposed after a family dinner gathering, a “Comida” of 10 persons, in mid-June.
“I got sick on the 14th of June, and that was such a very difficult, bad week. All I wanted to do was sleep. I couldn’t eat, my whole body ached, my stomach hurt. The health department called twice a day to check on me, and for that week I was so sick, they dropped off food for us. I just took aspirin and drank ginger tea, couldn’t keep anything down. Thank goodness the kids (Ashley, 14, Rodney, 11, and Eder, 5) didn’t really have symptoms, just me, but then Rodney woke up with sharp pains in his stomach. While we were in quarantine.”
Rodney picks up his story, “That Saturday it started with my head hurting, then after I ate my stomach started hurting, so I went outside to, you know, walk the pain off, but that didn’t help, then I sat down on the couch but couldn’t get comfortable, and then I threw up a lot, then I went to sleep, but woke up cause the pain got so bad in my side I could barely walk or sit or anything, and that’s when my dad took me to the Emergency Room. There they did a lot of X-rays and told me it was my appendix.“
His mom felt terrible she couldn’t be with him.
“They did surgery right away, just four little holes (laparoscopy) and he was home in two days. Gracias a Dios.”
The family has lived in their Mercy Housing apartment building on the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street for 10 years.
Even before getting sick, this had been a “desestrante” (devastating) time for Landy and her family.
Landy, 36, and her husband, Jose, 41, lost their jobs in financial district restaurants, and haven’t worked since mid-March. Catholic Charities has helped pay their rent for June and July. They receive food stamps and get groceries from various school distribution sites.
Rodney attends KIPP SF Bay Academy and has spent the last three months learning remotely, with Google classroom.
His review of Google Classroom: “What I didn’t like about it is, it was always so hard to log in, they kept telling us over and over how to log on, the same instructions over and over and passwords didn’t work. What was good about it, was that I got to have calls with my friends, there in the Google classroom, and see their faces.”
His mom has fully recovered and the health department lifted the family’s quarantine on June 27. “Ya todos estamos bien, (we are all well now), Gracias a Dios.”
But Rodney says they never go out, “There’s a playground in our building, not much there, just a slide. But we can go down there and kick a ball. Play soccer. There’s a gate that separates two playgrounds and we can climb over the gate and go to the other playground, too. “
Landy says the stress is showing in the kids. “They are fighting a lot sometimes, the two boys. The kids can’t distract themselves enough, it’s so hard to be encerrado. We live opposite St Anthony’s and it’s filthy on the street, especially after they give out the food, so they never go outside.”
Before the pandemic, Rodney was a regular participant in the after-school tutoring programs at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids develop writing skills.
Now, three times a week for an hour, he meets with his tutor via Zoom, on his mom’s phone (the school took back the Chromebook when the semester ended).
“I feel good again, I can eat, I can lay on my side again, I can do everything again! So I was glad to start with my tutor again, we work on my writing. I write poems. “
And Jose spends his days applying for jobs, as his previous employer told him he doubts they will re-open this year. Landy speaks softly,
“It’s hard, with neither of us working, to figure out next month’s rent.” Then, displaying the resilience that has so far carried her through, she laughs.
“With all this time home, I am helping Rodney with his Spanish. Since he was born here, and always gone to school here, his Spanish has lots of mistakes. So now I have time to help him. That’s important to me. He helps me with my English, though he gets impatient. I am very patient with his Spanish.”
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Thanks for this story of hardship and caring and resilience. It makes me happy to know you’ve found writing to be a way to connect with others.