Brianna Cisneros is the youngest of four siblings. On this cool December evening, she’s sitting at a table in her backyard with her two sisters, her brother and her father. A dog barks nearby, there’s music playing from a neighbor’s house down the street. Signs of normalcy in a not so normal year.
In the span of about a week back in July, Brianna’s parents and her oldest sister were all sick with COVID-19 in different hospitals in the Valley. And that same week? Her grandparents both died of the virus in a hospital in Los Angeles. They lived in Parlier but were in LA when they both got sick.
“I was really close to them,” she says. “My grandma would always take me to the park, she would take care of me, take me and my brother and sometimes my sister to the bus stop.”
She misses them and when the 9-year-old thinks back to that horrible week this past summer, well, it’s something she’s still trying to understand.
“It’s scary for someone small to think about something big, you know, that happened,” she says.
Something big that happened: It’s what the whole family has been thinking about, especially now around the holidays. It’s unclear how they contracted the virus. They wore masks, they say, and were careful. But they want to share their story so that others will stay vigilant and won’t experience the pain they did.
“I cried every day, every night,” says Brianna’s oldest sister, Janette. She’s 23 and she’s describing what it was like to be by herself at Clovis Community Medical Center with COVID knowing that her parents and grandparents were also sick with the virus in other hospitals.
“It was very difficult for me. All by yourself,” she says trying to hold back tears. “Sorry. It was really, really difficult.”
She didn’t even know she had COVID-19 when she came to the hospital. She was there to have her baby and she was tested for the virus. The only symptom she had when she came into the hospital was a cough, she says.
“And a few hours after, fever, shortness of breath, chills, headache,” she says.
She says labor was especially difficult because she was having so much trouble just breathing. After her son David was born, nurses asked Janette’s husband to bring him home. Janette needed to stay for several more days because she was so sick.
Janette’s father, Rodolfo Cisneros, remembers getting a phone call from Janette’s doctor telling him his daughter was really sick. But Rodolfo, 52, was in a hospital in Hanford, an hour away. His wife meanwhile had been transferred to a hospital in Lodi. All Rodolfo could do was ask the doctor to take good care of his daughter.
“I told him, ‘Please take care of her. I am in the hospital too,’” he says.
Rodolfo says he lost 20 pounds and like Janette, required oxygen. At one point, he was worried for his life.
“It was scary. I was thinking bad. What’s going to happen to me?” he says.
Meanwhile, the three younger kids still at home struggled to keep everything together. They say they each had minor symptoms of COVID-19, like headaches, but they were never tested. To stay in touch with his parents, Rodolfo Jr., 15, says technology helped but it also made him anxious.
“Thank God you could text your parents anytime that you want,” he says. “But I would get worried when they wouldn’t answer.”
Valeria Cisneros, 19, says the uncertainty of that week was awful.
“So hard because I mean I saw everyone like leaving for the hospital and I tried to be strong for my siblings too,” she says.
And when their grandparents died, the kids were alone.
“My family and I agreed to not tell parents and sister yet,” she says. “They were not doing well so we kind of had to grieve by ourselves.”
It’s something she hopes other families are able to avoid as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in the Valley.