How many of you are arguing about politics or worried about money? This crisis is unfair and shouldn’t be happening to us, right? If you were the leader of the free world, then you would have done this differently. You would have saved people, shut-up the media, had enough tests kits for every single citizen and planned better when you saw this being played out overseas. Let me assure you of one truth: none of that matters when you get the virus. Get sick and those thoughts disappear like the money in your 401k.
I was just like you, talking politics switching from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to the headlines and back again in an endless cycle of anxiety. Wondering when we were going to run out of food and money. Wondering if the grocery stores would be able to restock the shelves. Washing my hands at least nine times before breakfast alone. Second-guessing my choices and asking myself if those decisions were safe or stupid. None of those thoughts remotely crossed my mind while I was in the emergency room facing the coronavirus.
The symptoms started with an unusual sore throat, unlike anything I’ve had before. Hmm, that’s weird I thought. It must be allergies. After all, it’s almost spring. Next, were terrible headaches like when you skip a meal or have a really bad hangover. Oh, it’s probably because I’m on the phone all the time. I should skip a few calls. Where is that headset I used to have” Next was extreme fatigue. Wow, I just woke up two hours ago and I need a nap already? That’s unusual, maybe it’s just ennui. After I woke up and realized my nap was five hours long — it hit me. A gut punch, low and hard, the coronavirus. It took some mental gymnastics before I convinced myself to take my temperature. The readout flashed 99.3. Well, technically that’s a temperature, but this is a digital thermometer so, I should look for that old school one right after I find my phone’s headset. Legitimate denial, but certainly I’m not the only one with this pattern.
A neighbor down the street was posting her experience online. She contracted the virus and told us to pay attention. She warned that we should isolate ourselves from our family if we felt any symptoms and told us to be smart and listen to your body! Oh, thank god, I thought, that’s not me. Little did I know I would be texting her in a couple of days to compare symptoms.
When the fever, chills, sweating and diarrhea began, that’s when my denial started to fade. Immediately looked for answers online. The media was saying look for shortness of breath. My breathing was fine. People were sharing online to hold your breath for ten seconds and gargle with saltwater, but not at the same time! Literally laughing out loud, yeah I knew that was some serious BS. I wondered what were the first signs of the virus though, and not the go get on a ventilator right fucking now symptoms?
I told my husband it would be safer if I slept in our room from now on and used our bathroom exclusively and that he and my son should use the other ones. It didn’t seem real that I was deciding to self-isolate from my family, but reason and logic prevailed. I wanted to talk to someone who had the virus. I was reluctant to reach out to my neighbor for fear of outing myself in the community I lived in. I noticed a few friends of mine were commenting on a public post from a woman in another state who had the virus. Looks like we shared some mutual friends. She was in the ER and encouraging people to lift up the hospital heroes. She posted that there weren’t enough kits and even though she was presumed to have COVID-19, they wouldn’t test her because she wasn’t in critical care. I saw encouraging, loving comments, but also messages of confusion too. People asked her, “Why won’t they test you?” and said, “Maybe you just have the flu?” She clarified the post. She had tested negative for influenza A and B and also strep. She said the nurses were genuine and heartbroken to tell her they couldn’t test her but to assume she had the virus. They eluded that there weren’t enough tests to go around and to drink fluids, rest, and take acetaminophen.
I couldn’t believe it! Are you kidding me? That’s it? No meds and no tests? But the entire NBA just got tested?!
I sent her a friend request and within an hour, she accepted. Yet the thought of sending her a message scared me. I wanted to talk it over with my husband, but he was homeschooling and taking care of everything all on his own now. I didn’t want to burden him more if I wasn’t really sick with CV. I decided to go ahead and reach out. I hoped and believed she would tell me her symptoms were different from mine and then I would be reassured. My fears would be over and done with. Trembling, I sent a private message:
Hi, I know we don’t know each other but it looks like we know a few of the same people. I’m reaching out because I think I might be in the beginning stages of the virus and I’m just curious about your early symptoms. If you don’t mind sharing them, that would be awesome but if you need to rest, I certainly understand.
She responded immediately.
My heart was racing. Please sweet baby Jesus do not say sore throat. Bing, the notification bell sounded.
My first symptom was a weird sore throat.
Gut punch again. My hands began shaking as tears rolled down my face. She told me her best advice and we exchanged lots of heart emojis. I sat and stared at the wall as I breathed in the uncertainty. I decided to do more research and reached out to the neighbor and found out the truth — I was looking at the worst-case scenario in the mirror.
I got worse and cried incessantly. Nighttime was unnerving and getting to sleep amid a swirl of fear and anxiety was insurmountable. I kept hearing two of my favorite songs in my head, All I Ask by Adele and River by Leon Bridges. The words rang true in my soul and saddened yet comforted me at the same time. Then a voice in my head said, Surrender.
Surrender to what? I thought.
“Surrender to the fear and to the idea that this is how you will die,” it said.
I began to look at my 45 years of life in a way I never have before. Had I done the work, the hard work of righting my wrongs, of forgiveness, of telling the people I loved just how much they meant to me? I thought about the last conversations I had with my mom, husband, and friends. I hoped I had given my son enough of me and that I showed up for him every day. I remembered all the wisdom I shared with him from our heart to hearts. I closed my eyes knowing I did the best I could and a calmness washed over me. I could finally rest.
The next morning, I knew I needed support. I couldn’t get through this alone and I needed connection and community. Something I hope we are all realizing in this tumultuous time. I told a few colleagues and a group of wise and spiritual women I am lucky enough to call friends. I soaked up their love and I meditated, On the breath, inhale and exhale. This is life, the right now. I realized that this moment is all you have. My body told me to rest and I listened. But by nightfall, my symptoms were worse. There was a fire in my chest that was undeniable and the pain radiating to my jaw could no longer be ignored. I was frantic and didn’t know who to call. Why didn’t I have a list of medical phone numbers? My world was spinning. I found a public health nursing line for COVID-19. In my head I thought, This is silly. I don’t have the coronavirus, only a few people have tested positive in my area. My fingers dialed the number anyway. I was put on hold with soothing jazz melodies. I must be in a movie!
A voice finally greeted me, “Hello.”
My hands shook so bad I was afraid to push the off button for the speakerphone and lose the call. “I’m nurse Hannah and I must ask you a few questions,” she stated. Hannah is my niece’s name. It felt comforting.
“Are you calling because you believe you are presenting the symptoms of COVID-19?” she said.
My mind screamed. Fuck, this is real! But my voice answered in a neutral tone, wanting to appear calm, “Yes,” I said. The call went on for a few more minutes. I thought, I’m nailing this questionnaire. Then she hit me with a very sweet, caring tone and I know I’m in trouble. Nurses only use that tone when they mean business.
“I’m going to need you to go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Okay?” she asked. The words seemed foreign. She continued, “Which hospital do you want to go to? I need to call them now. Hello, are you there?” I was holding back tears and unable to speak due to the gigantic lump in my throat.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” I said.
Still here. I couldn’t shake that thought from my mind. I’m still here. I needed to hold onto that belief because my brain had left the building. The nurse continued to instruct me.
“I know this is difficult, but you called because you were concerned, remember? We need to take precautionary measures to ensure your well-being.” she voiced.
I chose a hospital and she gave me instructions to call before I entered the building and not to drive myself. As they say — shit just got real.
Around midnight we left the house in the snow and headed to the hospital. I put on gloves and a scarf and tried to not touch anything in an attempt to save my family. My husband and I shared glances of fear but tried to keep things light for our 8-year-old. We had told him a few days before that mommy had diarrhea and we didn’t want him to get it so I was going to stay in my room and daddy would sleep with him in his room. His response was priceless and filled with laughter, “Oh good! Because diarrhea is my worst enemy!” He hadn’t asked any more questions and we were relieved to not have to reveal the bigger picture but going to the hospital meant there was no more hiding the whole truth. So, we talked and I was honest.
“Mommy, do you have the virus?” he asked.
“I don’t know Bug,” I told him “But they will do some tests and check.”
“Like x-rays, mom?” he asked.
“Yes, baby, like that,” I responded.
In the car, I kept looking back to his car seat and crunching my nose, our secret smile, and said, “Well at least we got out of the house!” It was the first time in 6 days. We were so cautious and even shut down our small business before the governor’s mandate. We played it safe yet here we were.
“Yeah, it feels weird to be in the car,” he said.
The streets were empty. I saw a few homeless camps and my heart ached for them. It all felt so wrong. Society has lost our humanity, but I can’t think of that now, I must say what I need to say to my boys in case this is the last time we see each other in person. I thought about what I could share that wouldn’t spill out an ocean of tears. We got to the hospital and my husband dialed the phone number as instructed. I could see his hands trembling. I looked back at my son. “Be strong and wise like mommy taught you my darling,” I said fighting back tears, “I love you so much.” I immediately got out of the car and went to his window. We put our hands on the glass and touched. We did our nose crunch, our squirrel face and mouthed I love you.
The nurse came to the car with a mask and said, “We are not administering COVID-19 testing unless you are admitted. Do you still want to proceed with treatment?” I nodded yes and looked at my husband who was standing outside leaning on the driver’s side car door. She looked at us and extended her hand out to him with a mask asking the question with her eyes, are you coming in too?
“No, no, no, they are leaving” I said. I looked at my husband and he whispered I love you in the way you say it without knowing what the future holds.
The nurse was very kind she brought me to a small room with one bed and begin to ask me the standard questions. She told me she was the charge nurse and that another nurse would be caring for me. She helped me with my belongings and looked at me and said, “I saw you had a little one in the car. “That was very smart of you not to let them come in here.” She instructed me to get on the bed, and asked, “Do you want a blanket?”
I replied, “Yes”. And then she billowed the blanket and it spread over me. I asked, “How are you holding up?” Her energy softened even more and said,
“Well I think people are finally starting to get it.” “I mean don’t come in here with a pain in your toe that you’ve had for three years.” We both looked at each other and laughed hysterically. “Seriously, she told me. You can’t make this stuff up!” She left and I felt an honest relief that my family wasn’t with me. Sometimes its harder on the sick person to make everyone else feel at ease I decided. Was this how my dad felt in his last days at the hospital? I guess so. I hoped he was looking down on me now.
Another team came in and started to get to work asking me tons of questions bringing in machines and the swirl of panic started. “Do you have any underlying heart conditions?” one of them asked.
“No,” I stated.
“History of heart disease in your family?” he asked.
“Oh, so I could have a heart attack from this,” I gathered. It seems silly thinking back now. Uh yes, you had severe pain and tightness in the chest. Hello, denial pattern again loud and clear! In no time at all, cables and lines and tubes were coming out of everywhere. An EKG was administered and the team got the hell up out of that room as soon as possible. I couldn’t blame them. I texted my husband and told him to try to get some sleep because I was going to be here for a while. I started a meditation on my phone and tried to relax. Soon, I felt the need to pee. I was taking this drink fluids thing pretty seriously. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go to the bathroom with all this equipment attached to me. I started to shake my leg to try to hold off the urge. Suddenly, the heart rate monitor machine started going into major alert mode. The nurse ran into the room.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Uh pretty concerned,” I said looking at the machine trying to figure out the readings.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You are just moving around a lot.”
“Oh, well that’s because I have to pee,” I told her.
I went into a bathroom down the hall and realized this is the one where they send all the sick people. I need to wash my hands very thoroughly. I lathered up big time then realized oh wait, I’m the person everyone is washing their hands over. Nausea washed over me as I walked back to my room. While back in bed, I heard my one of my nurses from the hallway,
“Highly probable COVID case in room two.”
Yep, that’s definitely me. I remembered looking at the room number on the way back from the bathroom. Two was a good number, cooperation, and balance. The doctor came in.
“So, you’re coughing a lot,” he said.
“No,” I stated.
“Hmm, that’s weird,” he said then went immediately back into doctor mode. “So, here’s the deal,” he said, “Your X-ray and EKG are normal so we are releasing you.” I was in disbelief.
The X-ray you just looked at for five freaking seconds! He continued to speak.
“We will not be testing you for COVID-19 as we are running out of tests and may need them for more severe cases. You need to be in isolation and any family member living with you cannot leave the home for 14 days. Okay?” he said halfway to the door.
“So, I have the virus?” I asked in shock.
“We can’t know 100%, but it looks that way,” he said.
Ugh, such a doctor answer! “So how long do I have to stay in isolation?” I asked.
“All of that will be in your discharge paperwork,” he said now with his hand on the doorknob.
“Wait, if I am clear then my husband gets it, can I get the virus again?” I asked.
“We don’t have that kind of data. “Listen, we’re all going to get through this,” he said as he closed the door.
Maybe I whispered to myself.
As I type this, I am on my tenth day experiencing the virus and getting stronger every day. I have been away from my family for nearly a week and yes that is tough. We do the best we can with video chats and I go outside and “touch” them through the window when the sun is out.
What I know for sure is that I will get through this and I will live my life differently. I will stop obsessing over politics and complaining about trivial things. My job, bank account, and political opinions do not define me. I’ve learned that fear is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to consume you if you surrender to it. My thoughts are not me. I am the awareness of these thoughts and I am whole and beautiful in my essence. What will this pandemic teach you?