When I walked into the emergency room of New York Presbyterian on March 13, just as the COVID-19 epidemic was gaining steam in the US, I had a fever and felt awful, but I had no idea that I was in any serious danger. I stumbled into that ER more as a precaution than anything. I had nothing useful in my bag – no toothbrush, no book, no change of clothes – just my wallet, a half-empty water bottle, and a magazine I’d already read.
And then: two weeks of hell. COVID-19 was hell. My mind couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp it while it was happening. There was no escape from the fever, the pain and the nausea. My ears rang, my head hurt, my back ached… and I was stunned. I was absolutely in shock that COVID-19 wasn’t just an illness that would happen to someone older or someone with a compromised immune system. It was happening to me.
Prior to this illness, I did not have any real basis for understanding sustained physical suffering. That the body can so completely give out, collapse, go into extreme physical distress for weeks, and longer… sure. I already knew that. But I knew it in the same way that you know that that there are earthquakes in California: it’s theoretical until you feel the ground drop out from underneath your feet, and you’re left scrambling for cover on a sidewalk turned liquid. Physical suffering – sustained, torturous – is only theoretical too, until it’s your body lying in that bed, your skin searing, your bones aching, your stomach rebelling.
The nurses and nurse’s aides, who were so supportive and kind, told me with the very best intentions to ‘fight.’ Fight the illness. But I was so tired, so very, very tired. I couldn’t understand “fighting” or “battle.” What I understood was only… now. I only had room for Now:
Breathing – tight.
Breath out, short and sharp.
Notice: burning, burning skin, body a furnace blasting.
Allow: Pain. Pain. Pain. Bones aching.
Accept: nausea. Stomach rebelling. Nausea.
Notice: I’m lying on a comfortable bed. The blanket is soft. And the sun… the sun is shining in the window and…
I suddenly see, underneath my suffering is…
A river running through me, a river of certainty, something deep within that knows the path, knows how to heal, is already healing, moving towards wholeness, and I don’t have to do anything, but… let go. Don’t fight. Surrender. Yes the fever yes the breath yes the pain yes the nausea, just be. Be with. Be with all of it. Don’t try to escape. There’s no energy to escape. So stay.
And the river, the Chi Spirit Life Force will do the rest. I cannot push a river. I cannot, with my own small body, pull a river. So…
Accept, knowing that all is well, that even death is just another doorway. And even in death, the river still holds me.
Just Accept What Is.
And the river runs pure and clean, the river runs pure, the river runs clean, the river holds my life and preserves my life and all is well. All is truly good and fine. Allow.
This is why, lying in that hospital bed, I was stunned, but not (consciously) afraid. I felt my life force in that irresistible river, and I knew I wasn’t going to die.
I was discharged on March 27. A couple of weeks later, New York City experienced the worst of the pandemic for our city. We were all shocked and frightened by high numbers of people infected and the extreme death tolls, though the rallying cry of “New York Tough” encouraged us not to admit it. Struggling with my own recovery, I couldn’t stop thinking that mine could’ve been one of those bodies in a refrigerated truck, or in a pine box heading for a mass grave. I was shaken.
But then I remembered the river. I felt the flow within me, and I knew… I knew that even in a pine box in a mass grave, I would’ve been fine.
My truest self was and is always safe, safe in the flow, safe in the arms of the Divine.