It’s Wednesday, March 11. I’m at home in my Brooklyn apartment. I don’t feel well. Nausea so intense I can’t even drink water. And a mild and uncertain fever that edges up to 101 before dropping down again. Stomach flu?
Thursday night, March 12. It’s really late. I wake up parched. I make my way unsteadily to the kitchen. I get a glass of water. I turn to go back to bed… and have a split-second flash that I’m going to pass out.
When I come to, I don’t know where I am. I feel around on the floor, trying to find the bed. Then I remember passing out. Huh. No head injury. Lucky.
Then I lose control of my bowels. “That’s not right,” I think. I raise my head to try to get up.
I pass out a second time.
When I come to again, it’s not quite over. I am so glad I live alone. Even by myself, I feel extremely embarrassed by this.
I manage to get everything cleaned up. No one can see my humiliation, but I feel it.
Friday, March 13. Being sick is lonely. I call my aunt LeeAnn. She’s a nurse. I tell her what happened the previous night. I say it’s obviously not COVID, I don’t have any immune system problems. I’m young. I go to the gym all the time. I eat right. She doesn’t express an opinion. She just tells me to get to Urgent Care. Urgent care sends me to the ER.
I think, “I’m not that sick!”
But maybe there is something wrong with me, based on last night. Right?
I wait for hours in the ER exam room. I’m so tired. I lie on the examining table, on my side, trying to sleep.
At one point, I feel a very small, almost unnoticeable – tightness in my chest. Is this the COVID shortness of breath? Nah. It’s so – nothing.
But when the next person comes in, I blurt out, “Maybe I do have some shortness of breath.”
And – boom! In come the long swabs to insert into my nose for the Covid test. In comes a portable chest xray machine.
The COVID test is positive. The chest Xray shows suspicious spots on my right lung. I’m admitted to the hospital.
I figure my being admitted is some kind of mistake. I’m not that sick. I’m too tired and ill to say this to anyone. But I know the truth. I’m not that sick.
I get a room by myself in the surgery wing, which is now the COVID19 wing. I hear a woman in the next room cough ferociously.
The nurse tucks me into bed. She inserts an IV into my left arm and hangs 2 bags of fluid on the stand. She leaves. Something beeps down the hall.
I’m all alone.
The next morning, a doctor comes in. She listens to my symptoms. She pauses. Then she says no one knows what to do for me. She leaves.
I’m not scared.
The woman next door coughs and moans loudly. I try not to listen. I sleep.
The next day, another doctor comes in, just inside the door. Like he’s afraid or something. How am I? Feverish, nauseous, weak. He shrugs and says he doesn’t know what to do. He turns and leaves quickly.
I’m not scared and I’m not mad! I channel my not-scared, not-mad into a phone call with my sister. I tell her the doctors have no idea what to do. Can natural medicine help? Vitamins or something?
I’m so tired. My fever goes up again. I buzz for a nurse. They’re so busy; they don’t come for hours. My body starts to ache. Finally, a nurse arrives with Tylenol. She leaves just as swiftly. I’m all alone.
Whatever. I’m not that sick.
On the third day the woman next door is no longer coughing loudly.
Or coughing at all.
Or even there anymore?
My sister has determined that Vitamins D3, C and Zinc will help. Before her care package can arrive, a nurse rolls in with Vitamin D3, C and Zinc! I’m so surprised! I feel momentarily in control. But then it just seems weird. Western medicine doesn’t believe in vitamins. How desperate are they???
Days pass. Fever. Tylenol. Sleep. Nausea. Hunger. And pain, pain, pain… acting like it’s my only friend, practically a lover, embracing my body.
I’m starting to have a hard time breathing. And there this cough? It’s scary but I’m too sick to be scared.
I post on Facebook. 150 people send me heart and thumbs-up emojis. That makes me feel better.
More days pass. I’m getting worse. Unbeknownst to me, family and friends go from worry to alarm. Apparently, my increasing difficulty breathing, and therefore talking, makes it sound like I’m on my death bed. But I’m not that sick! I have a kind of series on Facebook now, “Covid Pro-Tips.” Things like, if you’re being admitted to the hospital, be ready to use your winter coat as a bedspread. There’s a shortage of blankets.
Day 10 of my illness. Today my fever will not come down. They’re putting ice packs around my skinny body. Pain, in my shoulder, my back, my head. Hot. Tired. Hazy. A tall male doctor steps into the room. He is very….doctorly. Through the haze I hear him say, “We’d like to try the malaria medication on you. The hydroxychloroquine.”
At some point a few minutes or a few days ago, I stopped thinking. I shut down. So. I’m not scared. Even though there is no one in this room but these strangers and me. And even though I see grim lines around the nurse’s eyes. And the doctor’s desperate desire that I trust him. There is no thinking, so – no choosing. Ok, I whisper.
There are days now of even more intense pain. It erases everything else, my denial, my loneliness. My life has shrunk to singular moments. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
And under the pain is a flow, a river, carrying me along and I can’t fight what’s happening to me. Resisting only increases my suffering. There is only letting go. There is only surrender. There is only trust. And after days of pain and fever I see a door, a beautiful wooden door carved in flowers. Walking through it would end this, all of this. I stand before it. I raise my hand. Should I… should I push it open?
The river has other plans for me. The door is locked from the other side.
The hydroxychloroquine and zinc seem to work. My fevers finally stop. No heart attack.
But it’s far from over. Taking a deep breath now makes me choke and cough. I can’t say “I love you” to my friends and family without stopping twice to catch my breath. A chest X-ray shows that while the larger spots on my right lung are gone, now my entire lungs are covered with lots and lots of smaller spots. No one knows what this means.
I struggle to breathe, but I breathe. I am on oxygen, but not a ventilator. Tiny improvements accrue.
On March 25, I become aware that a disaster is unfolding in my city. My brief forays onto Facebook are filled with terrifying images and statistics from NYC hospitals. I need to get out of here. I’m not that sick.
But the doctors are unimpressed by my oxygen saturation. So am I – sliding out of bed to walk a couple steps leaves me gasping and sweating. But. Triage. Surely someone else needs my room.
On the morning of March 27 I tell a nurse, Lesley, that I was able to sleep without oxygen. He’s dubious. He checks my oxygen saturation several times. He frowns at the low levels. But a young doctor suddenly doesn’t care. He eagerly fills out the paperwork for my discharge.
Changing my clothes leaves me wheezing and trembling and weak. Lesley sits me down. He kindly tells me I’ve been very sick.
I’m loaded onto a gurney to be driven home in an ambulance. There are so many people in the halls. I’m elated. I want to hug everyone.
We roll through the sliding doors of the hospital entrance to find that spring has arrived. The sky is so blue and it must be 67 degrees and suddenly I realize I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive the clean sweet breeze in my hair I’M ALIVE! I’M ALIVE! I’M ALIVE!!!!!!