I Never Got COVID…Until I Did


As a “public facing” healthcare professional, I was vigilant.

The queen of Personal Protective Equipment, local educator, and resource for all things SARS-COV-2.  Keeping my staff, clients, and families safe, aka “COVID free,” was my focus.  I worked hard at it.  Very hard.

COVID quieted down, and strains became more contagious but less ferocious.  I felt safer.  Even if I got it, I would likely tolerate it as many have—more of an irritation and awful cold than a life-threatening medical crisis.  So, like you, I ventured back into society: to church, shopping, restaurants, and large venues, sometimes masked, sometimes not.  Mostly not, recently.

Three years after life changed, I was among the small percentage who had never had “it.”  Until now.  My exposure was likely from my daughter, who had just come home from the

COVID factory of Florida (Disney World).  What started as her sniffle turned into COVID infection for the household.  I stayed healthiest the longest… until I wasn’t.

The importance of being home.

Blah Blah, on being sick for three weeks, I never had to be hospitalized.  That was my line in the sand.  As long as I stayed home, I was OK no matter what.  And then, in thinking about the importance of being home, at that moment in time, I became my own patient.

Many of us believe it, have made it happen for our loved ones, or have spent a career supporting life at home, even as age and illness can challenge that goal.  The “what if’s” flooded my mind.  What if I became like so many in the early days and went from shortness of breath to respiratory failure in an hour?

There is an old saying that “nurses are the worst patients.”

Ok, it may have some truth to it.  But not me, at least not this time.  I am on the tail end of my three-week visitation with this hideous visitor.  I demand a full recovery and will probably get it.  I have, however, gained a brief but intense exposure to vulnerability.

We never think it’s going to be us. We don’t have forgetfulness beyond what is “age-appropriate,” we aren’t limited to what we do and where we go, and we power on as if things will never change.  I always tried hard to learn the lessons available in my own health challenges.  My chief goal was to develop more compassion.  The old saying “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

Long ago, I was a young nurse working night shifts at a hospital in Boston.  My unit specialized in vascular surgery, so in a word, very acute, fragile, and needy post-operative and medical patients.  Overnight, I had 20 patients to care for with the help of a Certified Nursing Assistant.  In a fury to meet the blizzard of needs on those overnight shifts, I felt that my compassion took a hit.

At the same time, a friend of mine was an inpatient at the Dana Farber with incurable ovarian cancer.  She told me how frightening the nights were, how alone she felt, and how she rarely slept due to her anxiety and fear.  She told me how the smallest gesture of kindness was a game changer and how she longed for the nights when the “nice nurse” was on duty.  This story is almost 40 years old, yet it hits me hard whenever I think of it.

My experience with COVID reminds me of this: I see my vulnerability in big bright lights on the marquee.

I don’t know why those of us in the medical world feel a sense of exemption from certain things.  I always felt strongly that those in Oncology should never have cancer.  They paid their dues.  They should be exempt.

I am not exempt, and you are not exempt.  None of us are exempt.  My experience (relatively mild compared to what so many suffered with) has reacquainted me with the hideous reality of vulnerability.  So, what do we do about it?

I am revising my estate plan and health care directives, and I admit that I may have a morbid slant.  However, ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.  Likewise, ignoring physical or emotional symptoms does not make them not exist.  In my view, courage is not denying the existence of distress.  Courage is owning the distress and seeking intervention.

We are all riveted by all the horror in our world, even in the last month.  We must often turn away from the violence and tragedy as it’s “just too much to handle.”  Me too.  Nevertheless, shedding light on illness and physical or mental distress can only decrease isolation and stigma.  In our efforts to be prepared, ready for what’s next, and “up to the task," being honest with ourselves and others is an excellent place to start.

It’s a long and winding road from my personal experience with Covid to the end of this column.  The theme of vulnerability keeps coming through for me.  Maybe there are areas that you, too, would rather ignore, close the door on, deny, and avoid.  I want to take the lesson I learned and become more proactive and less reactive.  Not just in terms of my health but in my life.

If you are like me and haven’t had “it” yet, I hope you don’t, but statistically, it’s probably unavoidable.  So, whatever “it” is for you, be open to the lessons.  We learn more from the junk than we do from the treasure. ß

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