It’s my COVID-versary. A year ago today, I was exposed.
This is a big deal to me, because last year I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to live.
I spent days gulping air. I had episodes of tachycardia that would leave me thinking, Well, this is it, I guess this is what it feels like...
But then these episodes faded away and started happening less often, and gradually I realized that I probably would not die. At least not that day.
Not that week.
I was deathly ill for three weeks, had a secondary respiratory infection, and then got bacterial pneumonia a couple months later. Between spring and summer I had two rounds of antibiotics and an inhaler.
Now it’s been a year since I was exposed. My heart still sometimes starts hammering for no discernible reason. I did, though, finally advance to level 3 on my breath trainer.
I still have skin problems, I’m still carrying the ten pounds I gained while I was sick, and I still can’t work out more than two days a week. Not that I haven’t tried, just that if I go for a third day I wind up with a debilitating headache for the next day or two.
On the weekends I rely on a three-hour nap. On average. Last weekend I lost 4.5 hours of the middle of my Saturday.
I am tired almost all the time.
It feels like I aged ten years in a month, and that hasn’t really improved.
On the other hand, I am still quite glad to be alive. The novelty hasn’t worn off.
As the death toll climbs from this pandemic, I keep thinking, that could have been me. I could easily have been one of those statistics.
I know people who have died of COVID, or have been hospitalized, or lost a parent or a spouse to it. People at my work have caught it and died, or have been out on disability for months.
This is part of why it’s so hard to believe that there are people out there still questioning whether COVID-19 is “real.” It’s like being in a different universe, going down some kind of wormhole and coming back and finding out Henry Ford was president or something.
This attitude is so common. For instance, nobody in our apartment building wears a mask in common areas, including the elevator. On the rare occasions when I venture out to take out the trash or pick up our mail, heads turn and everyone stares at me. I may well be the only person they ever see wearing two masks and a face shield.
Fortunately I don’t care what people think. I’d rather look like a dork and be the last one alive than bow to peer pressure and die on a gurney in a hallway, or in an ambulance circling the hospital parking lot.
I know from experience. When I got COVID, I had no idea I had been exposed for over two weeks. Nobody thought to call me. There was no contact tracing being done. None of the symptoms I had were on the official list at the time, and the symptoms I had were not considered to be connected to COVID.
My doctor had me tested for syphilis rather than believe that COVID can cause neurological symptoms. When that connection was confirmed by the medical journals months later, it’s not like I got a formal apology or anything.
A year later, it’s not like I’m enrolled in a study. Nobody has sent me any kind of questionnaire or asked for blood samples or had me do any scans or a fitness test.
Nobody is asking.
Therefore my data are evaporating into personal experience, rather than informing the understanding and treatment of this disease which bears no resemblance to “the flu.”
What I would like is for my experience to help someone in some way. Whether that is convincing people to keep social distancing, to regard an afflicted acquaintance with more sympathy, to take epidemiology more seriously, or to feel grateful to be alive, it would help me to know that this could be a learning experience for someone, somewhere.
My experience has been better than that of millions of other people. I did not die. I did not kill my husband when I brought the virus home. Neither of us lost our jobs or our apartment. We did not have to work long shifts in a hospital, watching our patients and colleagues die.
I did not have to go through the confusing realization that something I thought was a hoax is all too real. Fortunately for my mental state, I understood that the coronavirus is real from the very beginning.
This is important because there are no guarantees. There will be another pandemic, almost certainly within our lifetimes. It may or may not be from an entirely different family of viruses. There are going to be three groups of people: those who react quickly to take precautions, the science deniers, and then those who are not sure what to believe and continue to do nothing other than wait for more information.
My husband and I are firmly in the group that will react quickly. We are keeping our masks. I will probably wear a mask in the airport and on planes or trains for the rest of my life.
The world is starting to perk up again. Immunization is happening. I know several people who have already had both their shots, and more who are waiting for their appointment. Our turn will come.
The virus has changed me. I am more likely to take action in general now. I speak up more often about more things. Yet I’m also more tired and physically drained by small things. This has made me feel more strongly about the importance of my future plans, yet also more hesitant to feel like I can physically carry them out.
I wish I could tell everyone, everything in life is a bigger deal than we ever realized. Take the time now. Tell people how you feel. Get stuff done. Engage with the present moment because the next one isn’t promised. Don’t wait for a life-threatening experience to convince you of this. Convince yourself.
Be safe and take care of each other.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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