Wow! I actually tested positive! I stared at the pink stripe and the blue stripe, solid and obvious. I had Covid-19. I could sense numerous “shiftings”; I could name none of them. It was January 16, 2023, almost three years from January 21, 2020 when the first United States case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Seattle. After three years of working to deny personal physical entry to this virus, I was faced with the reality that it had moved in.
I had taken several Covid tests during these three years for a variety of reasons, only a few because I had a cough or other physical symptoms. I was accustomed to the negative response. I was taken off guard with the positive response. I had a dry cough, had aches everywhere and was fatigued. I had also returned from a stressful three-day trip and assumed the symptoms were the outcome of the wear and tear of the trip. I was wrong.
My oldest daughter and her significant other are both critical care pulmonologists at the University of Washington. They were, in a manner of speaking, in the most relevant of roles in the “place where it happened” in Seattle. Both had provided Covid care; both were experts. My daughter urged me to get Paxlovid promptly, the quicker the better, given my age. It was Martin Luther King’s holiday, so health care systems were not in their usual patterns of responsiveness. I spent most of the day with the negotiations necessary to get an order for Paxlovid. And yes, it helped that I knew how the system worked.
When not trying to ensure access to this medication, I slept. I cannot remember ever being this totally fatigued. I also didn’t want to move. Everything hurt. I had no inclination to do anything. And I had a dry cough that escalated to the point of making me nervous; I could feel the respiratory impact and vaguely sensed that this could be a very scary experience. I used over-the-counter products I had on hand to deal with the cough; I could tell it was only patchwork. The morning of the 17th I tried to have a planned Zoom conference. We had to halt it; my coughing escalated even further and could not be interrupted. Aches escalated too. It was an impressive virus.
Paxlovid was for me the “miracle drug” they indicated it could be; by January 18th my symptoms started fading, and by January 19th I woke up startled that I felt much better. This left space to try and figure out what I was experiencing, what had shifted. I am only at the beginning of that process, but some interesting awarenesses have emerged.
The people who have had Covid tend to welcome you to the “fellowship”. It is almost as if there are experiences embedded in having this particular virus that divide people into the haves and have-nots. Often people recount one or another challenging experience they had, almost as if relieved to know that this listener will not discount their experience. This has left me pondering all the people who had the disease during the worst of times, without Paxlovid, and what their world is like right now. How do they make sense of that experience and that disease? Do they talk about it? To whom? Why aren’t we asking these questions?
Conversely, I was startled at the degree to which others acted as if I was a super spreader. At the drive through drugstore picking up my Paxlovid, the attendant told me she would not “touch” my medication card, insisted that I hold it up so she could look and make sure it was as it should be. Yes, I was masked, but I could tell it was not enough. When I went for bloodwork, I had to wait in the car, be called and escorted into the “biohazard” room for blood drawing, and there an attendant used rubber gloves to take my health care coverage card. I felt dangerous! I wondered how patients with active Covid felt over the last three years.
And I wondered about all the providers, the unspeakable challenges they took on, endured, survived, and how we were all acting like now we should pretend it was all in the past, and not to be revisited. How severe is the damage done? Do we intend to do anything about it? If not, why so dismissive? I sense the bubbling up of the absolute rage I felt at the burden placed on nurses during the worst of the three years, and how we all were busy pretending nothing had really happened, dismissing the high cost of care given under surreal conditions.
When I widen the lens of my reflections, I realize that there are so many small and large actual irreversible changes that Covid catalyzed that it is probably unrealistic to think we have even identified them. Certainly, we have not the time, wisdom or imagination to ascertain the implications of all these changes. Some are blunt, public, even crude. Others, the ones that fascinate me, are filigree, fine threads we will need to gently discover and study.
I find I am again in a Covid Cave! How is this different, how the same? Recollections of some of the powerful moments of the last cave return and haunt me. My three adolescent grandchildren, bundled up and standing in the cold on my front porch, delivering a Christmas dinner to me prepared by my younger daughter, all of us making sure we didn’t touch one another, keeping our 6 feet distance in the freezing wind. The youngest, Riley, in her little girl voice which had been gone for some time: “Merry Christmas, Oma!” Her brother and sister echoing; none of us knew what the protocol for this craziness was. I took the food; they returned to their car. We would remember this experience.
I record this simply to say that all of us are carrying around these stored experiences of Covid, some more powerful than others. We have the story of the experience, and we have the feelings the story evoked. All of us have a reservoir of these experiences somewhere, and they shape who we are and how we live. Many were the things we did to deny Covid personal physical entry. Once it moves in, all those efforts can be revisited. I wonder now if actually being infected helped me open that reservoir, begin to drain off the stored emotion, revisit the three years of storage. A simple example: I realized how angry I am that my grandchildren had so many lovely pieces of their lives altered by this virus. I know they will be fine. I know all the platitudes. It helped me to name the anger. And I want to pay attention; I want to see the impact of this unique history as their lives unfold.
I am of course vaccinated, have had all the permissible and recommended boosters, and beyond age itself, have few compromising characteristics. My recovery seems quite likely, has always seemed quite likely. What is less clear are the consequences of having this infection, of having housed Covid after three years of avoidance. The physical phenomena are almost boring in their irrelevance; the actual experience, the thoughts and emotions, activate every curious impulse I have ever felt. I think this is another whole conversation we will need to introduce, and experience.
Covid 19 moved in. OWLcourage went silent. It was clearly temporary.
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
- Fred Rogers -
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