The tiny pink beads are interlaced in the fingers of my right hand. I must have fallen asleep clutching them. What was once merely a piece of decor hung alongside my dreamcatcher has now come into its own after all these years. The repetition of the prayers are soothing and I find myself switching between English and Latin wondering if my memory has failed me on some of the words.
My body is numb; I am too weak to move. I want to push back the pillow to reveal the clock on the bedside table, yet I can’t lift my arm. Panic sets in. I lay there for what feels like an eternity willing my arm to function until it moves with a jump and I grab my phone. I call my NP on speaker. I feel a tinge of guilt to be calling so early and waking her up. She and I were up late last night – me desperate for breath, crying, holding on by what felt like a thread; she patient and calm on the other side of the phone, trying to ease my pain with her steady reassurance. I’m no better this morning. Perhaps I am worse but I don’t want to admit it. We both know what that means. She is prepping me for the journey I am about to embark on. Telling me the words I need to say, which is a crucial thing because I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I take a deep breath, steel myself as best as I can, and dial 112. The voice is friendly on the other end of the line. He has trouble hearing me. I try to speak up. He says the ambulance will be here in approximately nine minutes. I tell him it will take me longer than that to get to the door and to please ask them to wait.
The buzzer pierces the silence. How can they possibly be here already? I’m not even off the bed yet. The sound jolts me into action like a racehorse whose starting gate has just swung open. I somehow find the strength to move quickly to the door. The buzzer sounds again and still once more before I make it there. I must not be moving as fast as I think I am. If I were a racehorse, I would surely be trailing behind the pack. I don’t know how I do it but I find myself at the door buzzing two people into the building. I catch a glimpse of them on my security camera and see they are fully suited up. I try to prepare myself for all the space suited people that are to come to my rescue in the days to follow. I don’t have the strength to stand there so I open the door slightly and wedge myself between it and the door jamb so that I stay erect until they emerge from the elevator.
They carry me to a chair. I am suddenly irrationally self conscious about the state of my apartment. The messiness of keeping myself alive is strewn across the open floor plan. Like the others on my last trip to the emergency room, they too are only visible at their beautiful eyes. They check my vitals and prep me to go to the hospital. I ask them to please put out extra food for my cat. As one man crosses to the kitchen I hear him behind me remark, “oh, there is a puzzle piece that has fallen to the floor.” As he picks it up, I find myself about to tell him to leave it on the floor but I realize how ridiculous that is so I stop myself. My mind swims as I assign meaning to his simple action. I can see the very act of calling in help has launched me into the next phase of this illness. It is time for the puzzle piece to be picked up even if it isn’t me who does it. I had hoped the piece would be retrieved in triumph and not in defeat, but life rarely has the trajectory we expect.
Within the small confines of the ambulance I become aware of just how badly I smell. I have been in these clothes day and night for more days than I care to admit; too weak to change them. That one shirt change cost me more than I had expected it to. I apologize for my state of disarray explaining I haven’t had the energy to shower or change or even brush my hair. “Don’t worry, I have two masks on so I can’t smell a thing” he says. I chuckle a little. Having my eyes open is too much work. I allow them to fall closed and the man begins to ask me questions: where am I from? how do I like Luxembourg? what are my hobbies? did I hear the Crown Prince has had his baby? I search for words and am a bit unsure of the right answers. “Keep your eyes open” he tells me and although it is hard to do, I obey.
Everyone has to suit up to come near me. One lady fiddles with the seam at her wrist where her glove and gown meet. She will adjust it every time she comes into my room that day; a possible chink in her armor. I am as emotionally invested in a proper seal as she is. The one time she isn’t fiddling with it, I silently keep an eye on it for her as she draws more blood from my arm.
The doctors agree that after nearly a week in the hospital I have improved enough to go home. I will continue to fight the virus from there. I’ve turned that corner that I had been hoping against hope for. I am much better than I was before I went to the hospital but still not well enough to cook. I ask friends to continue to feed me. Retrieving the food from the other side of my apartment door is still exhausting but now more manageable than it was.
I have the strength to do one thing a day and no more than that. I learn that limit the hard way one afternoon when I try to take the garbage out having already moved the dishes from the sink to the dishwasher earlier that morning. The fall out of which was disastrous. It took me four days to recover from that mistake. Once a week or so, when I feel extra strong, I choose a shower as my one activity. It is a 2-day recovery so they are few and far between. It takes the most out of me but gives the greatest reward for my mental health.
After a week of feeling good for a small portion of every day, I finally begin to believe that I will eventually be better. I lost sight of this possibility weeks ago. But here I am actually feeling near human!
My eyes pop open in the stillness of the night, the sheets beneath me drenched in sweat. I struggle for air. I feel a wave coming on. I haven’t had one in weeks. As the wave consumes me I feel as though its current is dragging me back into the ocean of the virus from which I was so sure I had escaped. I am gripped with terror as my body relapses. Again. I find my oximeter on the table near the couch. I haven’t been checking my O2 levels, a sign of how much better I had been feeling. I slide my finger into the oximeter and am afraid to read the red numbers as they appear on the screen. For the first time in weeks I need to do a lung treatment. It feels like a defeat. I don’t think I have it in me to keep fighting.
I call my sister in tears. Saying out loud the thing I have been thinking for weeks: I will never get better. All I can imagine is a lifetime of suffering. No matter how many times my sister tells me she sees improvement and promises me that I will one day feel like myself again I don’t believe her. In the quiet recesses of my mind I find myself begging any god that will listen for my health to return. I find myself reassuring others that I am strong and that I will beat this virus, while simultaneously trying to believe it myself.
I reread my last blog post and can easily recognize that I am no longer that sick. I can eat a banana after all. It may feel like I am no better but I am. I’m strong enough to read now and find myself drawn to books on meditation. I begin a daily practice to quiet my mind. I start out sitting for only three minutes at a time but work my way up to 15.
My team of doctors has ballooned. More specialists than I have seen so far in my life up to this point. One shares with me it took him 8 weeks to get better. I just need more time. I see how healthy he looks and it gives me hope. There are tests and more tests. I become a regular at the phlebotomy center. I look forward to being around people who don’t want to take my blood. I joke with my friends that I am glad they are not vampires. They joke back that I shouldn’t be so sure.
I’ve always been blessed with good health without really trying. And yet the virus has ravaged my body in so many ways they are hard to keep track of. Reviewing the litany of symptoms with my doctor each week, we celebrate the list dwindling over time. I am finally taken off of isolation. I am allowed to open the door when friends drop off supplies. They only stay a few minutes as that’s all I have the strength for. Just seeing them brings me great joy.
It is nine weeks in and I finally have my first day that I feel good the whole day through. I want to shout it from the rooftops. The next morning I wake up with the all too familiar fatigue again. But I am buoyed by the memory of a full day of feeling good. Onward.