We are living through an unprecedented time in human history.
– New York State Senate Covid-19 Update, March 2020
As this global pandemic wreaks its havoc on the world, I feel certain that books are already being written about the coronavirus, Covid-19. The global population reels as healthcare delivery systems and economies go into freefall. As I reflect on my own experience of Covid-19, I recognize that my personal world has been profoundly affected by this virus. I will try to tell my story with as much accuracy as possible, even though the timelines have remained very blurred in my mind.
It started on March 18, when my daughter-in-law’s father was found dead at home. He had been a healthy senior citizen, and his seemingly sudden death was a shock to everyone. Ultimately, a few days later, the autopsy report indicated the presence of the virus, and the death certificate listed the cause of death as Covid-19. In retrospect, the virus symptoms of weakness, cough, and congestion were all too clear.
My saga started a day and a half later, with my husband’s illness. On March 20, he began experiencing profound weakness accompanied by a fever. I called 911 in a bit of a panic, not even thinking that his symptoms could be caused by this deadly new virus. I just had faith that the emergency department would be able to treat my husband. He was taken to the hospital and given intravenous fluids. About six hours later, he was home. He still did not feel good but the fluids had helped a bit. We hunkered down to self-quarantine, just in case his lab test proved positive for this unknown virus.
As the scenario unfolded, I had no idea that my other son and his wife were also very ill with Covid-19. A few hours later my personal narrative began, and here is where time morphed for me. I couldn’t keep track of what day it was, what time it was, or whether it was even day or night.
It started with generalized body aches and pains accompanied by profound weakness and waves of nausea with abdominal pain. All I could do was moan and clutch my belly, hoping the spasms and the nausea would pass. A walk down the hall to be bathroom was tantamount to a Himalayan trek and just as exhausting. Meanwhile, my husband was getting worse. He was coughing, his congestion exacerbated. We would sleep, moan, cough, and pray for delivery from the clutches of this virus, an unseen monster which moved with incredible speed. It was as if we were the stars of a third-rate monster movie which had become all too real.
I do recall that, at one point, I called 911 for myself because of the severe abdominal pain. My doctor said I would need a CAT scan in order to determine the cause of the persistent, unwavering pain. Since I have a history of diverticulitis, an inflammation of the colon, I was hoping that this was just a recurrence and that antibiotics would be a quick fix. I was wrong. The CAT scan was negative, and the ER doctor affirmed that these symptoms were indicative of Covid-19. I received some pain medication as well as medication for the nausea. Since I was in no respiratory distress, I was sent home, awaiting the results of my own lab test.
My nausea and abdominal pain continued, as did my husband’s weakness and congestion. We drifted in and out of awareness. At one point, I clearly recall acknowledging that we were dying. I felt so sad for our son, Sean, who had become our caregiver. I remember thinking how hard it would be for him to find us both gone! A barrage of concerns flooded through me; I don’t know if these thoughts evolved slowly or just tumbled out of my consciousness:
“Will Sean find the checkbook?”
“Do my children all know how much I love them and how proud I am of the adults they have become?”
“Will my grandchildren remember me, and will they know they have brought me much joy?”
“Will my family know how blessed I have been to have been their sister, their aunt, their cousin?”
“Do my friends know I love them?”
“I wish I had finished my memoir.”
“Lord, I am as ready as I will ever be. But it all happened so fast! I wish I had more time to process my dying. I am glad I am dying with Marty next to me.”
All of these anxieties have cycled through my brain in the past two weeks. I vaguely recall the kindness of friends who delivered food to keep us strong. Then, one morning, I became more awake and realized my husband and I were both still alive.
Today is April 4, 2020, the last day of my quarantine. I am certain that neither my husband nor I would have survived without Sean here as our caregiver. I am so grateful he never came down with symptoms of the virus. Actually, it is all rather hazy in my brain, and I am still trying to sift through the entire debacle. The way that time seemed to morph, collapse, fall in on itself makes it hard to recall specifics. All I know is that it was a horrific experience, a personal nightmare which has been shared by so many others around the world. There is a long road of recovery ahead for all of us as we try to regain strength and equilibrium. For me, part of this recovery will mean processing all of those concerns I had when I was certain I was going to die.
Anne Kerrigan is a registered nurse, mother of five, and grandmother of nine. She also has a master’s degree in theology and is the winner of the Australasian Religious Press Association Silver Award in Excellence for “Best Faith Reflection.” She is in the process of writing her memoir. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.