It was Friday, November 20 2020, and I was on the floor of our hallway, gasping for air. I was nauseous, too, and the room was starting to spin. My son, Danny, ran over.
“Get my inhaler,” I croaked. He grabbed it out of my purse at the bottom of the steps. I pulled myself up and huffed it- the albuterol tingled on my tongue. I could breathe again, but the nausea was getting worse.
“Danny, you’re going to have to drive me to the Urgent Care,” I told him. He looked at me, startled. He’d only gotten his permit a few months ago. “Your dad’s out with your sisters and I’m too sick to drive myself.”
“Okay.” I held onto him as I stumbled to the car. When we got to the Urgent Care, Danny had to park on the side of the building. A nurse came out from a side door and I left my son in the car as I staggered toward the bright lights. After the nurse took my vitals I sat in an orange chair in the tiny room, a sliding door barricading me from the hallway. Nausea rolled over me again, and I began to shake and sweat. I couldn’t stay upright in the orange chair and crawled onto the examining table instead. When the doctor came in, I was in a fetal position.
“I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well,” she said. “Do you know if you’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I teach in a high school, so it’s very possible,” I said.
“Got it. We’re going to do a test for COVID, but unfortunately, given your symptoms, I would guess that you will be positive,” she said, preparing the swab.
This was the worst-case scenario. I was an overweight woman in my forties with an autoimmune disorder and asthma to boot. COVID could kill me.
“Are you able to sit up?” the doctor asked. I pushed myself up.
“Try to tip your head back, please.”
I winced as she pushed a long swab into my nose. I’d been tested for COVID a month earlier (it had been negative) but that swab had felt like it was piercing my brain. This one, thankfully, was not as invasive.
“All done. You should have your results within 3-5 days. You can take ibuprofen for pain. Make sure to stay hydrated and to rest as much as possible. I will give you a paper that will let your school know that you can’t return to work until your test results come back.”
I took the paperwork and walked slowly back to the car. I put my head on the cool window and closed my eyes as Danny drove me home.
November 22, 2020. No results yet. I’d moved to our downstairs guest room to quarantine from my husband and four children. Life was a blur of coughing, sleeping, looking for “air pockets” as I called them in my haze. If I stayed very still on my side I could breathe better. My friend had sent me a pulse oximeter, which stayed on my finger like a bizarre ring. It was usually within the normal range. That evening I dragged myself to the shower, hoping that the steam might open my airways. When I got out, I realized that I smelled nothing. I pumped soap onto my hand and put it to my nose. Nothing. I opened a small bottle of bleach sitting next to the washing machine. Nothing. I couldn’t smell my fear, either, but it permeated the room.
November 23, 2020: SARS CoV-2 PCR Detected. AA Detected result is considered a positive test result for COVID-19. This indicates that RNA from SARS-CoV-2 [formerly 2019-nCoV] was detected, and the patient is infected with the virus and presumed to be contagious.
November 25, 2020: I wanted to document my emotions as I dealt with this virus. I found myself writing poetry:
The newspaper states,
“Lancaster County Gains 646 New COVID Cases.”
I, sprawled stomach-down in my bed, am one.
I practice breathing: deep breath, hold, release-
then worry as my lungs tickle and hiccup.
The virus is in my forehead, my nose, my lungs
Delicate red and grey spikes attaching to my body.
I will not be “the beloved teacher”
I will not be “her family is in our prayers.”
I will not be a martyr.
I will not let myself inch up the leaderboard of deathI am no number.
November 26, 2020 (2 am): I was going to be a number. It was my twelfth trip back from the bathroom that night. I’d been having unrelenting, bloody, diarrhea for hours. I was shaking, and terrified. My husband, who had also been diagnosed with COVID, had been checking on me, but had fallen asleep upstairs. I was going to die, and I didn’t know what to do. At two am I called my family practice’s answering service. I was told that I would receive a call back from a doctor within a half an hour. I sat in the living room, huddled under blankets in the “comfy chair” as my girls had dubbed it, crying softly. I pinned my hopes on what the doctor would tell me. Surely there was a medication I could take that would fix these symptoms. I’d been on a diet of ibuprofen, zinc, and hot tea. The ibuprofen seemed to help the most. Minutes clicked by. I prayed. I contemplated. I cried some more.
When I spoke to the doctor on call, she sounded young. I explained my symptoms and her response was, “That’s not normal.” No kidding. “You should go to the ER right away.” I agreed and hung up, then called my husband.I was back in my bed when Adam came downstairs. I’d popped more ibuprofen and an anti-diarrhea pill.
“Do you want to go now?” This question reminded me of the trips to the hospital we’d made together when our babies were going to be born. This time, however, there was no baby, and no excitement.
“Not yet,” I said. He snuggled up next to me and held me. We lay like that for a bit, and then I struggled into new clothes and put on my sneakers. It was time to go.In the car I’d started to feel a little better. I walked into the ER, supported by my husband. They placed a hospital bracelet on my wrist.
“I’m okay,” I said. “Just head home to the kids.”
“No, I’ll stay.”
“You’re sick too. I’ll be okay. Seriously,”
I gave him a wan smile.
“Alright, but keep me posted. Is your phone charged?” I assured him it was. As I waited to be called back to triage, I began to feel worse. The dizziness was upon me again, and staying upright became harder. By the time I was called in, I was zigzagging down the hallway, following the nurse. She grabbed my arm and helped me onto the bed. A shuddering darkness came over me and I moaned in pain. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak- I was going to throw up, or pass out, or both.Suddenly there were multiple people in the room, but my vision was blurry and I closed my eyes.
“Stay with me!” someone yelled while someone else pulled off my shirt and began to stick circles onto my skin.
“Come on, stick with us!” This from another voice. I couldn’t talk, all I could do was groan. Usually I’d be embarrassed to be so exposed, but I didn’t care. Nothing mattered. I wasn’t even scared. I just wanted the pain to stop.
“Get her an IV!” Someone stuck my limp hand and attached the IV drip. Minutes or hours passed. I fell asleep.When I awoke the room was dark.
“Wow, I can’t believe you slept this long without having to get up to use the restroom,” a nurse said. We filled you with two bags of fluids.”
“I feel a lot better,” I told her.“That’s so good to hear. I’ll let the doctor know you’re awake.”
Several minutes later the doctor came in. I sat up a bit to talk to him.
“Well, it’s great to see you doing better,”
“Yeah. I’m alright now.”
“You had hypertension due to hypovolemia,” he said.
I rolled the terms around in my brain, trying to make sure to remember them. “I’ll tell you the truth; you had me scared. I’m so glad that you’re doing well now.
”This statement shocked me. Although I knew how horrible I’d felt a few hours before, the realization that I had made a doctor scared was terrifying. It meant I’d been close to death. For real. This wasn’t even ODS (Overly-Dramatic-Syndrome) a phrase coined my kids for their dramatic mom.
“You’ll be discharged soon. Just keep hydrating and call your family doctor to follow up.” Wait a minute. He was sending me home?
“The ER has been really crazy today. You’re my fifth COVID patient of the day. And it’s just me and two other doctors.”
My husband came to pick me up. He looked ill, too, although his symptoms had not been as severe as mine. I told him what had happened.“I’m so glad that you’re okay.”
“Yeah, me too.” There weren’t many words for all of the emotions I was feeling. Mostly, though, I was just tired. When we got home, I remembered that it was Thanksgiving Day. My children had cooked a feast: a perfectly browned turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows resting on the top, and biscuits. I couldn’t smell a thing, but it didn’t matter. I was home, alive, with my family, and my thankfulness was abundant.
Author Christine DiNovis Leonard is a high school English teacher and mother of four. Her favorite classes to teach include British Literature and Freshmen Honors English. In addition to nonfiction, she writes middle grade and YA fiction. Her middle grade fiction novel, Zebra Beeba, was published through Wee Creek Press. DiNovis Leonard holds a M.A. in Creative Writing and a B.S.E. in English Secondary Education.