My husband Tom isn’t afraid of anything; strapping on a bulletproof vest every day for work will do that to a man.
Tom wasn’t scared until I couldn’t breathe.
He held my hand in the back of the car while our roommate, paramedic, best man, and getaway driver sped from urgent care to the emergency room. My heart rate was too slow, blood pressure too low, and my breathing too fast. In our short time as newlyweds, we kept wishing for a staycation. We didn’t get that blessing until COVID-19.
Almost two weeks earlier, on my inpatient rotation, I had continued writing orders while my attending listened to our system-wide town hall. I didn’t stop coughing for the full hour-long presentation, but kept rebuking my colleagues who urged me to get tested and assumed my usual seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Then our office closed as we became a “hot spot” for this virus. Meanwhile, my cough got worse. The first week of quarantine seemed like the staycation for which my new husband and I prayed. Netflix, home cooking and relaxation became the nightly habit with our once-again roommate John, staying with us to prevent exposing his sick father, while I repeatedly checked our hospital census.
Three days after having the longest pipe cleaner known to man shoved from my nose to my brain, I was confirmed positive for COVID. Still feeling fine, albeit coughing, I continued doing telemedicine visits and attempting to run; my patients still needed encouragement to battle the loneliness and this stealthy disease. Tom and John both then endured the dreadful pipe cleaner only to also find themselves positive. Fast forward to one week in quarantine: we all looked at each other, feeling extremely anxious. Walking up the stairs felt like running a 5K, at which point my doctor forced me, rightfully so, to seek care.
I never imagined a day that coronavirus would become a common household term, let alone that my 27-year-old self would need an emergency room. I thought that was reserved for my microbiology classes in med school and Dr. Sulzinski’s exams. As a family medicine resident, I wasn’t expecting to re-learn ventilators as a second year. I also wasn’t expecting to have a roommate in my first year of marriage, but God had other plans for this quarantine. Thankfully my chest x-ray was clear, and some intravenous fluids perked me up well. I was discharged to home with an albuterol inhaler to the credit of my referring doctor and the emergency room staff.
This time in quarantine became a blessing and a true exercise in patience and gratitude. I couldn’t make myself better or make my employer bring me back to work. I had to sit and be patient, something that is not in my nature. This experience was much more trying than I expected. Every day I thought, Am I letting my coworkers down? Is my boss checking on me because she thinks I am faking or because she’s worried? Should I be more worried about myself? About the boys? How will I tell mom I cannot come home for another holiday? Do I need more albuterol? Am I giving my patients and family accurate information? Did I answer all the texts from people worried about me?
A few University of Scranton graduates helped me to allay these fears. I started with a daily prayer list, calling my family, sending Easter cards to our friends, checking on my elderly patients, and reading my husband’s term papers he was writing during quarantine. With the inhaler in my apron pocket, I made Easter dinner without burning the ham or the pastries. “One day at a time,” my mother, friends, and boss all told me.
The one feeling I still can’t shake? Frustration. I keep wanting to scream to the world, “I know how much this hurts. Please stay home, stay safe. Don’t make my husband respond to the respiratory or cardiac arrest. Don’t make my best man intubate you on the scene. Don’t make me or my friends admit you.”