COVID19 – Part 4 – Let’s End This Nightmare
MY HAPPY PLACE
When I was a child, my parents, two sisters, and I built a cabin in the California redwoods. Mostly my father and his best friend, Al, built it. It is on a 1/4 acre hill lot. The cabin sits high, so you feel like you are in a treehouse. We have a deck that we sit on in the evenings, and it is my happy place. I live too far away to go there much, but this year I went. My parents are thinking of selling it. Let’s not talk about that
My mother has multiple cancers. Her doctors have said she could enter the Guinness World Records and be selected for successfully beating cancer. Not the poster child validation to strive for. She is 87. My father is a healthy diabetic at 92. They still live in their home, and he drives her everywhere. We daughters try to help as much as they let us. My oldest sister had thyroid cancer like 30 years ago. Last summer, her esophagus and stomach were removed. My sister and I nursed her after her surgery for a couple of weeks. Sisters do that. She hopes to get a new esophagus and stomach this year. Clearly, cancer runs in our family. My “healthy” sister retired this month to help my mom. I live far away. Always have. We hardly know each other anymore, but that is changing. Sisters, never more devoted sisters.
I had a plan. I had been isolating myself for a month because I was going to help my parents while my retiring sister tidied up her last month. On a mid-June Saturday morning, Chris and I got in my car and drove to the cabin. It is at least a 12-hour drive. We broke it up into two days. We stopped on the way up the mountain, donned our masks, and went and bought my mom a taller toilet. The small toilet at the cabin was difficult to stand after, well, you know. This prevented her from going up to the mountain. We daughters are more concerned with her walking up the stairs while hanging on to my father’s belt. Mom said she can do that, it’s just the toilet issue. So Chris installed a taller toilet. Then I drove him down to Stockton, where he caught a plane. I drove back up to the cabin to social distance myself for 10 days to ensure I did not expose my parents to any potential virus’.
It was a wonderful week. I walked everywhere, every morning and every evening. During the day I wrote. I researched. I sat on the deck and ate chips and dip, and at night I baked Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies. In the mornings, the trees exhaled their divine pine-filled morning breath, and I inhaled deeply. I wish I could adequately describe it to you. I will say that through the years when we would come home, my kids didn’t want to wash their clothes because they smelled like the mountain. Deep inhale of dirty clothes. I smile because as a child I did the same thing. Still do.
After a week, I headed down to my parent’s home in Lodi, Ca. I spent a couple of weeks going to appointments, interviewing them, preparing food, playing SkipBo, watching old movies, and taking in my shrinking mother’s pants. She has been on a diet since I’ve known her. “Look, Mom! Your dreams have come true! You have no hips!” She giggles and wears her baggy pants with glee. I even spent a weekend with my sister. That was a wonderful weekend
I listened to my father tell of his pride in building the cabin, I remember how he taught us to nail the boards for the foundation. How to layout the framing. He taught me to solder the plumbing pipes. We put in elephant putty between the paneling and frame. We roofed it. And he is very proud of this building he built. I think he thinks of it as a testament, something he created that says he was here.
For my mother, the cabin is all about the gathering—friends, family, and food.
It sounds all Leave It To Beaver. It wasn’t. We are as dysfunctional as everyone else. Maybe more so. But it still is my happy place. I like to be there alone, with my memories, thoughts, and dreams. Or with my family for nights of food and games. It’s all good to me.
I wish I were there now. If I had stayed longer, I would not have gotten this virus. I believe that.
I inhale deeply. It is not the Redwood forest exhaling. It is me and my new friend, oxygen. My happy place fades away. Michelle is still slowly inserting meds into my arm. Or maybe she is drawing blood. My other arm covers my crying eyes. I don’t care if she can smell me. This hurts
Finally, she is done with the IV. She heads over to the now manual blood pressure cuff. Then she tries to take my temperature. The thermometer isn’t working. It is the kind that you stick it in the hole, and a new plastic coating covers the thermometer. She pushes it down into the bulky battery over and over. Nothing. “We are short of supplies.” She embarrassingly admits. “I’ll be back with a different thermometer. Maybe I can find a new battery for this one.” She takes off her garb and pushes it into the recycle garb dispensary. I think she is happy to go to colder climates.
I lay back hoping to sleep, cause it’s like 2:00 am. Nurse Michelle’s round sweaty, happy head pokes back into the room.
“Just one more thing, the maintenance men will be in shortly to install your air filter fan.”
Of course, they will.
In they enter. I cover my face with the hospital blanket. I have to admit they are quick about it. Fifteen minutes tops. The fan goes on. The noise is loud, but I am on a softer bed with a blood pressure cuff that will not wake me every hour, and I am breathing oxygen.
Michelle comes back in. She holds a manual thermometer under my tongue. It beeps. She doesn’t say what it says, and I don’t ask.
“I promise I won’t bother you for like 4 hours.”
I like her. I’m sorry I stink so bad.
The Morning Comes
Michelle comes in to introduce me to my day nurse. “I’ll be back tonight.” Off she goes.
I think I will call him Michael. His name is on the board, I just can’t remember it. He has curly hair on top and no hair on the sides. I can’t see his face because of his mask. He carries a tray of breakfast. I realize I want to eat! It is vegetable stock. I slowly spoon it in. I do not gag. There is a lemon frozen treat. I think this is the most delicious meal I have ever had. I ate almost half of the broth and the lemony treat. It felt and tasted so good.
Michael checks out my vitals. “So, I have to give you some meds.”
I moan. He looks at me. He sees me. I tell him that I asked that they use my left arm, but they declined. He looks at it, and I think he smiles because his eyes crinkle up.
“I will fix this.” And he does. He mushes around on my left arm and says, “get ready”,—a little prick. I don’t look. I ramble.
“I can’t stand my body odor.”
“With all this garb on, we can’t smell you, but when we are done, I will change your sheets, and you can sit in the shower stall and take a shower. Sound good?”
“When will you give me the meds?”
“I already did.” Then he took out the other IV, and I could see the frown on his brow. “Sorry about that one. I don’t know why people insert them in the crux of the elbow. I have to give you a shot into your stomach.” and he rests the shot on my stomach. He starts talking. I should have known he was distracting me, but when he “fixed the IV”, I began to trust him. All of a sudden, he pushes down hard.
Yea, I screamed. He knew it was going to hurt. His eyes were sad. “Sorry.” I forgive him. He brought in soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a new hospital shirt, and a towel.
“The soap is shampoo and body wash. I’ll wait out here in case you need me. Make sure you sit down.” As if I had the energy to stand up.
I turn on the warm water and scrub my body, creases and all. I can still smell me. I do it again and again. I try to wash my hair. It has turned into a hot tangled mess. I can’t even comb through it with my fingers. And my skin just hangs from my bones. My water has not replenished yet. I look so old.
I come out dressed, and he hands me a flimsy comb.
He laughs. “You have a lot of time on your hands.”
I don’t have the strength. I try. I fail. I try it again. I sleep.
Michael comes back at 1 pm with lunch. More broth and a strawberry icy. Heaven. I am eating. Not a lot, but some. It feels great to eat. I take another nap. I don’t have nausea. I don’t have a headache. The movies are not showing. I am grateful and hopeful. I keep breathing in those flowers, and my temperature is low. I turn on the TV while I try to comb through each strand of hair. The light from the screen is tolerable. I fall asleep again.
All of a sudden, a garbed up, mask man backs into the room. I thought it might be Michael. It was not. The man starts talking to me. He has an accent. I can barely understand him.
“You are very sick! You have COVID19. But I think you are better. Yes, you are better. So, you have to decide. You going to go home today and not waste this bed or sleep here again? What is your decision?”
I look at him and ask, “Who are you?”
He looks a little insulted.
“I am Dr. T???!. So what do you say? You going home today or you staying another night? Your decision.”
I am trying to process this. This is my choice? Isn’t he the Dr.? I think he wants me to leave. Should I leave? Am I ready to leave? I look into his dark threatening eyes.
“I guess I’ll go home?”
“Good. I will order oxygen.”
And he leaves the room. It is almost 5. I don’t think I will get dinner broth. I call Chris.
Michael comes in. His eyes look a little worried. “I have to test your oxygen. You have to stand up and walk around the room.” My finger monitor drops into the 80’s. Michael frowns. “Sit back down.” He waits a few minutes. “Let’s try it again.” It drops again.
My phone rings. The oxygen people tell me the oxygen costs and that a portable unit will be delivered to the hospital. A permanent unit will be delivered to my house. I provide my credit card information.
Then I get a call from the oxygen delivery man. “Good afternoon”,! He has an accent too. He thinks he is funny. “Listen, I have to see a different client, so I will drop off the portable and stationary to your house after 6. Your husband can take the portable when he picks you up.”
“Well, that isn’t what has been arranged. The hospital is waiting for you right now.”
“Your husband can bring it.” He hangs up.
Michael leaves the room. An hour later, at 5:55 pm, he walks back into my room pushing a portable oxygen tank. “You have no idea how hard it was to get this.” I am now that lady. You know the one in the wheelchair with a portable oxygen tank?
Michael wheels me down in a plain black wheelchair. I ask him how many areas are COVID. He says, “Two. Both are full. 48 beds apiece. Your area is the 3rd unit. It is getting filled.” He sounds worried. It seems they don’t have enough staff. Certainly, they don’t have enough equipment. Only they know what they need—the poor staff. In 24 hours, I had three nurses, two doctors, and a lot of hospital supplies that failed. I believe my nurses did the best with what they had. They tried to convey confidence, but sometimes their concern was evident. I hope they get what they need to do their jobs. After a while, I don’t think I could work under those circumstances.
We exit the building at the empty front entrance. Chris has the car door open. Of course. We load the portable in the back. We load me in.
I look deep into Michaels’s eyes, “You were a good nurse. Thank you.”
His eyes smile. He waves goodbye and disappears back into the hospital.
I was at the hospital for precisely 24 hours—the longest 24 hours of my life. I am going home. I have to figure out how to make vegetable stock. We are driving, and I am dizzy. Everything is kind of spinning. I am glad Chris is driving. “Are you dizzy?” I ask? “No.” I don’t know if I believe him.
I’ve been home for over a week now. Every day I try to do something to get my strength back. It is difficult. Chris is slowly recovering as well. Our children have tried to offer their distant assistance. And friends drop off cookies, lemonade, soup, tea, and cards. People are kind.
One day we changed the sheets. I yelled at Chris. He looked scared.
The next day I cleaned the bathrooms.
The next day I Clorox’d the kitchen.
Chris decided to weed the backyard lawn. We planted sod about six months ago. It looks like it got COVID. He is upset. I found him on his stomach weeding in 110 degrees temperatures. He has lost at least 20 lbs. His back hurts. Sciatica. Clearly, I am not the only one mentally touched by this thing!
At night, when it is only around 100′, I walk to the mailbox and get our mail. Every night it gets easier. A friend saw me one night. She slowed down to ask how I was. I tried to smile, but I have colossal fever blisters all over my lips. She said she would call some time. I’m sure she will, but I don’t think I have anything to say.
One morning I drove at 7 am to get a mop at Walmart before anyone else was there. Please refer back to the flood. I saw healthy people walking, jogging, and biking. That used to be me. I hope it is again someday soon, but I wonder.
The other night I ordered takeout. I warned them that I had COVID. I popped my trunk, and they stuck the food in without ever having to talk to me or touch me.
I am not sure how long before I feel I am not a threat to anyone. It would be great if someone knew the answer to that.
Sometimes I watch the news. I see Americans being silly. I see Brene, Ellen, and cooking shows promoting themselves, and it all seems so frivolous and insignificant. I’m sure they feel they are providing happy times or something positive. I just don’t know the value of such things anymore.
I am glad the virus has abated in us, but it has changed me. I think I am not alone.
America and American’s true nature has been revealed in beautiful and ugly ways. Many of our individual character flaws and grace have been exposed. It often isn’t pretty, but sometimes it is.
What I want to believe is in the very nature and resilience of our country and people. I hear how our local and federal leaders have failed to lead. And I say B.S. Not for the reasons you think.
I am an American. I am my own leader. I don’t need or want someone to tell me what is the considerate way to behave. I know. I may not want to do the right thing, but I know what it is. I believe all humans everywhere know what the right thing is. Many just don’t WANT to do it, and that’s on them.
I feel I have earned the right to say this about COVID.
Some of you will be fortunate to not get COVID or have any symptoms if you do. Some will have mild symptoms. Others will have severe symptoms or lingering ones, and some will die. Please do not compare this to any other illness. You don’t know what you are talking about. The long term ramifications are unknown. Be wise. Be diligent. Be kind. Be humble. You don’t know!
Everyone wants to believe they are good people. After all, we have to live with ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves and each other. Or we don’t. I believe it says something about us and our character and values with the behavior we choose every moment. Digging deep to discover our true motives… well, it’s kind of like that road less traveled. In the long run, it will make all the difference. I have learned there is no easy path. Everyone struggles. Everyone, regardless of how you have prepared or choices you have made. So grab this moment and live the life you want. It’s the only one you’ve got.
As I remember lying on the floor, so very sick, I think what if that had been my child, I would have scooped her up and rushed her to the hospital. I would have risked my life to hold her hand, and I would have laid by her in that bed to comfort her. I would have done that because I would be compelled to show my love.
But I wasn’t willing to do that for me. I wasn’ t committed to treating myself with dignity and respect. It isn’t that I have more value than anyone else, but I certainly don’ t have less. I have committed to myself that I will change. I am an adult, I must be my own parent and value my life and what I want because I count too. And so do you.
And when I have moments of mind induced self-flagellation, and who doesn’t, I hope the memory of that bat and my exploding technicolor brain will haunt me. Every day ends with our eyes closing to a point-blank shot. Every morning, if we are still here, we have an opportunity to live good, decent lives or not. Every day we get to dig deep to discover what really motivates our behavior and choose to be driven by the values we want to guide our lives. Everyday. Every moment.
And through the fever, pain, aches, chills, vomiting, nausea, coughing, and diarrhea, I will remember that COVID took my brain, sifted out the last 62 years, and revealed me. “Well, hello there. Been awhile. You going to stick around or drown in your remaining years?”
I’m going to stick around. I know how to swim.