Testing Positive: Is this real life?

How many days have I been in quarantine? Since Friday the 13th. March 2020.

I had been hearing about this novel coronavirus for a bit. As nurses, my colleagues and I pride ourselves on staying informed on news in healthcare. This virus was something we all talked about.

But it was still across the globe. Far away.

For several months, I had been planning a trip to Europe. On March 2nd, I was en route to visit Lisbon, Amsterdam, Ireland, and Barcelona.

I never made it to Barcelona.

Our flight to Lisbon was nearly empty. More room for us! I wiped down everything around me with disinfectant, compulsively sanitizing my hands and continuing to take my immune-boosting supplements.

Lisbon was lovely. Amsterdam was an adventure. Ireland was cut short.

We were awakened very early Thursday morning (think 1:30 A.M. early) to news of an unclear travel ban declared by the U.S. At this point, COVID-19 had been making global headlines and had been declared a pandemic. Spain was on the precipice of a lockdown. Confirmed cases were steadily increasing in Ireland. Sleepily panicked, we decided we had to make it back to the U.S. and furiously booked flights home.

After nearly 24 hours of sleepless travel, the shock of astronomical airfare prices, and sheer exhaustion, we arrived home. Healthy.

The morning after my return, I woke up so fatigued I could hardly move. I was congested, but figured it was probably from extreme seasonal allergies and travel. I had no fever. I emailed work to see when I could go back. After all, there was a pandemic and surely they needed all nurses on deck!

I was placed on a 14-day medical furlough due to my travels in Europe and was told to log my symptoms — if any. They would monitor them. Later in the day, I started coughing even more. I grabbed my thermometer and found that I had a low-grade fever. Of course I wouldn’t feel well after a blur of travel and lack of sleep.

I took every precaution I knew to take. My hands were as scrubbed and clean as they would be after working a 12-hour shift. All would be well. I was going to give it a few days. I was already quarantined and this would all be over shortly.

The next couple of days, I was terribly tired, congested, coughing, still feverish, and my chest was tight. At times I was even a little short of breath. I thumbed through my work bag to grab my pulse oximeter (being a nurse can be so practical, sometimes!) to check my oxygen saturation and pulse. My oxygen levels were completely normal, but my resting heart rate was rather elevated.

When I entered my symptoms for work that day I chuckled to myself, “They’re going to think I’ve actually got COVID-19!”

I got a call later that day from our infection preventionist. I’d worked with her on so many patient cases; it was almost a relief to talk to her. Immediately, in a more serious tone than usual, she told me,

“I think you need to get tested for COVID-19. I’m submitting your case to the health department, but in the meantime, I need you to contact your primary care physician to see if they can rule out flu and do a full respiratory panel. They might not even let you come into the office. If that’s the case, we will just see if you can get a test without it. Let me know what they say. This is my cell phone; call or text me anytime.”

I blocked out all emotions and transitioned into my comfortable and developed high-efficiency nurse mode. My doctor’s office transferred me to a COVID-19 hotline, then to a triage nurse. She told me directly where to go. I went. Got tested. And waited.

Less than 24 hours later, our infection preventionist called back and told me I had tested positive for the virus. I was shocked. I spoke to our Infectious Disease Committee. Doctors I knew and had previously worked with were asking me my symptoms, advising me on my treatment, explaining when I should go to the ER, and suggesting further quarantine methods.

Was this real?

The next days were surreal, and full of the same symptoms. I didn’t know if I’d get worse. I had read everything I could on every facet of COVID-19 — the very thing I tell others not to do. I couldn’t help it.

It turns out that I desperately need people, physical touch, and human interaction. I was made to live in community.

Indefinite quarantine meant that now, not only did I have the virus that was igniting fear worldwide, but I couldn’t go back to work and I didn’t know when I could.

I thought isolation and quarantine would be easier. I thought that, as an introvert, my entire life up until that point was training me for this.

But it turns out that I desperately need people, physical touch, and human interaction. I was made to live in community.

It wasn’t until week two, when my symptoms lessened, that I started to identify what I was actually feeling. It was grief, loss, mourning:

  • a loss of control,
  • being on the other side of healthcare,
  • my trip being cut short,
  • not being able to be at work,
  • not seeing another human,
  • forced rest,

and the list does not end there.

I was lamenting the loss of what had been.

Freedom. Health. Community.

I still have symptoms — very mild at this point — but I’m on the upswing. I’m thankful. I’ve seen more kindness and love and support in the past two weeks than ever. I’m still processing what was, what is, and what will be. But I’m also confident. I’m confident that I’m not in control; that there’s peace; that there’s goodness; that there’s grace; and that there’s purpose.

Most notably and not at all novel, there’s the hope of a future restoration of all these broken things and feelings.

Photo Credit Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

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