Good news, dear pond readers: I’m still alive. Things have been rough here for your favorite pond dweller in the upper Midwest because I fell ill with COVID-19. I’m writing today to talk about things I learned the hard way and to emphasize that being vaccinated saved my life. Please, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine. You matter and I want you to stay alive. We’ve already lost 700,000-and-counting-too many lives in the United States and over 4 million worldwide.
I have been vaccinated for months and the vaccines saved my life. As an immune-abnormal person courtesy of my disease modifying therapy for my multiple sclerosis, I have been at increased risk of falling ill to COVID-19 this entire time. I wear masks. I watch my distance. I wash my hands. I don’t eat inside restaurants or go to movie theaters. I’ve cancelled or changed plans to avoid prolonged exposure to people in crowds. My doctor prescribed the third booster shot for me and I got my shot over two weeks ago. It went fine and I only had fatigue with headache as side-effects. The lack of side-effects made me nervous; I wanted my immune system to put up more of a fight. Then again, that’s why someone like me needs the booster. I was so lucky to get the booster. Here’s my happy action shot.
My main exposure risk is my adorable Wee Bairn who is too young to be vaccinated. Small children in daycare or school are the cutest disease vectors. As part of exploring the world and growing, small kids lick things, hug and kiss with abandon, touch everything then suck their fingers, and all manner of other germ-y activities as per usual every day. I always wanted to be the mom who encouraged eating dirt and licking the unknown to cultivate all the friendly microbes that make our life possible. At any other time, this gross behavior is actually a great thing for building up the immune systems and microbiome of children to make them infection-proof for a lifetime. But these aren’t ordinary times and children are more vulnerable than ever. This is precisely why schools need safety measures like mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations for staff; US states are all doing their own thing regarding mitigation measures like mask mandates. Unfortunately, the Delta variant of SARS-COV-2 is very effective at replicating and spreading. Even though my family did everything we could to stay safe and even though my daycare has rules in place that we followed, the virus found its way into our home and into our family. It was my worst nightmare of the last eighteen months and it wasn’t like what I expected.
At first, we thought it was a stomach flu. My child had only a low-grade fever, lethargy, nausea, and minor diarrhea. This cocktail of symptoms is familiar to parents everywhere, kids get it with a plethora of different illnesses. I got the mom-badge for being vomited upon from chin to toes. I’m over 90% confident that this vomit episode is how I got enough viral load exposure that I fell ill. Five days after the vomit day, my spouse fell ill and I fell ill the next day, day six post-vomit, which is the median incubation time for COVID-19. My kiddo tested negative but we swabbed over 12 hours after the low-grade fever broke and given the fact that children shed less virus, it’s plausible that the negative result was misleading. My spouse and I had the same symptoms as our kiddo but mine were more severe and lasted longer; we also had symptoms that aren’t discussed as much which our kiddo thankfully did not.
You know the symptoms we were on the look-out for with COVID-19? The loss of taste & smell, the shortness of breath, the high fever, and the persistent cough? Yeah, we didn’t have that. We got the stomach symptoms, the chills, the intense joint & muscle pain, the sore throat, the fatigue, and, bonus, we got really painful, spread-out skin lesions which is a less common COVID-19 symptom. Thanks to my abnormal immune system, I did experience a high fever with the chills, headaches, vertigo, arm numbness (thanks, multiple sclerosis lesions! I resent you so much), intense fatigue with weaknes, and my lesions were both more widespread and of longer duration than my spouse. I had legit COVID-toes and could not comfortably wear socks for a week. Because eating and drinking was so painful, I lost six pounds over four days. That is not how you want to lose weight.
My biggest regret is that we didn’t test our child as soon as symptoms of illness manifested. I was afraid of being too reactionary, over-using benefits, and causing unnecessary distress for my already distressed preschooler who had no cough, no COVID-toes, no high fever, and appeared able to smell scents. This was a mistake. COVID-19 has so many symptoms that it behooves us all to test any time you or a member of your household is symptomatic with anything. Hopefully, rapid at-home antigen testing will become more common and you, dear pond readers, will be better able to protect yourselves. Last week was extremely grim here with one sickly adult, one recovered but tired adult, and one very active preschooler all making do together.
You know what though, dear pond reader? I survived. I was absolutely miserable and non-functional for three days and pretty uncomfortable for an additional six days after. Being ill for nine days at home is not bad. My vaccinated spouse was out of commission for about two days and felt better within a week. If I hadn’t had the vaccines, I would have had a more severe experience. The vaccines kept me out of the hospital and alive. My beloved better half stayed out of the hospital and alive. If everyone who can medically get vaccinated does so, we can change COVID-19 from a lethal threat to a seasonal inconvenience. If vaccination were more widespread, immune vulnerable people like me and my unvaccinated preschooler would be safer within the bosom of our vaccinated community and my beloved spouse would be, too.
Unfortunately, because our community only has 57.8% vaccination, we’re at risk. I’m terrified that my child will develop multi-system inflammatory syndrome and I’m worried that my fever combined with the immune response triggered by this infection will precipitate either a new MS relapse or the onset of yet another auto-immune disorder. The emotional toll of this experience continues and will take a long time to heal, if it ever fully does. I’m trying to focus on my blessings, practice gratitude, and work on self-care. This is helping but I think only time and prayer will mend my general anger at a community that feels indifferent at best and actively hostile at worst. Much like my MS diagnosis, I feel like coming down with COVID-19 has shown me some unexpected revelations and while I don’t think this is as watershed of an experience, it is definitely significant. This entire crisis I have managed to avoid compassion fatigue but now I feel like I’m experiencing some and I don’t like it. For far too many years, I’ve intermittently struggled with depression and this illness is pushing me back into that negative place. I don’t like that either. My knee-jerk reaction is to want to hide and lick my wounds away from others. It is important to draw boundaries and take time for oneself but social isolation can also be dangerous. Cultivating a balance of boundaries and society is going to be one of my challenges in the coming weeks.
Silver lining: challenges are something I’ve learned that I can handle. I’m not alone. I have my fantastic family, my splendid work colleagues, some truly invaluable friends, and my Faith. This is all a winning combination. Walking with my Wee Bairn and taking pictures together has also been a balm to the spirit. Whether its the endorphins from exercise or singing silly songs together or breathing in the energizing smell of dirt and leaves with my favorite small person, every walk has been delightful. Teaching my Wee Bairn to take pictures has been a continuing joy and it proved invaluable during my convalescence and now in my post-quarantine recovery as something creative we can do together that doesn’t require the intensive set-up and take down that a joint painting session does or lots of running/walking/jumping. The Fall Color Sunshine picture above was taken alongside the Wee Bairn as we listened to crows and wind blowing leaves into the grass. It was the most relaxing moment.
When faced with negative emotions, intrusive thoughts, and a persistent simmering anger at the forces and individuals prolonging this crisis, I have been working through this painful emotional soup with art because creating beauty from the maelstrom of pain is one positive thing I can do. I’ve been journaling, writing on a new story idea to make a deadline on my list, knitting, and I’ve been painting autumn decorations. Pelting unfinished wood with layers of acrylic paint until my hands hurt but the rest of me felt better has been satisfying. There are now little flecks of orange turning up in odd places in my kitchen but it’s worth it. My habitat is now brighter with autumnal colors and I’m excited that I still have more decorations to finish. I plan to post pictures of all the finished decorations but until then, here is a picture of two.
How are you coping with life, the universe, and everything, dear pond readers? Any new creative projects for fall?
Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.