I have COVID.
And yes it’s just as terrible as you’ve heard….
I rang the bell, then waited in the freezing Idaho snow. Surely someone would answer the door soon. “The window has a gold star on it,” the receptionist had told me on the phone an hour before. I guess administration sectioned off an overflow area for people with COVID. The “gold star” appeared to be a flimsy piece of yellow paper that the wind had played with. I frowned at the paper and rang the bell again.
About 5 minutes later, a nurse—wearing garb fit for outerspace—stared blankly through the glass. “Why are you here?” Her monotone voice broke through the intercom. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes!” I shivered, my shoes and socks soaked. “I’m a cancer patient. I have COVID, and I’m having trouble breathing. I need a monoclonal antibody treatment.”
She studied me skeptically. “Magagna?” she finally asked, and after I nodded, she requested my date of birth.
“Groundhog Day. ‘83.”
“Cute,” she said sarcastically. But I knew she’d started to like me, and I tried not laughing because she sounded a bit like Darth Vader because of her helmet.
Then she buzzed me in, and my superpower of joy momentarily left. What I saw will stay seared into my memory…always.
So many people laid in that room. Painters’ plastic swayed, separating the sides of each “station.” The cement floors looked more fit for a parking garage than a hospital, and my apprehension grew. It seemed glaringly apparent that this hospital didn’t want COVID patients near anyone, they’d become desperate for a location to treat people like me, and they didn’t care if it looked like a third-world country.
“Over here!” The nurse’s helmet muffled her words, yet I still understood. Regardless, I couldn’t pull my eyes from the man who looked dead or the bald woman who heaved with each breath. These people…why couldn’t they do more for these people?
“Oh,” I whispered to no one except myself. I have COVID which gave me admittance to this terrible place: The location with the monoclonal antibody treatment. The same room where people seemed to be dying.
I sat on the hard mattress. “Someone’s having an allergic reaction to the infusion.” The nurse leaned so close to me, her eyes red from lack of sleep. “I’ll be back.”
“Okay!” I nodded.
“Hang tight!” Then she lumbered away, moving to another painters’ plastic separation where a woman spoke frantically. “I’m still itching! Everywhere! And it’s even harder to breathe. I thought this would help, not make it worse?!”
I leaned back, rested my wet shoes on the bed, and closed my eyes.
I’m not sure why, but my thoughts wandered to about a month ago. “I’m a little nervous to visit Mexico.” I typed the text to my friend and hit “send.”
“Don’t tell me it’s because of COVID. You know it’s not real. It’s just a government ploy.”
“Ummm… It is real.”
“You know anyone who’s had it?”
“Yes.” I responded.
“Anyone who’s died?” she asked.
“People probably just said it was COVID. 🤣I don’t know anyone who’s actually had it!”
“Did you at least get the vaccine?” I queried.
“No way! Why would I get a shot for something that isn’t real?”
“My doctor doesn’t want me around anyone who isn’t vaccinated…. I guess they have a higher chance of getting sick. And if I’m around them, then I can get sick. My immune system is crap right now.”
“But you’re vaccinated. If you believe in all this stuff, then why get the shot?” she asked.
“I guess the vaccine doesn’t work for most people who are getting cancer treatments….”
“But I at least need to try. I’m fighting so d*mn hard just to live.”
And we haven’t talked after that—both of us so upset. I couldn’t imagine her shock to see the scene currently around me, the people so desperate for the infusion, for oxygen, for ventilators…. Tears filled my eyes and dripped into my mask as I thought of dying in that cold, morbid, community room. Then I heard that woman, “I’m itching. Make IT stop!” She almost growled.
“I’m trying,” the nurse said. “We’re giving you Benadryl! Everything will be okay.”
I wiped my eyes and told myself I’m stronger than crying like a baby. Then I thought of a scene in an alien movie, “Slither,” where a lady is enormous, about to give birth to millions of aliens. She says something in a redneck accent that always makes me smile, so as the nurse approached, I decided to say it to her.
“Hey…. Na-urse. I-ah I-ah thank somehtin’s wrong wath mey.”
She just looked at me, then broke into a huge grin. “Ug.” She chuckled. “Symptoms?”
“Trouble breathing, headache, dizziness, chest and back pain, sore throat, cough, congestion. A sense of humor.”
She raised a brow. “Any allergies?”
“Just aloe vera.”
“Perfect! Let’s get you hooked up.” Then she placed an IV faster than you’d believe. “You’ll be here a few hours.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Any idea where you got exposed?” she asked.
“Mexico.” I nodded. “My poor mom tested positive on Christmas Day. I guess my symptoms just took a little longer to show up.”
“It can happen that way. Too bad. At least you had a fun trip until then?”
“The best!” I said. “But my parents are still stuck in Mexico. I feel so bad for them. They can’t leave until my mom tests negative. It’s been over a week. Luckily my dad hasn’t gotten sick.”
“He got the vaccine?”
“Yeah,” I said as she hooked my IV to a bag of clear liquid. “I sure hope I won’t get you sick. I don’t want to get anyone sick.” I looked at her pleadingly. “You don’t want what I have,” I whispered.
“Don’t worry about me. I know what I signed up for.”
And as she hobbled away, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend who doesn’t believe COVID is real. What a sad state of denial she must be in….
So, now I’m quarantined to my room, grateful to work from home. My youngest kids think this is some great adventure since we can communicate through the door. I even came out for a minute today, staying masked and far away. “I love you even though you have COVID,” Trey said. “I won’t discriminate.”
I laughed so hard that I started coughing. “I love you too.” Then—as the kids started their homework—I went back to my room and watched another episode of “Lost in Space” because that’s what the nurse’s outfit left me craving.
(You can kind of see the nurse’s outfit in the third picture—and the room where they’re doing infusions at the hospital in Pocatello.)