My husband, Thomas, sat propped up on the sofa, coughing with red-eyes, fatigue, fever, and so achy that he didn’t want touch. If you know Thomas, you know something is seriously wrong when he doesn’t want to be touched. We were told by three diagnostic gatekeepers that “his symptoms are consistent with coronavirus. It’s not bad enough to get tested. Stay home.” How bad does it have to get? Where is the line between “stay at home” and going for emergency care? That was the question that we were wrestling with for hours Thursday night, April 2nd.
How does one make that decision about asking for help? We’re generally healthy people, so we decided that we wouldn’t utilize scarce virus testing when somebody else might need it more. But if we need to go in, is there a shortage of ventilators? Would he be exposed to other risks? We hated the idea of him not having guests and me being unable to stay with him.
Our family and friends were talking to us, offering regular check-in’s and saying they are there if we need anything. Of course, they remained “there” and not coming near. My dad’s a jokester, so when he asked what he could do to help, and I said: “keep me laughing.” Encouraging his humor, you know I must be desperate.
It’s not clear what I was feeling through this saga. The seriousness hit me when, instead of taking our “shelter in place” daily walk, Thomas didn’t have the stamina. He’d slept until 1:00 PM and then fell asleep again. Walking alone with our dog felt eerie. Something was missing and wrong.
Thomas left a phone message for our two young adult sons, saying, “if I go into the hospital and don’t see you again, know that you are the best part of my life. You and your mom.” They immediately answered with lots of love. We arranged a call between the four of us, from Minnesota to Washington state.
Telling the boys how much he loved them was heart-wrenching. Through this sickness, he realized that what he wanted most, he has achieved. He and his two sons could tell each other that they love each other. That never happened between Thomas and his father.
I was surprised to hear Thomas say that he had lain awake much of the night composing his deathbed letter. Just in case.
It felt surreal hearing those words of Thomas possibly dying. That can’t be. Let’s have some more medicinal tea and vitamins. Is this all we can do to help the situation? Thank goodness for my friends and Margot, who sent healing energy and regularly cued me on what to do next.
We had several conversations with our nephew, Ben, who just started his medical school residency in a New York City hospital on the Intensive care COVID-19 unit. He told us about emergency criteria for Thomas’s blood oxygen level. The first time we measured, he was right on the borderline of needing medical assistance. For now, he could take deep breaths and raise his oxygen level. That night, we breathed a lot together.
It took many hours of monitoring and attention before his fever broke. After two weeks of decline, on April 3rd, he started to feel better.
You’d think we’d feel so much relief that we would be all lovey and positive. Touching each other for the first time in weeks was beautiful, and yet sometimes we were pecking at each other.
Cooped up Coronavirus living is challenging. There are moments of tenderness, appreciation, and quiet, also, times of tension and strife. A week after Thomas recovered, I had my meltdown, finally curled up in his lap, and collapsed.
Now when I reach for him, feel the warmth of his skin, and he reaches back, there’s still a small jolt of surprise from the relief, noticing how precious life is, I don’t take it for granted.