By Katie Buck, RN
Emergency Department, CarolinaEast Medical Center
It’s clear to me now that 2020 is not a good year to take a full week of vacation. Of course my tenacious and adventurous spirit got the best of me and the second week of March my husband and I were off to Ireland.
Just four days prior, North Carolina announced the first positive COVID-19 case, but I wasn’t worried about it. I was busy obsessing over not forgetting my passport and checking my backpack constantly for it. The minute our plane landed in Boston, I found out I would be in quarantine for two weeks. That was the same day Craven County announced the first positive case. Silent tears ran down my cheeks waiting to walk off the plane.
I understood why I was being quarantined but I was crestfallen and felt like a failure. I let my team down. I wasn’t there to lend a hand in getting the Emergency Department prepared for the pandemic. Nonetheless, Camp Quarantine Session I commenced. It’s weird being isolated just as a precaution but not actually sick. The aloneness of it all dims your spirit.
By August, local nursing homes were experiencing outbreaks, which meant the ED was receiving more COVID patients. The two weeks leading up to another week of vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I had cared for several COVID positive patients.
There is no such thing as social distancing when caring for patients. Also, maximizing PPE is imperative, and COVID-19 is tricky. Patients come in for a completely different complaint with no coronavirus symptoms then test positive prior to admission. And that’s exactly what happened three days prior to leaving for my vacation. I had two exposures back-to-back on the same day.
As I was packing our family of five for a big adventure to meet my parents in the mountains, I thought a lot about those exposures. Would I get the coronavirus? If I did, would I be symptomatic? Should we cancel? I couldn’t disappoint my kids by canceling their first vacation in over a year. So off we went. A few days into our stay I started feeling fatigued. Later that night I realized I couldn’t smell a thing. I tried really hard, too. Coffee, cinnamon, soap, and even whiskey. I knew then that Camp Quarantine Session II was about to begin; but this time it would be different.
The next morning my husband woke up with a fever and fatigue and we headed the 426 long miles home a day early. I didn’t get to hug my parents goodbye or my daughter who was going to spend two weeks with them. We kept the boys with us; it is such a foreign concept to wear a mask around your kids. We had to remind each other to pull up our masks when we were close to them. I have never seen such a look of worry, anxiety, and disappointment in my 11 year old’s eyes when we told him we had to go home early and why.
Once home, we had to change up our bedtime routine. I wanted to get our five year old Levi to bed as quickly as possible so he had less exposure, but he wants a drink and a story and his Mr. Elephant. He wants to run around and giggle as I chase him to put on his jammies, and he doesn’t understand that I’m just trying to protect him.
I sat on the floor with my mask on for bedtime stories. He asked why I wasn’t in bed with him and in that moment my heart broke. He asked me to take down my mask so he could see my mouth when I spoke. I told him I couldn’t. And my heart broke a little more.
The worst part was I didn’t give him a hug and kiss goodnight. That isn’t heartbreaking. It’s worse. It’s indescribable.
My spirit wasn’t dimmed anymore, it was crushed.
I couldn’t even read the usual number of books to him because my cough made me so short of breath. As my cough worsened I sat farther and farther away from Levi. Our older son Cole was already steering clear of us quite well, but Levi just didn’t understand. As the days dragged on, my cough finally moved from constant to only in the morning. So after a scalding hot tea with lots of honey I would sit and hold his hand for 20 minutes or so. Then I would give him some hand sanitizer and leave him snuggled in a blanket all by himself.
As my husband and I were slowly improving, my dad was declining. I had shared the coronavirus with him. The feeling of terror, despair, and hopelessness felt so heavy. Saying I’m sorry over and over followed by encouragement and support via texting and FaceTime seemed completely inadequate.
What if my dad didn’t get better? What happens then?
Initially I had a lot of regret. Then I came across Job 11:18. Having hope will give you courage. That is what my dad needed from me to beat this horrible virus. He didn’t need my regret and constant apologies because regret put the focus on me, while hope and courage kept my dad at the center. I needed to be there for him as best as I could on his journey to recovery. So I fervently prayed for his healing and that he would remain courageous and hopeful. I know it was so hard for him. He would feel better then take a few steps back in his recovery. He was a ‘long hauler’ to be sure, but most importantly he is a SURVIVOR. (As is my mother who also had coronavirus in the spring).
When my parents come for Christmas this year I am going to give them both the biggest hugs. The kind that heals your spirit and makes you whole again. The blessings that have been bestowed upon my family have been humbling on this journey. Thank you for all of you that encouraged us and prayed for us. I am immensely grateful that we will be able to put 2020 to rest together, healthy, and smiling and with a renewed perspective on life.
“Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety.” ~ Job 11:18