the emotional toil of the virus
by Lisa Ansell, Ed.D,
LPC, NCC, CBIS
There is a negative stigma attached to either testing positive for COVID-19 and being asymptomatic or testing positive for COVID-19 and developing symptoms. Either way, the initial thought when hearing the news is a general fear of being diagnosed with a death sentence. From Isolation Orders to seeking medical care, COVID-19 is a lonely process for many, and sadly, people have lost the battle with the virus. There is good news; people can also survive the virus. I am one of the survivors.
I am choosing to share my story because, through the grueling symptoms, I found hope and strength in a time when I was not sure if I would live to see my next birthday (seven days from the date of my diagnosis). My family and closest friends were as supportive as they could be over the phone or video chat, but I also heard fear in their voices and texts. I pray they will not have to experience that kind of fear again. One of my sisters called a local church, which shares the same denomination as her faith, and a kind woman I had never met called offering support and trips to the grocery store for food and prescriptions. A wonderful woman from my church brought me groceries, as well. True blessings.
Here is my story:
I was supposed to have shoulder surgery and needed to have a pre-op physical, which included a COVID-19 test. I had been vigilantly careful to wear a mask in public, stayed at home except to go to the grocery store for groceries and prescriptions, go to the doctor, or to work with people who reported they were not having symptoms and were following the safety precautions. Throughout my few travels, I had been around people who did not wear masks, citing them to be useless, not needed, or that the virus was “a joke.” So, when I got the call notifying me that I had tested positive for the virus, my initial response was that someone was playing a mean joke on me, or that telemarketers were reaching a new low scamming people. I was certain I was a false-positive as I had no symptoms.
My denial was brief as I developed symptoms that hit me suddenly and hard. All the horror stories from the news of people dying from the virus began to play repeatedly in my mind. As my symptoms progressed, I began to wonder how bad the virus was going to hit me and even began to wonder if I was going to make it through. The media outlets report “Facts not Fear” with doom and gloom of the death tolls as well as how many more cases have been reported. So, once you test positive, you can’t help but wonder if you are just a case number or a death statistic. I often thought that it would have been helpful to read a total of reported recovered cases. I would enjoy reading more stories of those who have overcome this horrible virus.
During my time of having a fever, I called one of my sisters six or seven times throughout one night, freaking out about the possibility of my dying from the virus. In between the trips to the restroom, I grew weak and could not sleep. At one point, I do recall waking up in a full body sweat, uncontrolled body shakes, and chest pain like I had not experienced before. As part of my isolation order, I needed to call at least a half-hour ahead before seeking medical treatment, so I called the Emergency Department (ED) and was told by the nurse that there were no available beds. She told me I could wait in my vehicle in the parking lot, and they would get to me when they could. The thought of dying alone in a parking lot or my bed was sad, so I chose my bed. I tried to do some breathing exercises to calm myself down, but the pain was intense, and my fear of having a heart attack was growing with each strained breath. My goal became one breath at a time. I attempted to contact the Colorado Crisis Line at 12:30 am and was on hold for at least five minutes before I hung up. I just wanted to talk to someone, and my sister was already worried and could not assist me the way I knew I needed. I attempted to contact another crisis line with the recording advising callers to call the Colorado Crisis Line, which failed as an option. I was afraid to close my eyes because my fear was telling me they may not open again. At some point, I surrendered and told myself, if I wake up in the morning, I made it, and if not, then it was my time to go.
A kind woman from the Grand County Public Health Department called several hours later. I made it through the night. I shared with her what had happened, and she told me I needed to seek immediate medical attention. She made a call and arranged for me to get the medical attention I needed. Thank you, kind person. I do not recall much
of the visit surrounding the medical attention I received, but I do remember the kindness of the critical care tech, the nurse, and the doctor. I went in feeling half-alive and left feeling some life had returned to my body. I was disappointed when I had to return on another day and did not have as positive an experience.
When the Public Health Department cleared me from isolation/quarantine, I chose to maintain stricter safety precautions because although I was not experiencing the fever or cough symptoms, I was not back to myself. I took a drive a few weeks later, and as I drove down Highway 40, I saw many people not wearing masks in Granby. I thought to myself, they have no idea how horrible the COVID-19 experience is. I did not end up in the hospital for days or on a respirator, but what I went through was rough enough for me. I do not want to experience it again, nor would I wish the virus on my worst enemy.
Letting your guard down even around people you know or in an environment believed to be safe, such as a doctor’s office or a place one would assume has excellent cleaning standards, can be a mistake. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable and annoying, especially if you wear glasses. I hear people say they have a right to do whatever they want. Even with the state-wide mask mandate, some people refuse to wear masks. By not wearing a mask, someone may spread the virus to others who may develop symptoms and could die. I am not certain where I got
the virus. Grand County Public Health worked with me on contact tracing, but the people I had been around and tested for the virus were negative. Maybe a doorknob, shopping cart, or a person who thought wearing a mask was “a joke”?
As a mental health professional in Grand County, I gained a perspective on how COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on people who have current symptomology and for those who have recovered from the immediate effects of the virus. Some lingering symptoms from the virus may last several months. I encourage anyone who is struggling with the effect of the virus, either from personal experience or being a loved one of someone who has had the virus, to speak with someone for support. There are talented, qualified, and caring mental health providers in Grand County, available to assist those who are struggling. In addition to the community mental health center, there are private practice mental health providers who can help you. If one is busy, try another. Do not settle for being on hold or going to sleep anxious, wondering if you will wake up.
When you look at the total number of COVID-19 related cases and deaths, you will see that the survivors far outnumber the deaths. However, the deaths are hard to experience, and for family members, the literal hell they go through is beyond expressible words. For those who do get the virus, you must believe that it is not an immediate death sentence; fight like you have not fought before, and reach out to family, friends, and resources. Be encouraged by positive outcomes and stories of survival.
There is hope.
COVID-19 is not a joke or a hoax. It is my hope you do not have to get symptomatic COVID-19 to realize the real joke is people thinking they have a right not to wear a mask. Men and women of the military are fighting for our liberties daily. Masked heroes at the grocery stores are keeping the doors open and keep us fed. Thank you. Postal workers are getting our mail to us, thank you. To the first responders on the front-lines (EMS, firefighters, law enforcement, doctors, nurses, critical care technician, mental health providers, public health, and others) who work to save lives and serve our communities, thank you. And to the survivors of COVID-19, hold your heads high, we lived to tell a story most people fear, but we lived through. There is no shame in that.