I began to feel quite ill, but it was December and I had to keep going with a flurry of activity to ensure that I would be ready to celebrate Christmas day with my family. I was decorating, shopping for gifts and holding classes for a group of kindergartners at my church. In spite of my efforts to keep going I was running out of steam with my energy level waning with each passing day. I ignored signs that all was not well until an encounter at the mall with my next door neighbor, Carol, who became gravely concerned when she noticed that my eyes had a yellow tinge.
Carol was perhaps ten years or so older than I was and so she was much like a big sister to me. She chided me when I admitted that I had not been feeling well and insisted that I go home and contact my doctor immediately. I told her that I would do as she had instructed even though I did not think that it was actually necessary to do so. I believed that if I rested for a day or so I would be back to my old indestructible self.
A day passed and I got a phone call from Carol asking me what my doctor had said. When I told her that I had decided not to contact him she became almost frantic, insisting that I take care of informing my doctor immediately or she would call his office herself. She believed that I was seriously ill and might be highly contagious. She emphasized how important it was for me to be responsible.
While I still thought that contacting my doctor was overkill I nonetheless made the phone call just so I might assuage Carol’s fears. The receptionist listened to my story and connected me to the clinic nurse who asked a number of questions about my symptoms, including the discoloration of my eyes. She directed me to come to the office immediately to consult with the doctor and have some lab work done.
I became a bit worried at the nurse’s unusually frantic response. I quickly found someone to watch my two little girls and drove to the clinic where I was immediately isolated from the rest of the patients waiting to be seen. The doctor looked at my skin and my eyes and asked a number of questions. Before even sending me for tests he made a diagnosis of hepatitis and explained that he would provide me with more directions once he had seen the results of my blood work.
That evening he called me to let me know that I did in fact have hepatitis. He insisted that I rest totally or he would have to send me to the hospital. He recommended that I avoid going places or having direct contact with anyone outside of my household. He then gave me more instructions for keeping the members of my family safe from contracting the disease from me. Little did I know that it was already too late.
Within a few days I was so ill that I literally began to wonder if I was going to die. By that time my skin had taken on a golden hue and the whites of my eyes were a brilliant yellow. I was nauseated and had a violent headache that made it painful to even sit upright. My mother came to rescue my daughters and care for them while I recuperated. Then my husband presented symptoms of hepatitis as well and was soon diagnosed with the same disease. So too did my mother-in-law also come down with the illness.
We joined forces by being together, taking turns resting and completing household duties. We theorized how we might have all become infected with the exception of my father-in-law and we narrowed down the possibilities to eating oysters on a visit to a seafood restaurant or being infected by a waiter at a Mexican restaurant who had looked so ill when he served us they my mother-in-law had actually complained to the manager. However it had happened we were quite the crew with various levels of the hepatitis.
Christmas was bleak that year. We missed all of the family gatherings and but somehow managed to be festive for our girls. Mostly though my mother and brothers provided them with a holiday that they never forgot. Soon both Mike and my mother-in-law were well as proven by blood tests, but my infection lingered on all the way through January and well into February with doctors worrying that I might have a chronic form of hepatitis.
I had become shockingly thin because the mere thought of eating was nauseating. My skin kept is bronzy glow and I had so little energy that I spent most of my days in bed. Perhaps the worst part was that I was quite isolated because few people wanted to somehow risk becoming ill from me. Those who did come wore make-shift masks or spoke with me from a safe distance on my front porch.
After enduring blood test after blood test for weeks and weeks and weeks I had all but given up on becoming well again. When I finally got a negative test I was elated, but so run down that I had no real desire to resume my life as it had been. It would take many more weeks before I once again felt a rush of energy propelling me to take my place among the living again.
I’ve drawn on that time during this pandemic. It taught me to have patience, to follow instructions from my doctors, to appreciate small joys, to know that one day things do get better. I learned that I had a circle of people who truly cared for me like Carol, my mother and brothers, my mother-in-law, and several friends who brought food to my home or even braved visits to keep me from feeling abandoned.
I became healthy again but I was changed. I would no longer be allowed to provide my blood to anyone because it was forever tainted by the hepatitis. I took even the smallest symptoms of illness much more seriously. I understood the importance of the loving people in my life.
Our economy, our jobs, our children’s educations are of incredible importance but if we ignore the sick among us or underplay the seriousness of Covid-19 we will surely dehumanize this terrible experience. We may be very tired of hearing about the virus or dealing with it, but we cannot simply pretend that it is not there. Facing it head on is the first step to healing our world. It’s well past time for all of us to work together to get and keep everyone well. It was science and love that got me back among the living. It is a formula that always works.