It was a Thursday. To get a break from the heat, my wife, Tara, and I made a trip to her parents’ pool, about 30 minutes away from our home. We were enjoying our time in the water and were thrilled to get a small break from reality.
That feeling was short-lived.
She got a phone call and it didn’t take long for me to tell by the look on her face that the news coming from the other end wasn’t good. My 26-year-old wife tested positive for COVID-19. As a husband, truthfully, there are calls that could be worse, like, “Your wife has cancer,” or “Your wife has a brain tumor,” or “Your wife is also your cousin.” That being said, finding out that the love of my life has tested positive for a virus that there is no cure for and has the whole world on edge, was not relished information.
When she hung up the phone, we just looked at each other. There was nothing we could do and nothing that could be said that could change our situation. But in all seriousness, we both expected that sooner or later, she would end up testing positive and our premonition came to fruition. And if she were to ever contract the virus, the likelihood of it spreading to me was a high possibility, which is exactly what happened.
Knowing the risk
I always joked that if I was to come down with COVID-19, it wouldn’t be because of touching a doorknob or bumping into someone in the grocery store; it would be because of who I go to bed with every night. That’s the risk you take when married to a registered nurse.
Before COVID-19 really started to spread and become the dangerous virus that it is today, Tara, who has been an RN nearly five years, requested to be moved from her post in the renal unit to the ICU. And it figures; once she got the new position, things started to get bad. But, like the professional and strong person that she is, she jumped into her new position headfirst, all the while knowing that she would have to tend to patients with COVID-19.
One day she texted me while she was in the middle of her first of three 12-hour shifts and let me know that she was taking care of a number of patients who had the virus. Of course, she was as cautious as possible while at the hospital (which for her peace of mind, I have opted to omit from the story), but she wanted to be extra careful when coming home.
Knowing there could be a chance she could be bringing the invisible virus home with her, she changed out of her scrubs in the garage and went straight into a hot shower that I had waiting for her. We washed her scrubs and anything else she was wearing every night and tried to be as cautious as possible. This trend continued for three-straight days.
I had no problem sleeping next to my bride. Heck, I waited 28 years to have a beautiful woman fall asleep next to me and I wasn’t going to stop now. After her three shifts had concluded – which was a Wednesday through Friday – she had a few days off. During that time, she developed a slight cough, got a little winded and noticed her food didn’t quite taste the same. Because of her training, she knew what to look for and when to become concerned.
She decided that before she would return to work, she had better get tested. The thought of infecting a patient or coworker worried her the most. She got tested and we waited two days for the results. And it wasn’t until we were having fun cooling off in the pool, did we find out that our world would be drastically different.
After finding out Tara tested positive for COVID-19 on a Thursday, we got a call from county health on a Saturday morning. The county health official told her what was expected, which included being isolated in one room for 14 days and not being permitted to leave our residence.
Shortly after, I received the same call, and I, too, was informed that because I have been in contact with her, I also needed to quarantine for 14 days. Because I had to do the same quarantine length as her, there was really no reason for me to get tested. If I tested and it came back negative, that wouldn’t shorten my days in quarantine. But if it came back positive, it would add extra days to my sentence. Thinking that if she had it, I had it too, I figured my two-week jail sentence would do the trick.
For the first couple of days, I had no symptoms and anything that Tara had was still mild. We continued to live in separate rooms and communicated via phone and FaceTime, just like we did when we were dating. But on a Monday night, as I was doing my work from home, I started to feel different.
I began to get lethargic, run a slight temperature (100 degrees) and would cough a few times an hour. However, the thing that caused Tara to be concerned was my inability to retain any fluid. Over the next 48 hours, any liquid I consumed went through me in a matter of minutes and wasn’t being filtered the usual way. She was worried about me becoming dehydrated and told me that if I didn’t start retaining fluid, we’d have no option other than to take me to the emergency room for an IV. However, if I went to the ER, I would get tested for COVID-19 and if I tested positive (which I would have), my quarantine date would start over and that was not something I wanted.
After two days of not retaining fluid, that slowly started to change. And while I was able to drink, eating was the last thing I wanted to do. I was nauseous and had zero appetite. I went four days without food. It wasn’t until a Friday afternoon when I got medication for my nausea that I was able to hold my food down. After I got the medication, within six hours I started to feel better. I began to feel as if I was myself again and Tara’s symptoms continued to be mild at best.
So, for four days, I had trouble eating, drinking, had a slight temperature, was nauseous, dry-heaved, lost my taste and was lethargic. And then, it was gone. While it was unpleasant, that was not the sickest I’ve been in my life. Far from it. The last time I was sick was in September 2016 and I thought I was dying during my 24-hour experience.
At most, the illness I experienced with COVID-19 felt more like a major inconvenience, rather than a possible life-threatening virus. I understand that others have had different experiences and I don’t want to diminish the severity of the virus, but I can only speak on what I know and went through. I guess you could say that we were both very fortunate.
But once we started to feel better, that brought on the next phase of our battle with COVID-19.
The mental illness
The hardest thing about having (although not confirmed, but let’s be honest, I had it) COVID-19 was that regardless of how quickly I got over it, returning to real life wasn’t an option until county health said so. For me, that kind of took away my will to get better. Call it ignorance, arrogance or confidence, but I knew that I wasn’t going to die. Not once did I feel that my life was in jeopardy, so if I’m sick for three days or 10 days, what’s the difference? I still couldn’t return to real life.
After feeling better, Tara and I were still prisoners in our own home. We couldn’t leave for food, medication or sanity. We relied on others to get us what we needed, which isn’t something we are built to do. With each passing day, we could both feel our mental stability was slipping. It would have been one thing if this happened in April or May, but having it take place in the summer, after we’d already been shut in our house for 90% of our lives since March, was an extra blow that was hard to overcome.
There’s no question that because of everything that has happened to us since March – change of jobs, COVID19, loss of hours, broken bones, watching the country seemingly fall apart, still remaining just a two-person household and now contracting the virus – we were both struggling with a form of depression. We were not contributing members of society and were unable to do the jobs we love.
Perhaps the hardest moment during our time of quarantine was when we had our two-year anniversary. On that day, we did not hug, kiss, share a meal, sleep in the same bed, or even get within feet of one another, as we wanted to follow the rules we were given. That was a difficult day; just another moment ruined.
We wanted to feel normal again and I got that normality much sooner than Tara. After I did my time, which because of a miscommunication turned out to be 15 days, I was able to return to work.
Unfortunately for her, because she’s a healthcare worker, her hospital required her to have two negative tests within a 48-hour period in order to return to work. And although she was past the stage where, according to the experts, she could pass the virus to others, she still had it in her system.
Tara took the test over, and over, and over, and each time it came back positive. We joked that we finally are getting positive results, however, not on the kind of test that would extend our family. She was feeling fine and had no symptoms, but it was still in her. With each positive test, her mental strength grew less and less and there was very little I could do to comfort her. That’s a difficult feeling as a husband.
After nearly 60 days away from people and work, Tara finally got two negatives and was able to return to the hospital and once again help people.
When Tara tested positive, her thoughts weren’t about her health and well-being. She was concerned that she failed as a nurse. She thought that she did something wrong and perhaps didn’t help her patients in their time of need to the best of her ability. For the first time since becoming a full-time RN, she questioned herself.
I tried to assure her that she did nothing wrong and just like no one would fault a soldier who was wounded in battle, no one would look at her as any less of a nurse because of this. They are called frontline workers for a reason.
We kept our situation on a need-to-know basis, as we didn’t want any sympathy or forced well-wishes. We were also concerned about how people would view us after we were cleared. Were we going to be the “COVID-19” couple? Would we be viewed as if we had leprosy? Even with those who knew we had it; I did get the feeling as if we were treated as if we had the scarlet letter plastered on our chests.
So as a community, let me ask: are you now going to view me as a threat to your safety? Do you feel that I am no longer welcomed to be seen in public or return to work because I contracted this virus? Am I no longer allowed to be a contributing member of society? I did my time, followed the rules that I was given and was officially cleared by county health officials. What more could I do?
I feel that if it wasn’t for HIPAA, there would be some people at the doors of those who tested positive with torches and pitchforks trying to run them out of town. If you don’t believe me, just look and listen to what people say and post online. Too often compassion is thrown to the side, so fear and anger can take over.
I was concerned about writing this, not for myself, but for what may be said about Tara. All I can tell you is that heaven forbid if any of you ever get sick, you would be more than fortunate to have my wife care for you. Every day she exposes herself to a deadly virus in order to keep others alive. If ever the term hero should be thrown around, perhaps it should be tossed the way of nurses like her.
More than anything, I’m thankful that we were both able to not only survive this, but that we got through it together. It wasn’t always easy and the fear of the unknown far outweighed the tribulations that took place in real-time. It’s said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’m proud that because of this, the lovely Mrs. Dossi and I are now stronger than ever.