That time we got Covid
I’m taking oxygen levels on a set of premature twins who have been in our NICU for one month now. They are gaining weight and generally appear healthy. I hold a pulse oximeter onto each of their tiny feet and wait for a number to register. The red light starts flashing as one of them starts to stir, agitated by the interruption in her sleep. 94%. It’s satisfactory.
The mother of the baby next to us is sitting on the ground at the foot of the warmer. Her head is in her lap and she is coughing. She looks up when I approach her tiny daughter, but she cannot contain her cough. It is too much for her to hide, or to stop. She isn’t wearing a mask and I worry that she may have Covid. While she sits at the bedside to care for her baby, she may be infecting everyone.
Three days later I wake up and can’t seem to find any energy all day. I’m playing board games with my kids, but doing it while reclining on the couch and using one arm to play with them on the floor. A guest stops by but I stay on the couch rather than go to the front room and greet. I’m not feeling myself but I don’t understand why.
The next morning I tell myself I can’t be lazy like I was the day before. The kids and I are out, walking to the playground by 9:30 am. My head is fuzzy. We meet our neighbor and her boys there too, and as I talk with her I start to cough a little. My nose starts to run. My kids are asking me questions about the rest of the day and I’m irritated by having to think past the moment. I think I just need some more sleep.
We go back home and my body is weak. I get into bed and rest. By evening time it is obvious that I am getting sick. My cough has worsened. My muscles ache. And the back of my neck hurts, it feels hot and sore. I wonder if I have meningitis? Or Covid?
My team leader texts me to say a baby and his family in the NICU have tested positive for Covid. This wasn’t the same mother who was coughing, but it was a patient I had cared for in extremely close quarters. She wonders if I also want to get tested, but I can’t imagine leaving my bed.
I stay home sick from work the next day. A friend stops by to talk. I wear a mask and we distance ourselves outside. I’m disheveled, with unbrushed hair, barefoot, pausing our conversation to erupt in fits of coughing. She says ‘sorry’ a couple of times while she waits for me to finish.
I go inside, back to my bed, and lay there all day. I feel like I’ve run 15 miles, or like someone beat me up. My neck hurts even worse today. And now my kidneys ache. I rate my pain the way any good nurse would. It’s about a 4 out of 10, mostly in my neck, which is strange to me.
I never spike a fever, the sickness is all in my muscles.
Winnie shows up that night with a cup of mint tea. I let it steep next to the side of my bed. I bring it to my face expecting the puff of fresh scent to enliven me but instead I get nothing. I move my nose closer to the mug and inhale.
“I can’t smell this tea!” I yell out to Mike.
He shows up at the doorway and gives me a look.
“I know. I’ll get tested tomorrow.” I said.
I sat in a quartered off section under a big white tent in the front of Bundibugyo Hospital. The nurse was wearing full PPE and preparing my rapid Covid test, then turned in my direction with the long white flexible nasal swab.
“Just relax” He said.
I tilted my head back and he slowly inserted it through my right nostril. He kept pushing it higher and higher until I was sure it couldn’t go any further. I coughed and moved my head back.
“A little higher” he said, sticking it up into places of my head I didn’t know existed. Then he rolled the swab around for an uncomfortable amount of time.
I started flailing my arms as he finished collecting the sample. When the nasal swab was out of my head I noticed the entire tip was pink. Is that normal or was I just lobotomized?
I waited outside of the tent for the results, but then my curiosity got the better of me so I walked back in and popped my head around the corner. My rapid test results were on the table right in front of me.
“Do you see it?” He asked.
2 pink lines.
Like a pregnancy test.
It’s strange how I’ve been conditioned by my past experiences to know that 2 pink lines is a life-changing result. But these pink lines weren’t good.
“Yes, it’s positive.” I said back to him.
I drove home from the hospital in a daze. I watched people at work, pounding rocks on the side of the road into smaller pieces. Grandmothers carrying heavy loads of firewood on their heads. Clouds lazily resting midline on the mountain range. I felt both hot, thirsty, and exhausted. I rolled my window down for air. I passed boys playing soccer in an open field.
I have coronavirus.
This pandemic that we’ve been living through over the past year and a half, was now living in me.
The next few days I spent in bed. I watched sermons by Paul Kim and binged Friends episodes. I wrote out some pandemic goals. The kids and I made a countdown calendar. I slept a lot. I started a journal of symptoms. I watched some Ted talks. I made sure to at least shower in the mornings and make my bed, to keep my spirits up.
Anytime my kids would step foot in my room I’d shoo them out. They were coming for hugs, and I really wanted to give them, but I wanted them to stay healthy more.
However Boston soon spiked a fever and was welcomed into my den. He and I spent a lot of time snuggling in bed, while people brought us food and drinks. We napped, watched shows, and tried doing little things like folding laundry. But even that was exhausting.
Piper started coughing, but it never amounted to anything else. Winnie had one day where she told me she was exhausted and almost fell asleep while talking, but that was all.
I started documenting new symptoms. An afternoon of tinnitus. A few days of chest tightness but with adequate oxygen levels. A complete loss of appetite. It was 5 o’clock one day and all I had eaten was an apple and peanut butter but hadn’t thought of food once.
Mike was busy homeschooling the girls with curriculum and a plan their teachers had dropped off. I heard laughter in the living room and they all seemed to be generally enjoying it, while Boston and I continued to do our best to stay away from everyone. My energy levels were coming back and the muscle aches had gone. I wanted to spend less time in bed, and more time in our backyard. It took 9 days of illness before I could easily do a sink full of dishes without a problem, and hang laundry again.
“I’m really tired.” Mike said one day. “I think I might be getting sick too.”
He drove himself up to the hospital and soon texted me to tell me he tested positive as well.
When I was young, my mom and stepdad thought it would be fun to take me, my older brother and younger sister out with a guide and go white water rafting for a day on the Kern River. After the guide briefed us on safety points and basic guidelines, we buckled into our life vests and set out.
The guide misread our family’s abilities as we headed down the most dangerous river in California. He yelled out “let’s surf this rapid guys!” as our huge inflatable raft dipped into a churning white pocket of froth. “Surf it!” he declared, but none of us knew what that meant.
I looked over at my brother who was looking at my stepdad. I heard someone from the back scream.
“Paddles IN!” he said, as our raft began to cave inward. “START PADDLING!” he belted out with more authority.
It was our first time on a river as a family, our first time in this boat, our first time white water rafting. We lacked even the basic skills to synchronize our efforts to release us from the grip of the water. Underneath us was a fear-inducing washing machine of madness.
The water began to get inside our raft and soon enough the raft flipped. I ended up underwater, immersed in a constant pounding of water. I held onto my paddle as I swam up, only to hit my head on the bottom of the raft. I tried again and was met again with hard rubber, a dark sky of black above me as I opened my eyes. I couldn’t go left or right because the cycling of the water was too strong. My intuition of handling a wave at the beach was all wrong for this. If up was blocked, I didn’t know what else to do.
I’m running out of air.
My eyes were open and all I could see was a foggy smear of water and rock and bubbles.
My body had more energy but my lungs had no air.
I’ve got nothing left.
And I just about gave up.
But somehow I was spit out the side, where I heaved in a huge breath.
I looked around and saw the raft to my left. The guide and my stepdad were the only ones inside.
“Kacie!” He screamed. “We’re coming!”
I held on to my oar like he told us to do in the safety briefing. When they got close I extended the oar to them and he pulled me in to the side of the boat.
Then I did exactly what the guide told us not to do. What he said most people do in a state of panic. I instinctually let go of the oar, leaving him draped over the side holding it. I floated away towards the next set of approaching rapids.
I tell this story, because there is an element of the river experience that likens itself to when Mike texted me with his positive covid results. It wasn’t as an acute a feeling as our white water rafting trip, but it did feel a little like the moment where I came up for my first big breath, thankful to be out from underneath the rapid.
I could tell the virus was lessening in my body. So that breath was relief on my end, both physical and psychological.
But as I mentally swam for safety towards the raft (normalcy and health), we were not pulled out. Mike's sickness was the next set of rapids that awaited us.
I knew we had to go through it.
I had no idea how severe it would be. I was realistic about the fact that he has preexisting conditions and we live in a remote part of Uganda that has inadequate healthcare. There are no ventilators. There is barely any oxygen. I have watched people die in our hospital because they needed oxygen and it wasn’t available.
But I tried to keep in mind that breakthrough cases for fully vaccinated people have proven to be mild. And being vaccinated is the best protection against severe disease and hospitalization.
5 months ago a domino effect of fear and uncertainty surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine caused many countries to stop giving it. I was reading these articles closely because it also happened to be the same week that a truckload of AstraZeneca vaccines arrived to our hospital in Bundibugyo. Amidst the international skepticism of AstraZeneca, the fear of blood clots, and the confusion of countries banning this particular brand- we were offered our first jab.
I called my team leader to let her know that I was going to pass. I wasn’t ready for this particular vaccine. I wanted to wait for a different one, a better one, later.
We had a frank talk. I was scared about the side effects of AstraZeneca. I was resentful because we were being offered "the worst" vaccine and I didn't have access to a different option. I wasn't completely mentally prepared to get the vaccine.
She spent close to an hour on the phone with me helping me flesh out my decision, and the potential pros and cons of the impact of my decision. It got very complicated. Ethically the vial could only be opened for a healthcare professional to receive the first dose. If I didn't want the vaccine, then the vial would remain closed and the extra doses would not be offered to my teammates. I had one teammate who was three hours away, driving back to be a part of our group vaccination. I had my husband with his risk factors who wouldn't get it. I work in a NICU in a developing nation, amidst the tiniest and most helpless humans alive. My son has asthma. I may be healthy, but my decision to not get the vaccine could have potentially devastating repurcusions for the vulnerable people in my life and that was pretty easy to see.
We discussed that it was close to miraculous that vaccines even made it to our district, right at the edge of Uganda and Congo. When you live in a marginalized place, you don't get to vaccine shop for the one you want the most. As my sister-in-law likes to say,
You get what you get and you don't throw a fit.
I could see I was approaching this from a privileged mindset. Not right or wrong, just privileged. Once these vaccines were gone, most likely there would not be many other opportunities offered. I had to make a decision based off the actual data and not how I felt, which was hard for me because I'm a feeler. But the chances I would suffer severe side effects from COVID were much higher than if I were to suffer severe side effects from AstraZeneca. And if I were to be unvaccinated and get COVID, our medical options are extremely limited.
The Kern River has a sign posted to keep people sober-minded about river exploration. I had seen it with my parents and siblings, bright and early that morning as we looked out the car window. It was towering and read “Kern River- 178 lives lost since 1968”.
And now, I was reading the WHO death toll of COVID-19 has exceeded 3.3 million people. Whatever you think about that number, just know- the virus is very theoretical until it is in your body, or the body of someone you love. Then it is sobering. The realization that Mike and I had very little control over the progression of his sickness, and our medical options are severely limited, was like a constant bad taste in my mouth.
Upon hearing the news of Mike's positive COVID test, I needed a good cry. I felt upset and guilty that I hadn’t worn an N-95 mask to work. We have very limited masks here, we resuse them for a month, and the straps on the back constantly break because they disintegrate in the humidity. I was so frustrated with my N-95 that I traded it for a basic medical mask. And now I was regretting my carelessness. I can't imagine how regretful I would have been if I passed on our first and only offer to be vaccinated.
Next I was worried about my husbands health. I love this man so much.
And last, I was frustrated that our isolation date got moved back. And that we would have no contact with people or leaving our property for close to three weeks total.
Mike was still on his way home from getting tested at the hospital. I needed the closeness and comfort of a friend, which is an added layer of disorientation. You lose the physical part of community when you need it the most as you try to stay away from people you love.
So there I was, looking down our river at that second set of rapids of being locked down, knowing to get through well would require maneuvering through in a very intentional way. I had basic needs. To survive. For our family to remain intact. But I also did not want this time to be wasted, I didn’t want it to get the best of us. I wanted to emerge stronger.
Covid is quietly agonizing because it makes you slowly wait it out, wondering if the next day will be better or worse than the last. Despite the array of symptoms I experienced, my case was mild. And I so desperately hoped Mikes would be too.
Flash forward and today is our last day of quarantine. Just a few weeks ago I was sitting on this couch because I was sick. Now, I am sitting here trying to squeeze in one piece of writing that can capture what this time has been like for us.
It was physically exhausting during the sickness, for both Mike and I. But I am thankful that both our cases were indeed, mild. We didn’t need any supplemental oxygen. Mike made it through after resting for a week. He felt like he had a bad sinus infection, mixed with extreme fatigue. I took his daily vitals and there was only one day where I started to wonder if he was taking a turn for the worse. That quickly passed. He woke up the next morning feeling much better, and I felt the way I did when the raft came a second time for me after I had been through round two of rapids. This time they grabbed me by my life vest and yanked me out of the water. I was saved.
We made it out.
We made it through, and out, of having coronavirus. Things could have taken a turn for the worse, we could have been sucked under, but we weren’t. Thank you Lord for this. I AM SO THANKFUL FOR that talk with my team leader and that I changed my mind and got the vaccine. The vaccine is the life vest that kept us afloat and that helped us get pulled out.
That was the emotional and medical part of our coronavirus journey, which was deeper and more hidden than our day-to-day happenings. But if you popped your head into our house, you would see that our days together were actually quite enjoyable, even with the undercurrent of uncertainty and worry and the frustration of not being able to leave.
For anyone curious, for my kids in 20 years when they want to read about how our family lived through The Pandemic, or for anyone looking for extra ideas on their lockdown...Below is (an off the top of my head list) of how we got through our days:
From the beginning, I reframed isolation as a special time for family privacy. It is the first time since moving here where we did not have daily visitors (besides Sunday). We told the kids it would just be our family for a few weeks, no knocks on the door. They ripped off half their clothes and ran around the house excited to have a staycation. Surely we would miss seeing friends, but this was going to be a special time for us.
Food and Meals
I needed to give the kids something to look forward to that was not our norm. So we baked treats every other day. Which is a lot for us, but was really fun. Lemon bars, brownies, cookies, cake.
We pulled out their kids cookbook that we haven’t looked at in forever and they picked a recipe they wanted to make. It was pretzels.
We set a menu for the week which included meals we needed their help with in order for us to fill the time. Tortillas is probably the thing that they like making the most, that keeps them busy for the longest. (BEST TORTILLA RECIPE HERE).
We let Winnie (6 years old) “cook” on her own more than usual. She boiled eggs, made oatmeal, mac n cheese, and sandwiches. This grew her independence and gave us a little break sometimes from lunches.
They continued with their daily chore of setting the table.
Mike and I had an impromptu date night where we ate dinner away from them on our back porch. This was mostly a reaction to how loud they were and we were so tired we just sat there and looked out at the mountains and didn’t talk much. I think a few more dinners with just us would have been nice. It was a much needed change of pace for everyone. The kids liked having their own “kids dinner” too.
Mike and I learned years ago that a respectful way of saying “homeless people” is instead saying “people affected by homelessness”. It is more dignifying, less polarizing. It helps you see the human. We decided to refer to our homeschooling as “children affected by school-less-ness”. I don’t know. Its just weird pandemic humor that emerged.
In terms of official curriculum, we worked our way through Eureka Math and The Good and the Beautiful for Literacy. It was our first time teaching our children from a curriculum, and the first few days that was obvious. While I was teaching Winnie math she looked at me and said “you DO NOT know how to do this, do you?”
I had so much fun doing simple science experiments with them, like this one: (dancing rice experiment).
I took a pelvis model I had and taught the kids how to deliver a baby and placenta.
Continued with his daily goal reading through the Bible in a year.
He is reading the kids The Little House on the Prairie series.
Winnie spent time on the ABCya app.
I am 20 pages into The Brothers Karamazov and at this rate will probably finish in 3 years but am fine with that.
We learned about plants and insects in our backyard. We found the strangest looking cocoon and brought it in to study it over a few days. We learned what the pupa eats, we watched it poop, and we looked it up online to find out what it was.
We added to the list of plants we can identify in our yard, which now include; parrots beak, lobster claw, angel wings, elephant ears, moss rose, red ginger. Tropical plants have great names!
Winnie spotted a new type of kingfisher that we have never seen in our backyard before.
Our dog got a lot more snuggles.
We increased the kids daily chores in certain areas because we needed the help to maintain our house. We hung laundry together. Winnie would hand me the clothes while Piper passed me the clothes pins, and we would work our way down the line. Later we would heap all the dry clothes in a big pile inside and fold them all as a family. The kids put dishes away twice a day, and washed their cups.
We cared less about the state of their room, and barely had them clean it.
I taught my two oldest how to properly clean a bathroom, which I was surprised when it ended up being a solid hour of instruction.
Mike instructed them on the intricacies of our trash system; what we compost, burn, or toss. What local people find useful and we save. Then he walked them around outside explaining what went where.
We raked leaves while we tried to convince the kids of the merits of team work. Their outdoor chore muscle is weak, for one child in particular, and they complained a lot, but we did it. Mike and I got in a debate of whether raking leaves or picking them up is harder. 5 hours later a storm blew in and dumped the backyard full of leaves again!
I weeded a few times in the early morning hours and it was therapeutic. I slowly organized closets and shelves and deep cleaned a ton. Went through all our medications and tossed anything expired. Updated our emergency medical kit.
Family spiritual Life
The kids watched their weekly Sunday sermon with Christina Baumgartner (we have now started on reruns)/
We conducted our home church, but honestly it has been a struggle with the kids. We miss church in person!
We prayed with the kids for people we love and for our health.
We read Scripture to them and had them draw out what they learned.
With all our spare time our kids had more emotional space to process through hard things. Being in isolation was hard for them at times and it brought out complex emotions. At one point I had Piper sitting on my left leg and crying about missing America, and I had Winnie on my right leg crying that she wouldn't be spending Christmas this year in Uganda. This was happening simultaneously. But I think it was actually really good to have this time together to let it all out.
In my personal walk with God I experienced a major block each time I tried to quiet myself and pray. It was like I just couldn't do it during quarantine. When I think about my river analogy it makes sense. Its hard to pray when your entire body is just looking for a way to breathe and make it through. I did however sense our community praying us through this time and relied on what I already know to be true about God and His unchanging nature, to be the tapes that I continually played in my head when I would start to worry.
A few times a week we set up a projector, closed all the shutters, and watched family movies in the day. I will always associate Kung Fu Panda with this time!
The kids hit up their usual; Secrets of the Zoo, WildKratts, Paw Patrol, and a new favorite Tangled TV Series.
Mike got into a podcast called SmartLess, which I can hear him laughing out loud from the other room.
I enjoyed some Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and a few Ted Talks.
This is embarrassing, but Mike and I watched the second season of Outer Banks, which was sort of exactly what we needed.
I took an online art class that the girls ended up watching with me. We painted A LOT together. And the girls are constantly drawing, whether on lockdown or not.
We also watched youtube videos on kids painting. And made our own bird and cherry tree paintings.
Lots of cosmic yoga. for the kiddos
Tons of kid puzzles. So many puzzles!
I cleaned out a bookshelf and we had fun with what we found. I gave the kids tattoo sleeves with all the tattoos we found! I let them have a morning with glue and tons of glitter.
Boston (3) learned how to play SlapJack and he’s really good.
Other games included Memory, Uno, 3 different versions of Spot it, Charades for Kids, and Pattern Stackers
We listened to Kids Telling Jokes on Spotify
Make-believe and dress-up
The kids made-up plays
Dance parties to Spotify mixes for kids
We let Boston draw on our shower wall with washable shower paint
We listened to a ton of George Winston which really seemed to ground Piper. I used to listen to that as a child and it made me happy to hear it again.
Since we weren’t leaving the house we cut back on our kids baths, which made nighttime more relaxing for us.
Somehow, which has not been the case since we’ve had kids, we were all able to sleep in to about 7-8 am every day. It was wonderful to get good sleep.
One of my goals was to write 4 stories during isolation, but that didn't end up happening. I'm gonna blame that on Covid brain- each time I tried it felt too difficult. So I’m writing this just two hours short of when we will be FREEEEEE! Just a snapshot of our family making it through these trying times.