A COVID19 Christmas
We watched the warnings on the nightly news – Stay home this Christmas. Not this time!.
In these times of a COVID19 shutdown, a family Christmas was the only thing on our Travel Bucket List. We’d given up March Break, Easter, Grandkids’ Summer Visit, Labour Day, Thanksgiving but Christmas was the last straw. All of our kids lived with their families in Ottawa, one family worked exclusively from home and their son attended school online. They followed strict pandemic protocols and had invited us to come for the holiday. We would visit the other two families on their lawns masked and socially distanced. If Santa was going to Ottawa for Christmas, so were we.
It was the best Christmas ever. We did driveway gift exchanges, Through Messenger we shared pictures of gift opening at three houses, oohed and aahed at tree pictures, festive table settings and golden brown turkeys. My husband and daughter prepared the feast together while the rest of us played cards and watched the Disney channel and walked the dog. We were together as a family and it was wonderful. The next day, masked and keeping our distance we had a guided tour of our son’s new house. We drove home happy and in time to sneak in under the province-wide lockdown but turned down an offer to come over to my sister’s house for a piece of her grandson’s birthday cake. Seemed a bit too risky.
The next day Zoe called in tears to say she felt awful, freezing cold, every inch of exposed skin hurt. Over the next six days, we all tested positive for COVID19.
Public Health put us on their daily call list and a paramedic turned up at our door with blood pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters to measure our blood oxygen saturation. We were to take our vitals twice a day and the results were transmitted by WIFI automatically to Public Health. If the oximeter stayed below 90 we were to call an ambulance. It felt safe having Public Health monitoring us daily. Colin was managing with what felt like a heavy chest cold and shortness of breath and Zoe’s family, who were all sick, were managing with flu-like symptoms.
COVID saved its energy for me: – diarrhea, vomiting, falls, chills, joint pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, , exhaustion. After three days, I went into hospital for the afternoon to top up my fluids and have a chest X-ray. Two days later as my vitals kept dropping, our Public Health team urged me to go back to hospital. I thought it would just be more fluids but instead they registered me into a special COVID19 room.
The day passed in a blur of tests until I was tucked into bed hooked up to an IV and supplemental oxygen. The doctor came in to tell me I had double pneumonia. He reassured me they would be treating me with the same celebrity cocktail of antivirals and steroids that President Trump had used and then he asked if I wished to sign a DNR order.
Suddenly, the conversation became deadly serious, “Do you want to sign a DNR order?”
90% of seniors with COVID19 die on a ventilator. I do not want to die that way. The question allowed Death in the room. Every time I closed my eyes that night, all I could see was the furred black face of a beast waiting for its moment to eat me alive.
So I stayed awake and planned my funeral. I emailed my choir director to have the choir record On Eagles Wings and requested our former minister in Nova Scotia to do the online service. The next day, I called my kids and told them that I was OK with dying at 72 and that I had accomplished my life’s work by raising them to be strong competent people who had loving partners and wonderful children.
Zoe and Geoff cried, Bronwen who had fought childhood asthma and had had the HINI virus while pregnant yelled at me.
” I don’t want to hear about you dying. I know what its like to walk the halls in my grey diseased body with my lungs trying to kill me. I know how easy it is to want to give in and die. But I had a daughter and she needed me to stay alive, You have a daughter and I need you to stay alive. Just breathe, damn it, and keep breathing. COVID19 has a lifespan of 14 days. You can outlive it! Breathe!“
The first few days were a blur but as the steroids and antivirals began to take effect, I became acutely aware of my surroundings. There were food trays on ledges, my bedding was just a pile of crib blankets, and the staff were terrified of me. To me, I was a sick person who needed their help. To them, I was a potential serial killer, bringing their death, death to their families, and death to every other patient on the floor.
If I was going to survive. It was up to me. I cleaned up all the abandoned food trays in my room and moved them to the door. I had long phone conversations with kitchen staff choosing a menu that would keep me warm, nourished and hydrated.. They were my cheering squad. I lost 10 lbs in 8 days but it wasn’t due to the food.
I had two nurses who risked their life for my comfort, both gave me a sponge bath at the sink and one washed my hair. the other finally found a deep vein in my arm that would hold the IV font securely for the next five days, the first three attempts had fallen out. I felt human again and forever grateful.
My oldest daughter took over my Facebook account, kept friends updated, asked for prayers and they came through. When I had closed my eyes the second night, Christmas lights, prayers and hymns blocked out the menacing beast. I learned my sister’s minister had organized a prayer vigil for me, and I had heard them and the prayers of others. I peopled the isolation of my room with family and friends on the phone and through email. Thank heaven for a cellphone. I had three games of Scrabble Go open with friends from the Atlantic to the Pacific time zones. I lost all the games but they helped me fight back the COVID brain fog.
I made it through the night, I attended an online church service first thing in the morning delivered by the minister whom I had asked to officiate at my funeral and sang every hymn. When the doctor listened to my lungs, and my blood oxygen saturation was 94, he said I was good to go. Colin was waiting at the hospital door within minutes. For the rest of the day, I sat huddled by our fireplace barely moving in case I did something wrong and had to go back.
At last I crawled under the warmth of our duvet into the comfort of our bed, I listened to Colin breathing quietly next to me and three words came spontaneously to my lips.