Sick with Covid-19, Josh is grappling with the fear and uncertainty of what is going to happen to him. Turning that fear into solidarity is proving helpful in pulling him through the experience, so he wrote this letter to anyone else who is sick.
I had one of those moments in a marriage last night where your spouse looks at you and drops what they’re doing to come hold you while you cry. I’ve been sick with Covid-19 for two weeks and I was breaking down from carrying the uncertainty and fear and discomfort for so long.
I know that I’m so very lucky — I have access to good healthcare, I have a family capable of helping me, I do not carry other health risk factors, I have a job and coworkers who can accommodate my unexpected absence. Even with all of these advantages, though, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever endured in my life. I shudder when I think of what it is like for those of us who are alone, who can’t stop working, who are elderly, who are in prison, who were not healthy to begin with.
For those of us struggling with a Covid-19 infection, we are wondering if we’re facing mild or moderate or severe symptoms. There’s no way to know where this illness will take us. The only thing I can offer you right now are these words, which I want to carve on the inner chambers of your heart: you are not alone — you have the capacity to bear this.
Covid-19 is especially efficient at narrowing and shrinking our world. As symptoms and a positive test emerge, we want to keep others safe and draw away. Then smells and taste leave us. And as the flu feeling settles in — a rotten mix of aches and sensitive skin and headaches and nausea and chills and flopsweats that changes by the day — we shrink into a small, quivering nest of pain and wait for deliverance.
I can feel the virus in my head. Strange shapes and sensations fill my mind. Dreams are abstract and troubling, like pressing through tangled webs. Often my brain feels like a beach ball inflating against a tight net. I panicked one night because I couldn’t remember how to write letters and words on a piece of paper. Another night, I jumped out of bed unable to quiet my own voice from screaming in my head.
But the scary part of being sick with Covid is feeling the virus in my lungs. I know that it settles there to colonize — to reach into every pocket of air and take a cut. I can hear Rice Krispies snap-crackle-pop in the back of my throat. I have a metallic taste in my mouth, and I’m worried that it is from traces of blood in my cough. I can’t walk up the stairs without getting light-headed. This sickness is greedy and relentless and has its hands on the steering wheel while I’m huddled on the back seat.
I often find myself lying on the carpet, unable to sleep, wrestling with uncomfortable questions. Will this get worse? Will it get better? Should I write farewell letters to my family? Did I live my life well? I don’t want to share what I’m thinking because I don’t want to scare others, but I’m scared. I don’t know where this is going.
Last night, after breaking down, I realized I cannot control what Covid does to my lungs. But I can control what it does to my heart. Fear still crawls through it from time to time — I can’t stop that, but I can harness my reaction to that fear and direct it outward. That simple act is pulling me through this illness in a different way.
So I’m turning the uncertainty and discomfort and anxiousness I’m feeling into prayer for you. Can you feel it? It’s a tool if you can grasp and wield it. Start to hammer at your own fear in this moment and you can craft it into prayer, too.
That’s how I know you’re not alone, and that you can bear this — because I’m here, sick with you, and we’re looking outward together within our vulnerability. We’re sharing this gaze of concern and compassion for one another, you and I, and we don’t even know each other. And there are others out there besides you and me — so, so many.
I don’t know where this disease is headed for me, and I don’t know where it is headed for you. But this is meaningful work we can do with our Covid; work that can draw us together; work that can touch people whose worlds are getting smaller by the breath. This part of our journey is too important — let’s not let fear sit in the driver’s seat.