How COVID-19 Changed My Life V2
By the middle of March, most of our tenured staff were out sick, There were rumors that COVID-19 was the cause but still no confirmation was being given. Around this time is when the state began talking about giving out curfew times for everyone to be off of the street. We were given letters to carry with us that stated that we were “Essential Workers” and that we were on the roads because we were saving lives. Essential worker only means we are putting our lives at risk the most. Carrying this letter with me, witnessing my peers become sick, I was beginning not to feel safe.
Family Members Begin Losing Patience
The outrage of the family members of residents began to spill over into staff conversation. They were upset by not being able to visit their resident, and not having any information relayed to them as to what was actually happening within the building. I believe that if they were more informed about the situation more would have tried to take their loved one from the facility before it became too late. Some family members were even sneaking in after-hours to peek in on their resident, it was beginning to feel like the twilight zone.
We were instructed to enter the building through the front door only and to have our temperature taken before we could pass the front desk. When it comes to COVID-19 just one of the symptoms is known to be an elevated body temperature or fever. There are also asymptomatic carriers. At the time… no one knew that many of the staff members were asymptomatic. This meant that you could be positive for COVID-19 and show no symptoms. This meant that the virus was being spread unknowingly.
I often wonder when the exact moment was that I contracted the virus. I also wonder if I left traces of the virus infecting others and how many?
Friday, March 20th, I woke up feeling tired. Being tired for me was not out of the ordinary, especially considering I’d had to take on a heavier workload that week. I was expected to add more tasks and chores to my day due to the absence of my ill coworkers. I was also asked to train new staff on top of it all. This was all so sudden, confusing, and very overwhelming. In the back of mind, fear started to creep in.
The Symptom Onset
Saturday, March 21st, my energy level was even lower than the previous day. I doubled my vitamin C intake. At the time we were being told that the ill residents were all suffering from the flu, not from COVID-19. Because there weren't any reported confirmed cases of the virus within the facility, I assumed that I must have caught the flu myself. I took a hot shower and headed to work. At that time my temperature was near 95°f - nothing to concern myself with, or so I thought. Still, by the end of the workday, I was almost falling asleep from exhaustion and I felt much worse when I got home. I just wanted to sleep, to rest from such a busy day. So, I thought I could simply sleep it off and I’d just somehow feel better the next day. Well, I hoped anyway.
Sunday, March 22nd, I woke up feeling awful. It was as if someone had beaten me with a baseball bat overnight. My body was aching all over, and I’d developed a sore throat. I immediately contacted my supervising med-tech and tried to explain I wouldn't be coming into work. I was shocked by her response. She explained that because my symptoms sounded similar to “allergies” and since I did not have a spiked temperature at the time, that the cause must be allergies. She requested that I still come into work. I was worried about making my rent, I was worried about losing my job, I was worried about letting my team down due to my own health. It was a mistake, and possibly the worst one I’ve made so far, but because even my supervisor wasn’t concerned, I went into work that day.
When I arrived to work everyone could see that I was feeling under the weather. I remember jokingly saying I was going to give them my germs and unfortunately I guarantee that is what happened.
Just to put into perspective how quickly my symptoms arose, when I came into work at 3 pm my temperature was at a 96°f. I started working and handling my regular tasks but it felt as though I was moving in slow motion. As time went on, I began to feel more exhausted and warm. By 5 pm I checked my temperature again and it was up to 98°f. I knew it was going to be very tough for me to make it to the end of the day... but because we did not have enough staff, my request to leave early due to my symptoms was denied. By 8 pm I was feeling faint and queasy, to the point that I could not function long enough to finish a single task. I called my girlfriend upset, and she urged that I come home. But, my med tech was adamant about me finishing my shift. The only thing that saved me was the fact that my temperature had risen to an alarming 103°f.
That day, I realized a few things:
No matter how much a company claims to care about its employees at the end of the day, it’s made very clear by the way in which they choose to show their “care” when things go sour.
Never should you EVER put your life on the line for a company that is willing to let you work yourself sick in order for them to stay afloat financially.
NEVER allow someone to have so much power over you that all they have to do is label you as “essential” to handle their dirty work.
Life Or Death Situation
That night I went home, took a Tylenol for my fever, and went to sleep praying that my symptoms would not get worse. When I woke up the next morning my fever cooled down to 99°f and I scheduled a virtual doctors appointment. My symptoms were no longer mild - with a low-grade fever, cough, night sweats, extreme headache and I was lethargic. The doctor ruled me out as having the seasonal flu. I would’ve accepted this and had a sigh of relief if not for the following day. My jobs corporate office called with an announcement that we now had the first confirmed COVID-19 case in our building.
I felt like someone just told me I was dying. I knew that I was exposed and I knew exactly what these symptoms were as soon as I heard this. I immediately called my girlfriend and let her know the news because she was exposed to me she was in danger of contracting the virus as well. She came home and we began our quarantine journey together. Unfortunately later on that night, she began to develop a fever and headache. I was horrified! Not only did I receive COVID-19 from my job, now I was responsible for giving it to her! I was extremely concerned for her health because she has epilepsy and those with underlying conditions were claimed to be the most at risk by the CDC .
We slept in shifts that night. Both of us waking a few hours to check and make sure the other was breathing okay, was breathing at all! It was an awful experience and extremely nerve-wracking!
Later, I was contacted by corporate who would in the coming weeks continue to contact me every day to check my symptoms. They scheduled for me to get the coronavirus testing done the following day. As our symptoms continued we amped up on our water intake, vitamin C filled fruits, and vitamins to keep the little strength we had up, followed by multiple naps through the day.
If you have heard the horror stories about the test it is all true. It is an uncomfortable long swab shoved up your nose and feels like its scrubbing the tip of your brain. Only I could be tested because at the time Georgia was not allowing testing unless you were an essential worker (there’s that word again). Or you had to have been sent by your employer or physician. My girlfriend could not get tested and had to barter with her job to get paid time off for the next two weeks. Although my test did not come back for another two weeks because of backed up processing I began to receive phone calls from my coworkers. These phone calls were the most heartbreaking things I would encounter in my life.
Every resident that I came in contact with died from the coronavirus. One by one, some times in threes my residents passed away. I continued to receive these phone calls for the coming three weeks! It became so unbearable that I had to tell them to stop calling me. These were human beings, grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers, loved ones. I loved them, I would sing with them, tuck them into bed at night, say prayers with them. These were people I was blessed to spend my time in Atlanta with and I will never forget them and the impact they made on my life. I am still thinking of ways to memorialize them.
A week after I received my testing I no longer had a fever but the night sweats continued and I had a sinus reaction. I could not smell nor taste anything. My girlfriends’ symptoms seemed to be mirroring mine. The fear never subsided, the wait of receiving test results only added to this. Although we did not need it to confirm what we knew deep down inside confirmation would allow a bit of comfort in this chaos.
The Leap Of Faith
I still did not have my results from my COVID Test.
The following week I was calling to check for my results from the health department daily. My corporate office was calling to check in on my symptoms, only now I realize that it was not out of general concern but to inquire when I would be returning. They informed me that according to the Department Of Health, If you tested positive for COVID but you are asymptomatic then you are required to return to work or you may risk forfeiting your job. I assured them of my inability to make that decision just yet. Even though I was feeling better I was very exhausted, not just physically but emotionally as well.
The people that I tucked in at night would no longer be there waiting for me because they were dead. My staff was not there and now I had the knowledge of how poorly my company really felt about us. I had a big decision to make. Unfortunately, I was given until that following Monday to return to work, or lose my job… so I felt I had to make another tough decision and go back.
Monday was hell on earth. I walked in to complete new faces, for the most part, having to put on 4 layers of clothing to be able to see the small number of residents that were waiting to be taken care of. The ones I did see gave me a bit of joy to know they were okay and that they missed me. Some were barely hanging in there and that broke my heart again. One resident told me to go while I still could, she said “ we have already lived our lives, you need to get out of here and live yours”. I think that is what did it for me.
I consider myself a strong person. I can take a lot of pressure and it might knock me down for a minute but I am always resilient. This was terror if I’ve ever witnessed such a thing. I knew as soon as I stepped foot in there I could never return. So the next day I spoke to the business office and put in my resignation over the phone. I teetered over whether it was the right decision. Later on, feeling so out of control of things, and guilty for not being there for the residents, I called and tried to get another chance to come back to work. As The universe would have it, I was not granted that chance and in the end I am thankful for that every day.
COVID-19 changed my life. It took people from me, it almost took me from this world but as fate would have it, it was not my time yet. It drained me physically, emotionally, and spiritually so that I could leap into my real passion. Writing. It allowed me the space and time to rest, something that I needed very much. I will never forget the time I spent there and the God-sent human beings I had the pleasure to take care of, the lessons I learned, and the many blessings.
I pray that you find solace in reading this, maybe you know someone who has COVID or you yourself have it. I just want to let you know that if you want to give up, keep pushing because there is always a lesson at the end.