“Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose,” he said, adding later on, “As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose.” -- The late, great Chadwick Boseman
The phone rang. I was pacing per usual and mid-conversation with my best friend when a number I didn’t recognize dialed in. Usually, I’m one to screen calls, but something told me this one was important. I clicked over. Time froze in that moment as the caller on the other end asked me,
“Is this a good time to talk?”
I knew from a short stint in a doctor’s office that news wasn’t good. No news is good news. I clicked back over to my friend.
“I have COVID.”
My whole body felt heavy. I could no longer make out what my friend was saying. My mind started racing. Was all that fatigue— COVID? Did I— did I— infect anyone? My heart was pounding out my chest.
“Do I need to call you back? Shari, are you okay? Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah. I’m okay. Let me call you back. Okay?”
I plopped down on the bed. My eyes welling with tears. I tried to breathe— deeply. I tried to ground myself— get control of my senses. I was in shock.
Since March, I had taken the upmost precautions to protect myself from the virus: even isolating one of my sons when he had symptoms, but now the nurse was the patient. I was sad. I was angry. Confused. Disappointed.
Another breath. I felt like I had to make everyone count. What if this was my last one? I had so much more to give. The pain rolled down my cheeks, and I opened my Twitter like I had so many times before. This time to make an announcement. Somehow, I knew this day would come. I knew the first day I walked into the hospital doors that I was only as good as my protection. My initial shift concerned me.
All I could think was,
“Why did I bring my family? How could I bring my family?”
I hit send on the tweet. Within minutes the responses began to pour in.
But I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted awareness, and I wanted to advocate for the truth-- and the truth was, this felt nothing like what I assumed it would. I had taken care and seen over 100 COVID patients with my own eyes. I had always wondered,
“How can they just carry on with their lives and walk into the ER fine, and just die days later?”
But now I understood. Besides a great deal of fatigue (which I attributed to stress and over exertion) I felt completely normal. I had no chills, no cough, no fever, but the fatigue began in Miami.
I remember the week it occurred. My husband was back in Georgia, and I had called him and told him I felt really short of breath. As a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, this was a normal call to him from me.
“If you think you have COVID, just get tested.”
A noble solution, but I didn’t have time to get tested. I was working 48 hours a week (closer to 60), in another state, with no idea on the process of finding and locating a testing site. I also did not want to receive my healthcare at my place of work. So, I decided to treat my very mild shortness of breath the same way I had for my son back in March. I became consistent with my vitamin provisions: vitamins B, C, and D. I also began a pm regime of Benadryl for its antihistamine benefits and to help me sleep through the night peacefully. I increased my fluids (as best I could). Lastly, I used my oldest son’s spare, rescue inhaler of albuterol. I DO NOT advise anyone to share prescriptions. I highly discourage this, but I felt desperate, and the fear led me to deviate from my normal standard of care.
Personally, the albuterol and Benedryl greatly diminished the shortness of breath. The fatigue was still there, but I could complete a 12 to 14 hour shift without feeling too winded, and Miami was hard.
Miami was the toughest place I have worked to date. The volume of COVID patients when I first arrived was staggering and they weren’t stable. Having COVID lends a different kind of introspection. If I was not a hypochondriac nurse, I would have continued working at the pace I had been. I think this would have been the death of me.
I now understand that persons with COVID are very pre-symptomatic and that preventing symptoms from progressing is paramount— rest is crucial. We are so busy in our lives that we delude ourselves into believing it can’t happen to us. We ignore critical signs from our bodies that a very sinister process is happening to us on a molecular level.
When I got home, I still didn’t feel ‘normal’. I could barely finish a thirty- minute workout (something I have done 5-7 days a week for three years). This prompted me to buy a pulse oximeter: a device used to monitor oxygen levels. In a normal healthy adult, this number should be 95 and above. When I tested my level, my oxygen read 93. I knew then something wasn’t right, despite not having the traditional COVID presentation.
My phone rang again.
“Is this a good time to talk. I just saw your tweet.”
It was a reporter I had spoken with before. They wanted to follow up on my story after returning home, and I had almost forgotten about it in the midst of my crisis.
“I can talk.”
The reporter began by extending their condolences, but the question that stood out was,
“If you could do it all over again, now knowing you would contract COVID, would you?”
I paused. All I could think about was my patient who was wheeled out on a stretcher. I thought about his high-five as he left the unit and ventured to his new destination. I thought about his hand squeeze from the first day I took care of him and he told me “it’s okay.” I thought about his smile as he passed through those double doors for the last day on his way to a long term acute facility.
“I would do it all over again," I replied.
We all have a purpose. Chadwick knew this. Despite being diagnosed with stage III colon cancer, he pushed on, and I think we all have to be aware and cognizant of our strengths and limitations. But the fact remains the same, we all have a clock, and it counts down no matter how much we try and fight it. You have to decide what matters the most and how you want to spend that time.
My production company is named Pathway Cinema. I named it that because ultimately it’s the road you take that matters most. We all have the same destination, but the path we choose to take there is a choice. It was my choice to work in a COVID epicenter, and it is one I firmly believe in.
Boseman highlighted the "struggles" are what shape us. I did everything within my power not to contract COVID, but this is a part of my journey. This is the path I chose and one of the many speed bumps.
I honestly don’t know if anything will come from the interview, but with every breath I have in my body I will continue to fight for lives. If my voice can help guide one person, then it is worth it.
Right now, no one in my family is exhibiting symptoms. I am monitoring my vitals closely. I wore my pulse ox last night, and my oxygen levels drop while I’m sleeping, but the machine alarms me. I wake up and find the position that accommodates the highest number, and I feel confident that I will defeat this virus with the proper rest and the right mindset, and I’ve made peace with the situation. It is in this peace that I ‘press on with pride and press on with purpose,’ and I encourage you all to do the same.