The coronavirus is inside my body right now, trying to kill me.
It's impossible to know when the virus entered, perhaps a patient in the Emergency Department or maybe a stranger on the ski lift. But it was here in the Wood River Valley. I haven’t left town since Christmas.
The virus traveled a long way before showing up here, to attack our remote town, to silently invade my body. A few months ago, halfway around the world, a man hugged his wife, who then kissed her daughter goodnight. On the playground, the girl hugged her friend. That evening, the friend crawled up in her daddy’s lap to kiss him goodbye before he got on a plane. The virus hitched a ride on kindness and human connection.
My illness began as a whisper that slowly turned into a scream. A runny nose morphed into fevers, bone-rattling shakes and a bed soaked in sweat, every cough raking a throat that felt burnt. My chest and back ached with each breath, the lining of my lungs teeming with replicating sickness. Worst of all was the shortness of breath that awakened me in the middle of the night, the suffocating feeling sparking a most uncomfortable fear.
The coronavirus is named for the crown-like spikes on its surface, a crown of thorns, a crown of pain. The Devil himself couldn’t have created a more diabolical plague, something that turns human touch against us. Normally during times of crisis, people band together, we congregate. But we can’t do that now. We suffer alone. Yes, things look bleak.
But wait! Hold up!
We are not planning to let the bad guys win, are we? That ain't how we roll. No way, no how.
Fear not, brave citizens! I hereby proclaim: we shall overcome this wicked pestilence!
As individuals and as a society, we can defeat an unseen enemy. COVID-19 might sicken dozens in our valley, or it could infect half the population. In our community hundreds might die, waiting outside an overwhelmed hospital. Or many less than that. And here’s the thing: we can affect the outcome. You and I can change the course of this crisis.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get after it. This will not be easy. It will likely be the greatest challenge of our lifetime. But you know what? We will rise to the challenge. We get to decide how tough we are, how resilient we are. This is our moment.
Here’s all we have to do: assume everyone has it, and every surface in the public sphere is coated with the virus. Behave accordingly. Doing that will halt the virus in its tracks.
Here’s what not to do: let your children play with groups of friends because "it's no big deal if the kids get it.” Maybe, but it's a big deal when grandpa gets it. And the house parties can wait a few months. Now is the time to be overly cautious. We can relax later. Soon this will be over.
The sacrifices we are being asked to make are nothing compared to previous generations, when mamas sent babies off to die in war. All we are being asked to do is stay home until science can find a treatment or a vaccine. It may be a while, but that beats war by a significant margin. I’m fairly certain most of us would choose "Netflix and chill" over “lost limbs and gangrene.”
The virus will not kill me. I’m steadily improving, my body healing. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’m not happy on the sidelines and I'm looking forward to joining my amazing colleagues on the front lines. The whisper that slowly turned into scream will end with victory cheers.
Coronavirus, you can’t hurt me again. I’ve had my coronation and I have been crowned King Immunity. Maybe not fully immune, but I’ve got more than enough to be unafraid. I’m eager to fight for my fellow humans.
And we shall win this war.
Dr. Brent Russell is an emergency physician at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum.