It’s been over four weeks since I have worn my watch. I keep it on the windowsill next to my kitchen sink, and only today, April 3, did I notice I hadn’t wound the hands forward for daylight savings time, which occurred almost a month ago on March 8.
That was the same weekend I fell sick, but I did not yet know it. I had shortness of breath, a sore throat, achy muscles and bone pain that woke me up one night. I attributed it all to an active and social weekend that included playing hockey and skiing. I felt a little off on Monday, and by Tuesday afternoon the thought I might be coming down with something had morphed into what felt like a full-blown upper respiratory infection aggravated by a sore throat, congested sinuses and extreme fatigue. Breathing became more difficult. I was dizzy and lost my sense of taste and smell. On Thursday, I went to my doctor and was prescribed an albuterol inhaler which helped in the short term. By Saturday, a friend I was with the week before was the second person to test positive in the state of Idaho and my doctor ordered a test for me. This was in the early days of the illness, when the faulty hope existed that contracting coronavirus was something that was happening to people overseas or on the East Coast, viewed through an impersonal statistical lens and nightly news. With just a single exception, I knew of no one who had the illness.
Two weeks later, that is no longer the case. My husband, daughter and I sat around the kitchen table last night and easily counted off 30 people, including ourselves, who we know have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are ill with symptoms that ring true to us. We know people who have been hospitalized and are now back at home. We know people who were hospitalized and inexplicably are no longer with us.
For myself and the majority of my friends, recovering from COVID-19 is a painfully protracted process marked by fear and uncertainty. One day you feel like you're getting better and the next you feel like all your symptoms, or even new ones, have returned with a vengeance. I felt worse in my second week than my first and only now, three weeks later, finally feel like I am on the mend. An older neighbor told me yesterday she has friends who are still feeling horrible four weeks into their illness. And, without a doubt, we are the lucky ones.
What will help those affected by COVID-19 in Blaine County and Idaho at large? Quicker turn-around times for test results is a start. My result came back 12 days post-test, and only then did I begin receiving phone calls from nurses with the South Central Idaho Health District. Those calls were a boon for me. The illness, with all its vagaries and isolation, is something for which you crave reassurance. To be able to have someone to talk to about your symptoms is a blessing. But for most I know, it comes way too late in the process, past the point where you are scared you might die.
At this writing, 275,000 people in the United States and more than one million worldwide have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Idaho has surpassed 1,000 cases. None of these numbers even begin to encompass people who are sick and have not been able to get tested, decide not to get tested, or account for false negative results. Judging by the reactions of people I know and how I felt waiting for my results, being really sick and then being told you don’t have COVID-19 is a cruel blow to one’s psyche, too. The uncertainty continues.
On Thursday, April 2, the Food and Drug Administration issued its first authorization for a COVID-19 finger prick test to determine antibodies in the blood. If it works and is widely applied, it could help provide the answer to how many people in a community have been infected with coronavirus and are now theoretically immune to its current form, and thus able to help others who are suffering. That is how the majority of us are going to heal: with the help—and hope—of others.
Dr. Ira Byock once told a story about anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur—a thighbone—that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
"A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery,” Mead said. “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”
Jody Zarkos, co-founder of Idywood Events & Media, lives in Ketchum. She is a former reporter at the Idaho Mountain Express. If you’d like to share your own story for consideration in our Your Stories series, submit it to email@example.com.