After taking a week off for the Christmas holiday, I had several ideas for this week’s blog post since 2020 has been a most eventful year. All of that changed, however, on December 22nd, when a medical emergency sent me to the ER and a three day hospital stay. More about that later.
Thinking back to this time a year ago- we were finishing 2019 and looking forward to 2020. I had enjoyed the holidays with family from near and far, and by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, the beginning of the next year beckoned. I was about to start my last semester of teaching, and had a retirement party scheduled in June. My extended family planned to fly in, and tickets were being purchased. There was a lot to look forward to. The pretty pink photo with gold glitter reflects the usual optimism for a new year.
The first time I heard anything about the Covid pandemic, it seemed far away- in Washington and New York, and not very prevalent in the Midwest. But by March the seriousness became apparent, and we scrambled along with the rest of the country to cope with a lockdown and working from home. At the same time, the divisive election was gearing up, and social and racial justice issues that have been brewing for decades spilled onto the streets. Add in historic wildfires, hurricanes and floods, and it was an overwhelming time for the entire country, and the world. We figured out how to mask, socially distance, and use hand sanitizer regularly. We also found a way to use Zoom for extended family phone calls ( including some participants who had trouble with cameras pointing at the ceiling), and to meet in driveways or outside for brief gatherings. One funny meme I saw on social media was an interstate sign saying “Welcome to Nebraska- Socially distancing since the 1800’s”.
It was a welcome change when spring and summer brought a reduction in virus cases and some easing of restrictions. I welcomed the chance to play outdoor sports, and occasionally go to a restaurant with patio seating. Being able to go the hair stylist was one of the best things that happened, and I appreciated the precautions the salon took. But by the time fall rolled around, and colder weather set in, the number of Covid cases and deaths hit the Midwest particularly hard, and Nebraska was no exception. The heartbreaking stories of families losing their loved ones were regularly broadcast on the local news, and I started to know people who were losing their lives. There was no pattern to how the disease progressed, or who would live or die.
Which leads me to my own health scare. I was scheduled for a colonoscopy screening on December 22nd. Due to family history, I have been getting these tests for years, so this was my fourth one. The prep is not pleasant, and by the time you get to the facility where it is performed, you are pretty dehydrated and hungry. Luckily I knew the process well- check in, get an iv, have the procedure while sedated, and wake up with no memory of it. Meet with the doc, and head home to rest the remainder of the day. But things didn’t go as planned.
Due to the virus, my husband wasn’t able to wait at the facility and come in when I was in recovery. I knew things were “off” when I woke up with a tremendous cough- like coughing up a lung. The nurse mentioned my pulse oxygen was low, and needed to get to 90% before I could go home. I started looking at that number and it was in the low 80’s. The number remained low for an hour, so they called an ambulance to take me to the ER, six blocks away. I was pretty out of it at this point, but we got in right away. The ER was very busy, however, with Covid and non Covid cases, so they had to wheel me to a corner of the room to wait. It is hard to describe the feeling of being very vulnerable, very alone, and very sick.
When I got to an exam room, and they increased the oxygen, it was a bit better. The rooms are separated by plexiglass and curtains, but I could hear the man in the space next door. He was Covid positive and struggling to breath. It is one thing to see videos or read about this, and quite another to see it in person. Several other Covid patients came in while I was there. I saw health care professionals who looked worn out but were giving their all to each patient. They kept me informed and worked as quickly as they could.
After some tests, I learned I had inhaled something during the procedure and had aspirational pneumonia. This required treatment and a three day hospital stay. My time on the 8th floor was not where I planned to be until Christmas Eve, but the care was excellent. My family rallied to my side, and once per day I could have a visitor. I can’t express how much that meant to me after the utter aloneness of the ER.
I have been home three days as I type this, and while I am very tired and the cough persists, I am happy to be here. I have read a lot about aspirational pneumonia, and understand it is a rare but serious thing that can occur with sedation. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know any of this when I arrived at the hospital. I thought I would get some help and be sent home that evening. 2020 thought otherwise.
The oft used cliches that life goes by very quickly, and can change on a dime, come to mind. As we look forward to 2021, I hope we can work together to end this pandemic, comfort those who are dealing with its effects, and care as much as possible about the people around us. There are many ways, large and small, to help our neighbors and strangers alike. Let’s do what we can, wherever we are, to make this a better place for everyone. We all need a break and some time to heal from this incredibly difficult twelve months.
So farewell 2020. May we never see another one like you, and as the title to this post says, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.