As with most health care workers, the extent of my excitement was unmeasurable when I heard that the COVID vaccine was finally FDA approved. That light at the end of the tunnel that we all had been talking about for quite some time was finally here. Phase 1A of vaccinating the health care workers had begun.
Even though I work from home, I got lucky enough to be among the first to get the vaccine. Knowing of my low risk, I would have waived off my vaccine to some other much-needed frontline worker had it not been for my 80-year-old mom in my home. It felt hugely relieving to get the vaccine. I was equally thrilled to share that excitement with the community members by participating in a COVID vaccine awareness program.
Little did I know that that excitement would be pretty short-lived. I started having fatigue, cough, and chills just within few days of getting the shot. As much as I tried to attribute it to the vaccine’s possible side effects, the cough and sore throat did not quite fit the description of these side effects. As far as I knew, I had continued to take all the precautions even after getting the vaccine.
So I decided to get a COVID test. It would only be my second one for this entire pandemic. I caught myself in a state of total denial and shock after the test came back positive… I didn’t quite know how to react. Luckily, my husband had completed both the vaccine doses, and his immunity level was high. He was our saving grace and ended up taking over caring for our children, while I isolated in my bedroom.
I initially caught myself switching into a complete anxiety mode. My amygdala had activated to its fullest. I was thinking only about the future, about what’s going to happen next. What about the kids with whom I was in very close contact? They must have contracted it too, I thought. I was worried about my 11-year-old who was born premature and quite often caught colds and other minor illnesses at school. And what about my 80-year-old mother? She is fragile and tiny, with multiple preexisting conditions. We are in such close contact that there is no way she would have escaped catching the virus from me. If she tests positive and shows symptoms, her chances of getting very ill are high, and so is her mortality with this virus.
Then there were the worries about who is going to isolate where. What about the patients I was supposed to see that day? Some of them had been waiting for weeks to see me. Some needed supportive therapy, while some required medication adjustments.
I really came to know what it felt to be in that panic mode. Under such stressful times, I often tell my patients to try to stay in the moment, to control only what you can, and to stick to your routine. I ask them to repeat the mantra, “this too shall pass”.
I have to be honest, though, it’s one thing to teach and a very different thing to implement into your own life. It does not come that easy and takes effort, especially when you find the next day that your 80-year-old mother has tested positive as well.
So after taking some deep breaths, praying, centering myself, and a lot of self-talk, I was able to eventually follow the recommendations that I ask my patients to execute during acute stress. I stuck with my routine. Whatever this new routine was, in my bedroom away from my family. I tried to stay in charge of what I could control. I took my daily vitamins, hydrated myself well, rested, and napped to maintain that self-care. All interactions with my family had to be via FaceTime.
And of course, I couldn’t help but see the silver lining of all this, with my husband by now being protected after having received both doses of the vaccine. My brother, who had his bout of COVID earlier on in the pandemic and was immune, was able to visit us and help out with groceries and other errands. We arranged for my mother’s monoclonal antibody infusion, and he was able to take her to the infusion center. That might have saved her life, as she continues to be asymptomatic. We ensured the kids kept busy with their virtual school and other activities.
We had to be creative, so we started doing virtual dinners with our kids. That gave them some sense of normalcy. My son was able to share what he did during his school day. We chatted about how the antibodies might have saved his grandma, and how they work. My 11-year-old son seemed to enjoy this conversation since we were living this science.
It has been more than two weeks since our ordeal with COVID began. My mother continues to be doing very well. My son had some mild symptoms and is now back in school. Besides the loss of smell and taste, I am doing very well and back to my pre-COVID routine and out of isolation. I am now catching myself with a bit of survivor’s guilt, knowing that thousands of lives were lost to this deadly virus. Thousands of families are under the blanket of immense grief, and thousands more are recovering in the hospitals.
Who knows how many more will be further affected. But I hope that by sharing my experience, those who are going through this illness presently, or God forbid, may get infected sooner or later, will feel some reassurance. I hope everyone keeps taking all the safety precautions: masks, social distancing, and hand washing, even after receiving the vaccine.
In case anyone does get infected with COVID, despite all the protection they have been taking, my hope is that they will allow the worries to come for a bit, embrace them, and then make efforts to take charge of them, rather than letting their fears take control of them and their lives. By centering ourselves, staying in the moment, doing our best, taking care of ourselves, and seeing the bigger picture, we can make the right choices for ourselves and our loved ones. All we can do during stressful times is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and keep taking it a day at a time.
Stay safe and stay blessed!