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Big Hearted in a Pandemic

This pandemic has deeply affected those with Big Hearts. I’m struggling to write coherently in the midst of this crisis. I fear for my family’s life every minute of every day and it muddles my thoughts.

How are others not frozen with fear? Is it denial? Do they think they cannot die? Do they not realize the life-altering effects of having a serious illness? Do they believe the government PR spin?

Call me hysterical or dramatic. I do not care. I have seen things you have not seen. I know that none of us are invincible.

Is it because I’ve worked in hospitals? I’ve held the hands of families who have a child in the PICU? I’ve wrapped up the bodies of people who have died? I’ve witnessed my own son’s lips turn blue as he struggles to breathe as we are rushing him to the hospital? I’ve looked at my own mortality because I had cancer? I’ve been deeply traumatized by how I’ve been treated in the cancer hospital when I was a patient?

My own home province has decided to ‘live with the virus.’ Schools and retail stores are open. I’m living on another planet. Life is ‘normal’ for many people, except for the inconveniences of mask-wearing and queuing in a line-up outside a store.

I, on the other hand, feel stalked by COVID. COVID is the wolf pacing outside our door. Our condo is our bunker. My only job is to keep Aaron safe.

Flashback: Aaron is struggling to breathe in Emergency Department before the triage nurse. I have to convince her that he’s really sick, despite the fact that he’s trying to joke with her between gasping for air.

She takes his temperature. “You are hot,” she observes. Aaron perks up, taking this as a compliment, “Yes I am hot!” he says.

Me, desperately: “No, no, he’s really sick. He’d joke on his deathbed,” I tell her. Thankfully his oxygen saturation validates what I’m telling her and suddenly he’s in the trauma room.

I know that Aaron’s serious symptoms aren’t always believed in the hospital. “Oh he just has Down syndrome” masks what is brewing underneath. Layered on to that is the real fear that now that he is 18, I might not be allowed in the hospital with him.

I know that health care staff are even more stressed than they were before, living under the fear that patients might give them COVID. Sometimes this stress leads them to turn away from suffering and to not choose kindness first.

The depersonalization of patients starts with the daily detached listing of COVID cases from our Medical Officer of Health and trickles down. COVID cases are real people who have been diagnosed with COVID. People are not cases or deaths.

Aaron hasn't been to school in over a year. There is dread when I walk past the elementary school in the neighbourhood seeing all the children unmasked outside because I know that children can get COVID too. There are children in the hospital with COVID right now, but nobody will acknowledge this chilling fact.

I feel the fear of all of us getting COVID and having nobody to look after Aaron because we are far away from his sister and brothers. I know of an entire family who has COVID – they have a daughter with Down syndrome - but they are trying to stay at home, struggling to look after each other because they are terrified of being separated and going to the hospital. Nobody can help them. Nobody will help them.

I keep thinking: We are safe in our home. We are safe in our home. We live in a high-rise, so is COVID getting through the ventilation system? Is it hanging in the elevator when we take the garbage out? Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t know much anymore.

What I do know is that our government isn’t protecting us. Is there a threshold of ‘numbers’ before they act? Two thousand people a day diagnosed with COVID? We are at over 1,000 people now. I don’t know where their hearts have gone. Their hearts have disappeared into their ivory towers.

I know where my own heart is. I feel it every second of every day. It is beating in my chest, quickly, because I’m on high alert at all times.

Hunker down the best you can, my friends. If you are unlucky enough to live where your government has not chosen a COVID zero strategy, this is going to get much worse before it gets better.

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