This is a fictional story.
18 year-old Bernice, awoke restless and fought her sluggish mind to push through a thick mental fog consisting of dream fragments and confusion to recall where and even who she was. The familiar shadows of her still dim room finally materialized and the pain in her head and chest resurfaced to remind her of her illness. Feeling only barely conscience she wondered, Uh, how long have I been asleep this time? Feels like months.
She glanced at her window and noted, that’s why it’s so dark. Mom must have closed my drapes. She kept still and listened carefully to the house outside her room; no radio. No banging around the kitchen. No shower or laundry running. I might be alone again.
As she awoke more, she realized how wet her pillow and sheets were with sweat. She rolled over to look at her clock and was surprised to see it was already 10:30 in the morning. Fourteen hours!? How could I sleep so long and still feel so crappy? Damn disease!
She laid back to relax and wake up slowly. If I get up now, I’ll have to pull off and wash all the sheets –again. To postpone getting up, she reached over to grab the forehead thermometer and the fingertip oximeter. Ah, my temp is below a hundred finally — my fever must have broken. Oxygen is up to 88%. Doc Stewart would be pleased. I’m getting better. But her lungs still ached like she was running a marathon, congested and exhausted like an overworked muscle that could not stop to rest, so she took a quick dose of her albuterol inhaler to help. She could already feel the makings of a cough somewhere down her throat and thought about grabbing some water or a dose of cough syrup.
She reached over to grab her mobile phone. What day is it? Thursday, so Mom will be at work already. She sat up just enough to see the door to her room where he mom always left a sticky note. She laid back down, glad it was there but knowing full well what it said.
“Good morning. I hope you’re feeling better. Breakfast and coffee are on the counter so you can easily microwave them without having to touch much. Try to eat something. Text me your temp and O2 when you wake up so I know you’re okay. Call or text if you need anything. I could easily come home for lunch. Love you. Mom.”
Bernice didn’t want to get up. She also didn’t want the memories of the past 2 months to return and haunt her, but she was getting fidgety being in bed after sleeping for so long. She was also so bored with being alone in her room that she struggled to find a reason to move at all.
She planned out her next moves; bathroom, shower, strip the bed sheets, washing machine, open the windows to let in some fresh air, both for the room and her bed to air out. I’ll never make it through the whole list, she thought. She knew her congested lungs wouldn’t let her and she’d be exhausted before even finishing her shower. As she peeled off her night shirt and dumped it in the hamper, she looked up at the full mirror on her closet door. I look emaciated. Do I even want to check my weight today? She recalled just a few months ago when she was pleased with her looks, not gorgeous but attractively plump. Now, her sweat-matted hair and saggy everything was scary. Who are you? She thought. I’ve lost so much weight that I really do need to eat something today. The fact that I can’t taste or smell anything and don’t feel like eating no longer matters. What I see in the mirror matters. She turned to see her reflected profile. Ugh. I wonder if I still have any bras from last year.
The shower felt wonderful, but her body temperature was ridiculously fragile, too cold one moment then too hot, forcing her to adjust the water temperature back and forth, but the water, soap and shampoo worked its magic and being clean felt therapeutic. By the time she had finished showering, wrapped herself in towels and settled into her wicker chair to rest, she felt almost human again, tired, but definitely more human than yesterday about this time. She leaned back and closed her eyes to rest, but the silence of the house was chilling
The dread of the coming day, another day alone, was corroding her thoughts and mood. If I weren’t so damned tired, I could at least do chores. This must be what it must feel like to be eighty-three like great-grandma who can’t focus and everything hurts too much to move.
Determined to push back, she thought, I am not going to sit here and suffer all day. So she got up, dried her hair and pulled out her oldest and most comfortable pajama pants. She was tempted to forget her bra but hated flopping around so dug to the back of the drawer where she found two old sports bras and wondered if she wore both, would one fill up the other? It worked and somehow made her feel more civilized. She did not like baggy shirts, but her choices were limited after losing so much weight and she had just gotten rid of several shirts that she’d outgrown. She finally chose the least baggy v-neck cotton shirt she could find and then had to sit back down again to slowly catch her breath. I should take my O2 number again, now that I’ve showered and dressed. It’s always a bit better after I get moving.
To put off eating, she stripped the bed but could not see dealing with the washing machine yet, so she grabbed mom’s note and slowly wandered out to the kitchen where she found her favorite mug full of room temperature, but fresh coffee and a cold plate of scrambled eggs with diced veggies and two links of sausage. Grabbing the coffee, she thought, Hello old friend. I wish I could taste you but let’s do this. She grabbed an alcohol-soaked hand wipe and was careful to not touch anything she didn’t need to and what she did touch, she wiped down both before and after she touched it.
When the timer chimed its completion, she pulled out her coffee and put the eggs and sausage in.
A half hour later, she’d finished the tasteless but hot breakfast and could feel her body responding to the caffeine, lifting her mind to the nest stage of primate evolution and unwinding some of her nagging headache, but those two scrambled eggs and sausage links defeated her shrunken stomach. If I cram down any more of this it will only come right back up. Maybe I’ll finish them for lunch.
She texted her mom the requested proof of life information and told her she had finished most of her breakfast. Then she considered another cup of coffee which, sounds good, unless I have to swallow it.
A text quickly came back; “Wonderful – should help and I’m so glad you’re feeling better. Do you need or want anything? We have a crisis here, but I can break away if you need me.”
“I’m fine. Just bored. Stay and save the company again.”
“Love you – ping me for any reason.”
Knowing her mom would fuss with mask and gloves to do her laundry later, Bernice pushed herself to get her bed linens into the washing machine. This finished everything she felt she could do given her quarantine and limited stamina. It was almost two o’clock and she still felt old and sick and lonely.
Just like yesterday, she considered her options. TV; too boring. Radio; too depressing. Music; with this headache? Nope. Reading; might work for a while, but focus is still hard and adds to my headache. What’s the weather today? Ah, warm and sunny. Maybe I can stretch out the backyard chaise lounge in the sun. Quietly watching the trees and sky would be nice but maybe I could nap there.
She sighed. There was just no help for it. She knew what she wanted badly was to see her friends, enjoy their hugs, the scent of their perfumes and shampoos, joining in with their playful gossip about boys and who likes who, who tried what to get who’s attention, who failed and who succeeded; all the stuff that used to stress her patience with their silliness but now sounded wonderful – and beyond reach.
I used to dream of screaming at them to just stop and grow up – but now I’d pay for just a few minutes of being with them and catching up on everything. She dropped her head and thought, I want my life back.
She immediately knew that recognizing this was a mistake as her full frustration with this quarantine flooded back into her mind. The isolation, the lack of human voices and their laughter, their arms around her – all together, starving her of the physical friendship she loved. Until getting sick, she did not realize how vital their touch, their smiles and even their stupid gossip had become.
To distract herself before sinking any deeper, she got up; to do, what? Walk the halls, without touching anything, no, I’d have to put a mask on even for that. I can’t pace in my room anymore, so it has to be outside. She moved to the living room to look out on the backyard. It was a sunny afternoon so the lawn chair look attractive and she decided to try it when her phone chirped a new message arriving.
She pulled it up and had a mixed reaction. A few of her friends were offering a zoom meeting to check up on her. This is a good thing, she thought, but it’s just not the same. Zoom meetings are like giving a starving person a tall glass of water. It just can’t meet the need.
But she agreed and opened her computer at her bedroom desk and joined the meeting. Sisters Becky and Carol, Yasmin (the Spanish exchange student) and Kari (arguably the shortest girl in their class) even Matt the group nerd and Swen who would someday inherit his father’s clothing store, were all on the call. The conversation was lively but she could sense how careful they were being with her, trying hard to cheer her up without reminding her that she’s cut off from everything. They were kind and offered her anything she needed or wanted – but no one could give her what she most wanted – the actual touch of another person. Damn this disease, she thought. Damn it!
Bernice struggled to keep her expression positive, despite knowing that they must see how much weight she’d lost and now she was mere prison camp version of the girl she’d been only a month ago. They did not need to see how lonely she was when there was nothing they could do to help. Cynthia had told her years ago, “Bernice, your problem is that you’re too proud to cry sometimes.” She recalled this now as she could feel the tears building.
Before her attitude completely failed to the darkness growing inside of her, she excused herself from the meeting saying that she was tired after trying to do some chores this morning and needed to lay down. Everyone understood and she told them that she was going to take that nap out in the backyard since the day was so nice. Surely, if she was healthy enough to do that, she’d be okay and they wouldn’t worry.
“Thanks for the call guys. I miss you all so much. Let’s talk again soon.”
And just like that, she was fully alone again.
She was just settling into the backyard chaise lounge, laid back and as comfortable as she could get with her water bottle on the nearby table, the neighborhood family of hawks calling and almost no wind to disturb her thoughts. She hoped that focusing on being thankful for her friends would help push back on the darkness of not being able to be with them, touch, smell or laugh with them in person, but her mind so easily toggled back and fretting over how shockingly vulnerable this was leaving her and how it was turning almost into a full blown irrational panic. God! I hate this!
She pinched her eyes shut, hoping that this wave of angst would pass quickly. She swallowed her desire to scream and tensed up against its press to be let go when she heard a voice.
“Bernice. Are you awake?”
It was so unexpected, so impossible that it startled her and she opened her eyes with a jerk to find Matt standing near her chair. “Matt!? How — what are you doing here?” She quickly tried to answer her own question. Matt lived only a block away, he’s been here for parties and knows his way to the gate which is never locked. I’d just told him, with everyone else that this is where I was going so, he what? He just walked over and in . . .?
Being so short of breath, she felt a fit of coughing coming and reached for her water bottle.
“I’m sorry. Can I get you . . .”
She waved him off. Took a sip of her water which helped and sat up. “Matt.” She took another sip and put the bottle back on the table. “You can’t be here. I’m sick and in quarantine, and . . .”
With that, Matt stepped to her and took her hand firmly. “I know all that. I also know a couple of other things like what you didn’t tell us on the call.”
“You miss being able to touch the people in your life. You need a hug in the worse way.”
“Sure, but . . .”
“No buts. I’m here to give you one; a real, big, extended hug,” and he pulled her awkwardly to her feet, reaching when he could for her other hand.
“No – no – no. I can’t – we shouldn’t. I might still be contagious.”
“No. We all know the dates when you were diagnosed and I’ve counted out the days they tell us we remain contagious after symptoms start and you are past that date, so you are unlikely to be contagious, as unlikely as I am.”
“What? Why would you be contagious?”
“I was diagnosed with covid just two days before you and this is my first day out of quarantine. I also think we are the most unlikely couple of people to give this to each other.”
“Matt. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this.”
“That’s my fault. I didn’t tell many people and by the time I told our group, you were very sick and we worried that you might have to be hospitalized, but you rallied and stayed out. My symptoms were no fun, but not nearly as bad as yours were.”
“And how can you say that we’re the most unlikely couple to give it to each other?”
“Because after getting it myself, I studied up after recovering from it. You told us you were vaccinated and so was I.”
“Yea. I was pretty bummed about that. I shouldn’t have gotten it at all.”
“Well be glad you did because the vaccination likely reduced our symptoms, but to your question, did you know that once you’ve recovered from covid, you have antibodies in your blood that recognize the virus and fight it if it is found in your blood stream again? Or that you have helper T-cells that help recognize the virus and killer T-cells to kill the virus and B-cells to make new antibodies against it. This is how immunity works.
“The vaccine and having the actual disease both build up our immune systems, but in slightly different ways so you are I are double immunized, making it much less likely that we’ll catch it again.
“Covid is still new so researchers don’t know how long this extra immunity lasts, but it’s at least a few months. So both have extra high immunity from re-catching it again right now during the early months of our recovery. I found an estimate that of all the people who have covid right now, only around 1% are re-infections. The data is not good enough to be dead-on accurate, but it’s close to correct. So, I’m not just messing with you or taking stupid risks. I’m just following the science.
“Now, can I give you that hug?”
“My head hurts and you want me to process all this?” she answered, but she’d known Matt since third grade so she knew him well enough to trusted his conclusions — enough to relax and answer, “You know Matt, you really are a nerd.”
“And I look forward to ruling the world someday, yes, but for now . . .” he gently spread his arms and drew her in then let her hands drop to find their own way while he wrapped his arms snugly around her in a hug that melted both her and the lonely darkness deep within her.
As her fear unwound, he continued, “Your symptoms were more severe than mine were, so I never felt as bad as you do, but if you look closely, I lost some weight too.”
She pushed him back enough to look and he did look thinner. “What? How could I have missed this?”
“I think Zoom hides as much as it reveals. You’re the first person to see me after my own quarantine.”
“Well, you still look healthier than me, and speaking of that, I really need to sit down. I have almost no stamina. Can you sit with me?”
He smiled, held her arm and scooted around to sit on the chaise lounge where she had been sitting and invited her to sit between his legs, her back to his chest. She curled into his waiting arms and was suddenly more at peace than she’d been for weeks.
“So can you tell me how ‘Helper’ T-cells and ‘Killer’ T-cells work?”
“Sure, but do you really want me to go full-nerd on you?”
She quietly answered, “Unless you have some lame gossip to share, absolutely,” then with her voice notably dropping she continued. “I’ll be both happier than I’ve been for weeks and asleep within moments.”
Matt laughed. “And you’re comfortable?”
She finished snuggling into his embrace, locked her arms around his and closed her eyes. “Yes. I’m not alone and best of all, I’m with you. You – can (yawn) start now.”
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I know this fictional story posits an interesting and maybe even controversial feature of how two people catching and recovering from covid-19 about the same time might wisely react. At the time of this writing, hard and final conclusions are simply not available about the attributes of covid immunity from different means; natural, antibodies from catching the virus or antibodies from being vaccinated. However, what is clear is that each raises slightly different shields against the virus and thus ADD protection if one is fortunate enough to both be vaccinated AND recover from catching it. It’s like making our immune system even more prepared than just being vaccinated or just catching and recovering from it.
In chatting with my own doctor about my experience catching and dealing with covid, I was assured that despite my age and my having a couple of medical complications that should have left me in pretty bad shape with the disease, I ‘enjoyed’ (he said with sarcasm dripping from his beard) a very mild case of covid most likely thanks to having been vaccinated well before catching it.
So, study up and make your own informed decision about being vaccinated, but I recommend it. That bug could have taken me out like it has to many others, but instead I can tell you how thankful I am for all the work that went into creating the vaccine in time for me to get it before covid got me.
Finally, like me, perhaps you know of people who are suffering in quarantine because they are more dependent than maybe they even knew on being with people. There is no medical device available for testing someone’s degree of loneliness or how badly someone is suffering from it. If you know someone who is locked away from others, what would it cost you to reach out to them by some means to let them know you miss them? How hard would it be to encourage them in their efforts to put covid, or any other disease behind them so they can rejoin you in a normal community of life?
How bad would you feel if we lost that person because they were so broken by loneliness that they lost their battle. Would you be asking yourself if you did enough to help them.?
Thanks for giving this story a read.
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Here’s some of the references I used as the basis of this fictional story.
Coronavirus Reinfection: What We Know About Immunity ... C|Net: Sept. 24, 2021
How Long Does Immunity Last After Covid-19: What We Know Healthline: Feb 24, 2021