Touch in the Era of Pandemic

Friday the 13th marks the first 24 hours I have gone without a fever over the past week. If you have been following the recent blog posts you know by now that I came down sick last Saturday, went to Urgent Care on Sunday, called my doctor on Monday who sent me to Urgent Care again because “that’s where we are triaging patients with these sorts of symptoms.”

But this morning, I woke with no fever. The cough has moved into my throat/airway, but my lungs remain clear. I have a host of other side effects too unpleasant to detail but I just want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out, who has prayed for me or sent me their own light, thank you.

Last night, Tim and I talked about how I should have been able to go into Urgent Care of Monday, receive the test for Coronavirus, have that determined one way or another, and then follow that up with the virus panel, which would have confirmed that I have RSV, a respiratory illness similar to the pandemic in symptoms. But that didn’t happen for me and it won’t happen for millions of others because as the World Health Organization has said, the United States is the most unprepared of all for dealing with this outbreak. Part of the reason we are unprepared is because Trump fired the U.S. Pandemic Response Team in 2018 to cut costs, you know, so he could use the monies to golf at his estates instead.

It has been over two weeks since Tim and I have exchanged a hug, a kiss, or just sat side by side. Initially that wasn’t intentional. Our schedules were such that our weekends, usually spent together, took us in different directions. I was supposed to join him last Saturday in another Oregon town for his aunt’s funeral, but, fortuitously perhaps,  I decided to stay home to get some classwork done. Instead, I fell ill. And during what would become a week of the worst sickness of my adult life, I had to self-isolate, which meant that no one I love the most could be with me. Because we did not know the source of my illness until Wednesday, I spent five days in self-isolation, fighting off fevers and struggling to breathe.

To be clear, I am still in self-isolation. RSV is contagious, although as one medical professional told me, it is rare for an adult to get as sick as I did from this virus. “You must have gotten a particular nasty strain.” Leave it to me to win the lotto on nasty virus.

Tim and I have incorporated the guidelines of self-isolation: Keeping social distancing. He sleeps in the guest room, uses the guest shower. We stay 6 to 10 feet apart. He sits across the bedroom to talk to me. Or in the doorway. I have not seen my kids or grandkids except by Facetime. I video messages to my Tennessee family, so they can see I am improving. (Thank you for the prayers).

It is an awful thing to be sick from whatever ails one. As my sister who has had breast cancer said: “It does not matter if it is cancer or RSV, sick is sick and we struggle.”

So true.

Yet, as the pandemic sets upon our communities, this experience has brought to the forefront for me the terror of being alone as one is ailing. To self-quarantine when you don’t have any symptoms of Coronavirus is one thing – to do it because you are sick is a whole different matter altogether. When I needed a glass of water or a cup of ice, there was no one to carry that to me. I had to figure it out. There was no one nearby to put a cold compress to my fevered forehead, or to help me change the sheets when I shit myself. I had to rise up out of my sick bed and deal with it.

I have not been touched by anyone I love during a week when I have been at my weakest physically and emotionally.  I miss the touch of my loved ones the most.

There is a reason Jesus instructs us to lay hands on those who are sick and pray for healing. Studies have shown that physical touch by loved ones is an important component in healing. One such study found that married women in pain experienced a decrease in the areas of the brain involving fear, danger and a threat as soon as their husbands held their hands.

I am old enough to remember the shame of a generation of people who abandoned loved ones with AIDS for fear they might contract the disease. Many, too many, died alone, bereft of any comfort of touch. I remember how it was Princess Diana who did the unthinkable at the time, especially for a royal, when she shook the hand of an HIV patient: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug,” Princess Di said. “Heaven knows they need it.”

It is my hope and prayer that as we move into a season of self-quarantine and isolation, we emerge from this pandemic with a greater affection towards each other.

More love, indeed.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

3 Comments

AF Roger

about 3 months ago

Glad you are doing much better and no longer alone. Today I canceled a platelet donation at the Red Cross--which means two cancer patients won't get the help my body could offer them. Not because I feel symptomatic but because I don't want to risk being somewhere that a lot of people have been where I might bring something home to her. I feel dreadful about that, but her respiratory and immune system limitations and history of pneumonia dictate caution. Interesting bit in the paper about why Britain was exempted from the European travel ban. According to the report, a White House official said it was because Britain's health care system was better. OMG, and they have socialized medicine! Just saw that Trump intends to declare a national emergency--which I'm sure he will blame on Obama.

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AF Roger

about 3 months ago

...was talking above about bringing something home to my wife.

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Loretta Gillespie

about 3 months ago

I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this! I know you must miss this. As usual , though, you shared a lesson with the rest of us.i think I’ll go give Danny a big hug, just because I might not have appreciated that contact enough before reading this. Love you, Girlfriend!!!!

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