Thin Red Lined - Uncover Ostomy
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Thin Red Lined

I have been inside for the better part of these last 2 years.

Caution. Vigilance. Paranoia, as my husband called it.

Whatever it was, I had been keeping up with the news (read: death counts), and told myself that I was going to do whatever possible to avoid becoming a statistic and catching COVID-19.

I stayed up to the date with the latest science on how COVID was hitting the immunocompromised more severely than others, even though it was ravaging bodies both young and old, healthy and with co-morbidities. I knew that, without a colon, and a severely compromised immune system, I was at severe risk of death.

So I did what you were supposed to do. I spent weeks – no, months – without stepping foot outside my condo’s door. We wiped all our groceries. We dumped all our takeout orders into our own Tupperware. We ordered everything we needed online. I got my 3 doses of Pfizer, (even after a severe allergic reaction to the first and a recommendation from an allergist to not to receive anymore doses). I was going to play my part in stopping the spread, slowing the curve, and protecting myself.

While staying inside was actually pretty easy for me (thank you 2 years of being isolated in the hospital because of Crohn’s Disease!), I could tell that my husband was starting to get a little stir crazy. He, the person who prefers the couch and Netflix over literally anything else, kept telling me that it wasn’t possible for us to spend the rest of our lives inside, especially since the rest of the world was going back to normal – it was time we went back to normal, too.

So I tried it out. In September 2021, when things seemed to be calming down and things were opening back up, I hosted a little outdoor BBQ with some of my employees. We spent the entire time outside, with the wind at our backs and the sun shining down on us. And yet, I still managed to catch a horrible virus. 

At first, I was worried I had caught COVID, so I went to an official testing centre where they stuck a qtip so far up my nose they might as well have been giving my brain a pap smear. Somehow, the test came back negative, and I managed to be the one person to come down with a virus other than the ‘vid. I was basically unconscious, with a fever, for more than 4 days and reminded at just how susceptible I was to sickness.

My husband? Totally fine.

After trying, and failing, to safely reintroduce myself into society, I spent the next few months back inside. My husband handled bringing things into the condo and taking things out, while I stayed safe in the confines of my germ-free home.

But it was getting colder. And darker. And I had been working for 2 years straight without a single day off (the beauty and the curse of working from home). I needed a vacation, and so did my husband.

We had skipped going to our usual spot in Mexico in 2020, for obvious reasons, but as we approached 2021, I started to rethink it. After all, the hotel we always went to was primarily outside, and so the only real risk was on the flight and the car ride there. And I hadn’t been on vacation in so long, I really needed it.

I weighed out the risk vs. reward as I had been doing with everything. It wasn’t worth eating indoors, going to the movies, or even grocery shopping when I could order online, but for this, it felt like all the other precautions were taken so that we could do something like this. So, in December 2021, with 2 masks, as visor, and glasses for protection, we flew to Puerto Vallarta and had an amazing vacation.

Then I stayed inside for another 4 months.

While we had avoided catching the ‘rona while traveling to Mexico, things seemed to be getting bad again with the Omicron variant. Online discourse shifted from death counts, to how much more contagious this variant was. As an immunocompromised person, I wasn’t sure that death was much less likely for me, but it was the increasing talk of “Long Covid” that started to worry me. Instead of having the virus and overcoming it, patients were living with longterm symptoms of it: exhaustion, brain fog, extreme heart rates, passing out for no reason at all… you know, kind of like what I had lived with for 2 years while battling Crohn’s! So, I stayed inside for another few months to avoid it.

Then arrived another Sophie’s choice moment – my best friend’s wedding.

For those of you who have really followed along on my blog and my dating history, I have a friend named Josh. Josh lived across the hall from me in first year university and was roommates with Mike. You know, that Mike. Josh has been there for me through everything, and we remained close over the years since graduation. Oh and we travelled Europe together! So Josh was getting married and he wanted me to attend.

Except he wasn’t just having a wedding. He was throwing a destination wedding extravaganza. In Istanbul. Turkey.

My husband and I kept going back and forth on whether we would go. The war in Ukraine wasn’t helping, but it was more the fact that it was a 10 hour flight to a country that was unfamiliar to both of us, and with a group of people traveling from all over, we weren’t sure what we were in for.

But it was Josh, and I knew I’d hate it if we missed his special event.

So we went.

My husband and I tried hard to wear our masks as much as possible. I double masked on the flight, and we wore masks every time we walked through the hotel, went in an elevator, sat on a bus with the rest of the party guests, and I wore one when I went to the hotel gym. We, however, did not wear masks while on an outdoor boat cruise with fellow wedding guests, while attending the wedding, nor while having a final dinner on a rooftop patio.

But we should have.

On the Saturday evening after the conclusion of the wedding festivities, I came down with a fever. My throat didn’t hurt, I wasn’t coughing, and there were no sniffles, so I figured I must have caught something else, just like the last time I had been around other people. I jumped into bed with some tea and fell asleep, and woke up the Sunday morning, barely functioning. I still didn’t have a cough, a sore throat, or anything similar to what everyone was saying about COVID, but I was barely able to keep my eyes open. I slept the day away, waking up Monday without a fever, but pretty tired.

Actually, I was extremely tired – like a body exhaustion that took over my whole system. I was pretty sure this was from a lack of protein (it was not very easy to get vegan protein when you don’t speak the language), so I ate whatever fruit and nuts I could find (maybe some french fries, too!) I also had some not so nice congestion, but still nothing that a day indoors resting and watching Netflix couldn’t fix.

And it did!

The next day, surprisingly, I felt back to normal! No fever, I could walk up stairs, and I was ready to enjoy the rest of our vacation! Whatever I had gotten went through me quicker than anything I had come down with in a long time. 

Phew.

My husband, however, started to feel down himself, and while he didn’t have a fever, he was getting much more congested than I had been. He wasn’t as exhausted as I had been, either, but that could have been from all the protein (and pizza, fries, and other delicious foods) he was eating. Despite not feeling great, he was still able to join me outside for our last few days of sunshine and relaxation before it was time to head back to Toronto.

2 flights, crazy wait times, and 24 hours later, we were back home.

I felt perfectly fine. Matt did not.

“Maybe it’s COVID,” he said, as he started to unpack his suitcase.

“What? No way! I would be so surprised if it was COVID – it went through me so fast, I barely felt anything!”

“Let me take a test,” he said, as I pulled out our box of RATs that we had been using every time we needed to be around another human.

Swab, swab, swab, mix, mix, mix, drop, drop, drop…

dark. red. line. 

He had it. My husband had COVID.

Swab, swab, swab, mix, mix, mix, drop, drop, drop. It was my turn, and sure enough, my little red line appeared, too.

2 years of caution, vigilance, and paranoia was out the window. 

jess-covid-test

Even though it’s been almost 2 weeks since I first came down with symptoms, I am still not completely over it. I haven’t had a fever since those early days, and I have my energy back, but my throat has felt thick and and phlegmy and I’m still dealing with congestion – if I’m being frank, it feels like the congestion went away and then came back again. (My throat actually hurt for the first time, today!) My husband is also still fighting off symptoms of his own congestion and coughing, and he’s still low energy. We have also both been crashing around 9pm each night since we’ve been back, but we’re chalking that up to jet lag… super extended jet lag…

Maybe, if I’m really lucky, this is the worst of it. A few more days of these lingering symptoms and then it’s out of me.

But in the back of my head lives all of the articles, the tweets, the stories of those who have been suffering from Long Covid and how their lives are simply over. They can’t get out of bed without passing out, they can’t focus on words on a screen for longer than a few minutes, they randomly pass out, and they are shells of their former selves. It’s the stories of those who were over the virus, only to be hit with longterm symptoms weeks, months, or even years after that is terrifying me.

What if that’s still to come? Then what?

Looking back, Matt thinks we caught the virus on the flight to Turkey, which I find hard to believe. I think we caught it while spending time with people we knew during wedding festivities. We were the only ones masking up, but we weren’t masked around those we knew during the group events. And we should have been.

While sitting next to those familiar faces, I kept thinking to myself that I should put a mask on. It gnawed at me that I went 2 years double masked the few places I would go, but here I was sitting next to people breathing beside me, in front of me, and all around me. But I ignored my instinct. I didn’t want to be that girl. I let the fear of looking stupid outweigh my health. 

I feel stupid, anyway.

Once we’re officially negative, we’ll go back to living our lives as we had – maybe with some adjustments. We’re still going to mask, and probably still wipe our groceries. And to be honest, it’s way more convenient to eat takeout in your own Tupperware because it makes saving the leftovers so much easier!

And while you can still get reinfected after having COVID, they say that it’s usually not for at least 3 months after having it – at least, as long as it’s the same variant.  So we’ve decided that we’re going to use this little bit of immunity to try and enjoy the summers we’ve lost over the last 2 years. We still prefer the couch and Netflix, but it will be nice to not have to worry to the same degree as we had been, at least for a little bit.

Thanks to the vaccine and some unbelievable luck, I am ok. I just hope it stays that way. 

Stay safe out there, everyone.

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Jessica Grossman
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