It’s every mother’s, every wife’s, every partner’s worst nightmare—the person you love and plan to grow old with, raise your children with, collapses in front of you and is on the brink of death.
This is the horrific scenario that my friend Katy lived through just a few weeks ago. Her healthy husband, the father of her four young children, had fallen to the ground. His heart was only still pumping with the work of chest compressions as Katy frantically waited on an ambulance to take Tom to the hospital. A friend had thankfully whisked away her kids so they didn’t see what happened. When the ambulance arrived, the EMT had to shock Tom three times and use a chest compression machine to keep his heart pumping.
“Watching this entire event, followed by not knowing if he was alive for a while at the ER, has been the most traumatic experience of my life, and I am sure I will have PTSD from the entire thing,” Katy says, adding that this day will “haunt me for a very long time.”
I have another dear friend—named Emily—who has been sick for months. She and I are both in our early 40s, and often attribute much of our exhaustion as well as other general “feeling like shit” symptoms to perimenopause, and to running ourselves ragged, doing all the mom things, while forgetting to take care of ourselves. That’s what she kept telling herself since last fall, when her energy plummeted, hair hair started falling out, and her fingernails became brittle. She kept pushing through, working full time, taking care of her family through a pandemic, brushing off her own health symptoms as typical of a busy mom not doing enough self-care.
And then there’s my husband—a healthy 40-year-old who exercises regularly. A guy who has run marathons, does CrossFit, and played highly competitive sports his entire life. Except over the past six months, his body has noticeably declined. He often says he “feels like an old man.” His hips hurt walking up the stairs. He battles extreme exhaustion that makes it hard for him to get out of bed and do his job—a job we all rely on to pay the bills. His lymph nodes are perpetually enlarged, and he battles flu-like symptoms on and off, week after week, month after month. Even the simplest of tasks like yard work can be too much some days.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with these stories. Because what do they all have in common? All of these normally healthy parents in their 40s—people who run, lift weights, chase their kids, work full time, and have hopefully not even lived half their lives yet—had Covid-19.
Tom, the busy dad of four, didn’t even know he had it. He exhibited no obvious symptoms and never tested positive. Yet doctors are saying, after seeing that he tested positive for antibodies, that battling Covid had severely weakened his heart to the point where it gave out entirely.
Katy says if she and Tom hadn’t been with friends in the medical profession that day—friends who knew to turn him over (and physically could turn him over, as Tom’s a big guy), and knew to immediately start chest compressions, that he likely wouldn’t be here today, and Katy would have been left a young widow.
Emily also never tested positive for Covid-19. She finally went to the doctor recently to discuss her symptoms, and, like Tom, tested positive for antibodies. Her doctors said that she’s a “Covid-19 long-hauler” and that her body has been fighting this virus since the fall. Covid has caused her extreme exhaustion, hair loss, brittle nails, and many other symptoms. And she was told that those symptoms may hang on for months.
My husband, on the other hand, did test positive for Covid in October of last year. His run with the virus wasn’t extreme, thankfully. He isolated in our home, battled an occasional headache and tiredness, but never even had a fever. No cough. No shortness of breath. The only reason he even got tested was because he lost his sense of smell. We counted ourselves very lucky that he came out of it relatively unscathed, and neither my children nor I ever had symptoms.
But he hasn’t been the same since, and we are both worried he might never feel truly “well” again.
Yes, Covid-19 has a high “survival rate,” and we should all be thankful for that. I know I am. But to those of you who refuse to wear a mask or get vaccinated because you’re willing to roll the dice on this virus, please consider the stories of Tom, Emily, and my husband. These are young, vibrant, active people, and Covid has drastically changed their lives.
Can you afford to be so tired you can barely get through a work day? Or if you do give all you have to your job, there’s nothing left in your tank for your family? Do you want to risk the chance of leaving your partner a widow? Do you want to risk the chance of not watching your kids grow up? Do symptoms like hair loss or joint pain scare you?
Tom, Emily, and my husband are “survivors.” They are part of whatever percentage you throw around to justify not taking this virus seriously. Yes, they are here. My kids and I are grateful my husband is here, and so are his parents, the rest of our family, and our friends. Tom’s wife Katy and their four children, the youngest of whom is only two, are incredibly grateful Tom is here. Emily’s husband and two children are grateful that she’s only a “long-hauler,” and not categorized by something worse.
But our lives might never be the same again.
Or how about those with permanent lung damage after contracting Covid-19? Do you think they’re grateful to be part of the “survivor” group? Of course. But now they might need a lung transplant. “Researchers found that COVID-19 can destroy the fundamental framework of the lungs, rendering them irrecoverable, and lung transplantation is the only option for survival,” Northwestern Medicine reports.
And no, it’s not just older adults or adults with pre-existing conditions who are experiencing long-term effects of Covid. Younger, healthy adults are also showing signs of what medical doctors are now calling “post-COVID-19 syndrome.”
“Symptoms of post-COVID-19 syndrome, like symptoms of COVID-19 itself, can vary widely,” Harvard Medical School explains. “Some of the more common lasting symptoms include fatigue, worsening of symptoms after physical or mental activity, brain fog, shortness of breath, chills, body ache, headache, joint pain, chest pain, cough, and lingering loss of taste or smell. Many long haulers report cognitive dysfunction or memory loss that affects their day-to-day ability to do things like make decisions, have conversations, follow instructions, and drive.”
And Harvard Medical School goes on to add, “The common thread is that long haulers haven’t returned to their pre-COVID health, and ongoing symptoms are negatively affecting their quality of life.”
So yes, the odds are in your favor of surviving Covid-19. Johns Hopkins University of Medicine says the U.S. Covid-19 mortality rate is 1.8%. That means more than 98% of us will live if we get it. Pretty good chances, right?
It’s also not very likely a mack-truck will hit our car while we’re driving down the interstate, but we still wear seatbelts.
And it’s also not very likely we’ll get struck by lightning, but we don’t go swimming during a thunderstorm.
Why? Because it’s not worth the risk.
There have been nearly 600,000 confirmed deaths from Covid-19 or complications caused by Covid-19 in our country over the past year. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, spouses, sons, daughters, teachers, doctors, delivery workers, restaurant workers, and every role and profession in between. Covid-19 does not discriminate, as we know it’s taken the wealthy and it’s taken the poor, and it’s taken from every age group, every race, every ethnicity, and every corner of America.
But even that number doesn’t scare people enough to take this seriously and do their part to protect themselves and their loved ones. So maybe hearing that you might have memory loss, difficulty having conversations, or trouble driving will impact you. Maybe the thought of permanent lung damage or long-term body aches or your hair falling out will make you reconsider getting the vaccine.
Or, at the very least, hopefully stories like Tom’s will. Maybe hearing about a loving father whose heart had to be shocked three times in order for him to stay on this earth and watch his kids grow up will make people stop spewing misleading “survival rate” percentages and realize that “living” through this virus doesn’t necessarily mean a return to life as you know it.
Get vaccinated, America. Your body will thank you.