Kari Dequine Harden: The fear, guilt and uncertainty of testing positive for COVID-19
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A positive COVID-19 test result comes with a lot of emotion: fear, guilt, shame. And every person — every situation — has its own unique layers of emotion.
And when you know you have it, the rest of the world looks a bit different. You suddenly feel like you have the plague and have to make sure no one comes near you.
The first question is, “Where did I get it?” And then, “Who did I give it to?” And, “What should I have done differently to avoid getting it?”
For me, my options for exposure were limited. As best as I can tell, I got it from one of the few people my family has kept in our inner circle — one of the only people I spend time with indoors, for any duration, without a mask.
But, because of the holidays, I did spend a longer than normal time in that house. They are like family.
Is it possible I was the source? Maybe, and those questions may never get answered.
While my brain likes data and answers and wants to know where it came from, as my husband said, “All that matters is that everyone is OK.”
However, that does raise an interesting procedural question. I am expected to give the contact tracer any and all info requested — names, phone numbers, everywhere I’ve been — which I did very willingly in an effort to stop the spread. In fact, I made sure anyone who may have been exposed knew long before any calls from a contact tracer.
I knew right away — tipped off by my cough and confirmed soon after by an antigen test.
But is there any reciprocal information? Am I entitled to any answers about what they find in the course of the investigation? It is a somewhat helpless feeling — to bear the stigma that I did something wrong but not be provided any additional information.
My friend is in a much higher risk category than me, and that is what has given me the most fear — that my friend won’t be OK.
Interestingly, our small town of Yampa is showing the highest per capita cases in the county, and that was before the data addition of my husband, my friend and myself.
While I am cautious and take this virus very seriously, I also have continued to work and interact with people throughout the pandemic.
Over the summer, working at my family’s restaurant, I was in the relatively close vicinity of about 100 different people per day, five days per week. They came from different parts of the valley, state and country.
To my knowledge, I was never exposed, nor was my husband or our 2-year-old daughter. To my knowledge, no cases were ever spread at the restaurant.
Was it irresponsible to be around that many people? Well, it is our livelihood. And I followed the mitigation measures.
However, if the numbers don’t already make it crystal clear, this winter is very, very different.
The country continues to hit record death days. In southern California, they are now advising EMS workers that patients who don’t meet a certain threshold of survivability not be given oxygen or transported to the hospital to conserve maxed-out resources.
I got sick in late December by interacting with far fewer people than any other period of the pandemic.
For myself, I have an added layer of fear and guilt because I am seven months pregnant.
Being pregnant, should I have been more careful? Am I putting my unborn baby at risk? My immune system is compromised just by being pregnant, and while not too alarming at this time, the data on pregnant women is still too new to make any definitive statements about the risk to my baby or me.
From all my reading, the research consensus seems to show most pregnant women with relatively mild cases do fine, as do their babies. But I am stressed out about it, and the stress alone is not good for my baby. And now I have to wait a bit longer to get to the doctor to make sure everything looks OK.
Before I was pregnant, there was a part of me that wanted to get the virus and get it over with and build antibodies. But as time has passed, more evidence comes out about how unpredictably COVID-19 impacts each individual and how there may be long-term effects.
At 5 a.m. this morning, I was reading an article titled “How COVID-19 attacks the brain and may cause lasting damage.” There is disturbing information about long-term cardiac impacts, including in otherwise healthy people with mild — or even asymptomatic — cases.
Right now, I don’t like how this virus feels inside my body. I don’t like that I can’t smell. I’ve had debilitating lower back pain.
I don’t like not knowing if there will be any long-term effects. I especially don’t like not knowing whether this is in any way harmful to my baby.
The other layer of fear and guilt comes with my 2-year-old daughter. I cannot isolate from her. She needs me to take care of her. No one else can because it would put them at risk of exposure. My husband cannot because he is also sick, and we are advised to avoid double exposure.
So am I putting her at risk? I suppose, but her risk is very low, and she has not shown any symptoms. But numerous times every day I check her temperature, look for rashes and am hyper aware of any sneeze, cough or sniffle.
And if she has symptoms, or any cause for concern, then what would I do? I am still in isolation, and she is still in quarantine.
While there is some comfort in being isolated with the sweetest, cutest, funniest person on the planet, this isn’t logistically any fun for us. When I am zapped to 10% of my normal energy and trying to keep up with a 2-year-old who has 300% the energy of a normal human, I can’t be anything but a disappointment.
The physical toll, the fear of the unknown — none of this is fun. And I’m good at finding silver linings. The main one I’ve found is that statistically my husband and myself will not be at risk of giving COVID-19 to our newborn, nor to our parents as they await the vaccine. And our baby may have a little natural immunity. But whatever damage this thing could potentially do to my body — and my husband’s and my baby’s and my friend’s — it isn’t worth it.
Could I have made different decisions and avoided this? Possibly. Depends on where I got it.
My ask is that we remember to have compassion for everyone who gets this. I feel the guilt — that’s there. No additional shaming needed for me.
Anyone can get this, from anyone, especially given the significant percentage of asymptomatic carriers. You can get it from your family. You can get it from your tiny inner circle. It is out there, and it is really easy to catch.
At this point, many people in our community have gotten it and likely a lot more will before this thing is under control. Because it isn’t. Not even close.
No one contracts it intentionally or spreads it intentionally, especially to people they care about. For the most part, we are all doing our best, trying to balance caution with continuing to live our lives that for most still includes close interaction with at least a handful of other humans and some remaining semblance of the things that give us quality of life.
And no amount of fear or stress or shame removes this virus from my body or that of anyone else’s. We just get through it. My friend was fortunate to get the monoclonal antibody therapy, and for now, is OK. But the statistical deadliness given my friend’s risk factors cannot be overstated.
And those of us now in this category of positive cases rely on compassion where it exists — from the friends and family who ask how you are feeling and bring you groceries. And who listen to you whine about your misery. I am thankful I have kindness and support and compassion around me, and I hope everyone who gets this does too.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.