i recently had a conversation with a coworker. it came after i sent a text and email practically begging for grace. i didn’t really understand what grace meant until recently. i have come to understand a lot about it though. grace is essentially the act of giving someone room, space, a place for growth or healing or time. being patient. being kind and understanding while being patient. being all of those things without forcing someone into an uncomfortable shift. usually in times where the plate is full or there is a lot going on. in a time of crisis or after a terrible experience or moment. in this conversation, i was asking for grace in regards to time. i needed more time and wanted to feel less pressure. my plate was full- closing out the year, finalizing my grade book, grieving the death of my grandmother, processing that the school year had ended and cleaning out my classroom, wrapping my head around teaching some summer courses for extra cash all while in the throes of recovery and mental health swells. grace is something i am becoming familiar with. and i am recognizing how much grace i should have extended to those in the past. when things weren’t going my way or in the direction i wanted. when things were stressful for me, but i didn’t realize how others were feeling. when i had an attitude or stressed someone out. grace. something we all benefit from being extended.
and here i am. in a weird place. although, these days- the word ‘weird’ doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how i am feeling. things have shifted off my plate. the school year has ended. my classroom is packed up. i am four weeks into a doctoral course and at this point, just surviving the days, like the rest of the world. but i feel like i need to say it out loud. i am just okay. not back to normal. not fully recovered. still working through some stuff. and after meeting up with a friend yesterday, i really took to heart large chunks of our conversation but in particular this: sometimes you have to tell your story. over and over again. not for other people, but for yourself. so that it stops being what fuels you every day.
just eighty five days ago, i listened to mary from the local hospital call nine one one while on the phone with me. i was no longer getting oxygen. i was gasping for air. my husband had just made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and left it on the third step for me. i hadn’t seen him in two weeks. i heard him shout “babe? babe? what’s happening? are you okay?” i pleaded with mary and lied. told her i would call nine one one myself. she called the hospital’s emergency room to let them know i was on my way. instead, i packed a bag. phone charger, headbands, a mask. and i walked downstairs. my husband was standing there, about twenty feet away. crying. i couldn’t even say goodbye or tell him what was happening. i knew i needed all the air i could hold. i hadn’t eaten in days. i had a fever of one hundred and three. i was dying. i didn’t call an ambulance because i knew every single person in it, would end up with the virus. so i drove myself the thirteen miles to the emergency room. silently sobbing the entire way. i texted my boss and told him i wouldn’t be working that week and to pray, hard. and when i got there, they were all waiting. full hazmat suits. we didn’t speak. they just knew. my oxygen had tanked to seventy eight. no one wanted to touch me. no one spoke to me. i was so dehydrated from crying and vomiting that they couldn’t get an iv started. they attempted eight times and finally landed one in my left shoulder. hours later, my veins collapsed and snapped that iv out. i cried alone. on a gurney from three pm to eleven pm when they finally admitted me. this time, new ivs with heat blankets to attempt to open my veins. i was exhausted and dying. literally. oxygen finally flowed through the cannula under my nose. a ninth iv landed in my right elbow bend. and the questions. have you ever been on life support? have you ever been intubated? would you like a priest or spiritual person to come read last rites? do you have an advance directive? thirty one years old. alone. dying. everyone leaves. four pairs of gloves on each hand. masks and eyewear. no one talks to me. no one comforts me. they are all so scared. i heard one of them mention her eighteen month old at home. the other has a daughter off to college in the fall. no one wants this. i am not angry. just terrified. and then four am comes and the infectious disease doctor is standing there. in a full hazmat suit. he smiles. and he says “you lived through the night. let’s try to make it the next twenty four”. i nod. my eyes are never not full of tears. he asks “have you ever been intubated?” and i shake my head no. fearful that the next thing he says will be- “well today’s the day”. instead he tells me that this is the crash period. i lived through the night by some grace of god. and now, it’s that time. the time to see if the virus will take me out. full out. he asks me what i want to do. i just say “make it end, please.” he nods and smiles. he knows. he can see the fear. he can see my eyes full of tears and my hands shaking. he can see i still haven’t eaten. he leaves. when he comes back five hours later, he has a second infectious disease doctor with him. he’s nice too. but terrified of me. no. not of me, of what i have. they offer me two things. hydroxychloroquine or a ventilator. thirty one years old. i want to be choosing steak or chicken on a wedding rsvp not my life or not life or life or not life. i chose the drug. next thing i know, a consent form and pen are in my lap. i am staring at it, wondering if i am making the right choice. no one can tell me. i sign. a nurse takes the pen and throws it in the hazardous waste bin. it makes me feel like a leper. twelve hours and if it doesn’t work, the ventilator is the next move. no one says it out loud but i know we are throwing every possible egg into this very risky basket and just going with it. ten minutes later, four hundred milligrams is sitting in a plastic cup in my hand. and i threw myself a look up to the heavens and downed it with a cup of water. forty eight minutes later, the side effects hit. i spent the entire day near my bedside toilet. couldn’t keep water down. couldn’t eat. couldn’t sleep. more blood draws. new ivs. fever breaking; finally after sixteen days. more meds to combat the side effects. no one speaks. no one asks. no one talks. for two more days. more hydroxychloroquine. more side effects. more meds to combat. more blood draws. the infectious disease doctors stop outside the window. their daily “is she alive?” check. the person across the hall dies. the person next door is intubated. i am everyone’s only hope. each day the oxygen levels stay between seventy eight and eighty one. i know i can’t leave until they are above ninety five and stable. i know i have to still fight. i have no energy. no space in my mind left. i have been sweating for days. the sheets are soaked. i ask for new bedding and a new gown. someone sticks a gloved hand in the door and drops it off. i wrestle with my wires to change the sheets and my gown. a sore has developed on my thigh from the sweat and heat. the mask i have been wearing is damp and withering. it feels like eternity. no change at first. oxygen the same. inflammation the same. slow and steady. numbers rise. and finally, after five days- it hits ninety six. i haven’t eaten in three weeks. i haven’t slept in forever. i look up to see a nurse taping signs to my window- stay strong. you’ve got this. we love you. from a friend of mine who is a nurse on another floor. it’s the first time i cry from joy, not fear or sadness. a final blood draw. a recovery status. lots of mixed messages about what to do next. one doctor says “welcome to recovery, you did it”. another says “it’s not over yet”. more hydroxychloroquine to take home. more consent forms. no one wants to have to wheel me to the parking garage. i fought for my life and i am still a leper. but finally, a silent wheelchair ride out to my car. i come home to my husband who is crying.
because i lived when i probably shouldn’t have. and i lived even when i probably wouldn’t have. we can’t hug. i could still infect him. i have tried hard for twenty two days to keep him from catching it. and it takes all of my energy to shower for the first time in eight days and crawl into bed. and wait for the symptoms to disappear. a week. still in isolation. two weeks. freedom. but still fear. still terror. still unknown. and this is where grace comes in. this is where grace is important. that was a lot right? you read it and wanted to cry or vomit or something right? i cried writing it. it happened to me. and yes, happened. past. behind me. over. fully aware of the use of past tense. however, it happened. to me. to my body. and i am working through it every day.
the agony. the loneliness. the fear and trauma. the pain. the hope. the milestones. and i need grace. like a lot of it. because yes, i made it. but others haven’t and others won’t. and it’s still here. the world is still in pain. there is no cure. there is no safe place. every time my body feels abnormal, it shoots me back to those moments, fighting for my life alone in a bed. there is nothing bringing me peace right now. i can’t even see my doctors or therapists and get a freaking hug! i need some grace in my healing. some grace in my recovery. it’s hard to cope without your coping strategies. it’s hard to cope when your friends stop calling. it’s hard to cope and move forward, when you are afraid of it happening all over again. because it could. it really could. and that’s hard for me right now. but i know i have work to do and am so thankful to have supports in my life to push me into the next part of healing.
grace means being patient. grace means not getting upset or frustrated because someone is still working their way through the process. grace means not pressuring someone to meet the next mile marker or collect the next checkpoint. grace is acceptance. grace is recognition. grace is allowing someone to be exactly where they are. because maybe the race was won, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard or scary or whatever. it also doesn’t mean that everyone is all caught up at the finish line. but grace is also something that you can’t ask for forever. you have to keep working, past your fears and anxieties. past the hard parts and the parts that make you sob. grace is patience and recognition but it isn’t a way out of healing.
i know i need to work on this. i know that and i am doing my best. and i know where i need to extend grace in my life. to those who don’t understand, i need to have grace as they come into understanding. and to those who can’t face what i have been through, i need to have grace as they face what the fear and anxiety before them. i also know that i need to continue to have grace within myself, as i forge the path forward into new avenues of healing.
grace. allow yourself some and while you do, extend it to those in need.