There has been something weighing heavy on my mind lately. We are living in a different world than we were at the start of 2020. People are inside more than ever, and every day our lives are changing because of the coronavirus.
Yet, I have seen so much compassion for those on the front lines. People are reaching out to those that are losing members of their families. For those who are the unfortunate ones that have gotten the virus. I am amazed by the outpour of support of one of my contributors of this blog, you can read about her story here. I see it on social media. I see it everywhere. I make it a point to thank those people who still have to go out in the world where they are at risk every day.
Yet, we are not always compassionate when life is good. We forgot in these times that there is still real hate out there, and it affects our society as a whole. Look at the Asian Americans that are being attacked simply for being Asian. The coronavirus knows no race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. Is it not possible that we, as a whole society, can be these empathetic to everyone we come across? Not just when we are in a pandemic. A wise person told me recently that we are more alike than different.
When this is all over, let’s be better people. Let us put people in power that want to help the people without a voice because they are the disfranchised. I hate getting political here, but we have seen how politics are being chosen over helping people. Let us remember how, since people have been sheltering in place that the environment has been helped and improved in a short time. Let’s have compassion for people dealing with anything that is taking over their lives. We can be better people, we have been doing it for a month now.
I am by no means not part of the problem. How many times have I not said thank you for someone doing their job? I know that sometimes I feel disconnect because I am an introvert, but now more than ever, I crave connection to others. I want mental illness to be recognized by all as a real thing that we have to solve. There are so many problems in the world that we need more compassion and empathy. We are the human race, and we need to do better, not just during a pandemic.
One last thing. If you have to go out into the world, make a plan, and limit yourself to exposure. Get items delivered if at all possible and make sure that you sat thank you to those who have to work in this crisis. If you see a nurse, paramedic, grocery store worker, delivery drivers, or anyone who still has to brave the world because they are essential, be kind. These people are the real heroes of this pandemic. Always stay safe.
I was asked recently about my feelings about something that each of us has faced in this mental illness life…
Is it okay to not be okay?
The answer is easy. Yes. There is nothing wrong with not being okay. This question is especially important to me as we continue to isolate because of COVID-19. I had to admit to myself first that currently, I am not okay. My depression has been peaking for the past few weeks. I am dealing with it like always with writing and one other way.
Love Yourself First
I always have to tell myself that, even though I am not okay, it is okay. The second thing–love yourself first.
Loving yourself first is where the healing really begins for us. We have to love yourself before that we can start the healing. If you’re like me, you forget when you are lost in depression that things always get better. This life is all about the ebb and flow of symptoms. How you deal with symptoms in the present, can mean how long your depression or anxiety affects you.
I always like telling this story because it is so vital to a blog post like this one. At the beginning of my diagnosis, I didn’t believe that there was something wrong with me. For years I fought to distance myself feeling that if I gave into being Bipolar something was wrong with me.
I lost three years of my life to this belief. I barely left my house. I became a shut-in. I could count on one hand the times I did something outside my home. Life started to pass me by. It took me years to get my life back.
It is okay to not be okay. The stigma that surrounds mental illness makes us believe that if we have a mental illness, we are outside of the normal. I believe that all of us in the mental illness community are the strongest people on the planet. Even in these unpresidented times we have to stay strong in the fight.
Okay, so I wasn’t going to write anything about the pandemic. However, I’m in the middle of a very personal experience with COVID-19. I knew I’d be a little bit paranoid about this virus – especially because I work with the public. I never imagined my fear would actually come true. I haven’t gotten my test results yet, but I want to share our story thus far.
On Monday, March 16th, my 7-year-old daughter developed a cough. At first, I assumed it was her asthma cough since she was running around outside. However, the cough had gotten more persistent and deep by Tuesday. Tuesday night, at 11:30 pm, she spiked a fever of 104.2. We made a Dr. appointment the next day. I wanted her to be tested because, it turns out, we’ve been exposed to the virus via 3 positive cases at my brother’s work. He also just flew to NYC a few weeks ago and was in 3 different airports (Pittsburgh, NYC, and Dallas). The Dr. refused to test her and I had to force her to at least test for the flu.
When I left the Dr.’s office, I called the department of health to see if we could get tested without the Dr.’s referral. They put me on a mandatory 14 day quarantine and said I needed to go get her tested. I called a testing site in Pittsburgh, who told me they wouldn’t test her because her fever had broke. Fine. We’ll just finish the quarantine. But, by Thursday night, she was taking 40 breaths a minute, which is twice the norm. Her pulse was 107, which is 20 beats per minute faster than norm. And her cough was even worse.
We went to the emergency room at UPMC Northwest at 2 am on Friday, March 20th. The triage nurse didn’t warn the hospital that a possible COVID-19 case was coming in, so they sat us in the waiting room where we put our germs on the chairs. They had me use the check-in kiosk, so that my germs were on the screen. They had me sign a paper with a pen that all other patients use. They took us to a room that wasn’t set up for the virus. They weren’t wearing proper PPE. However, they did take good care of my daughter. Turns out, she developed pneumonia from whatever virus she has. The hospital wouldn’t test her. They sent us home with a note saying that the Wolfe Center would contact us about a test.
I waited a week for a call, and it never came. I waited so long because I’d already been told by a testing site that they won’t test unless all of the symptoms are present at that time. Well, I started to cough on that Friday (March 20th) we went to the hospital. And, a week later, it hadn’t gotten better. I was short of breath and I was wheezing. But I didn’t have a fever, so I didn’t try to get tested.
By Sunday, March 29th, I decided that I wanted to try one more time to get tested. I decided to call Meadville Medical Center. They decided to test me because of the exposure I had, the symptoms I had, and the symptoms my daughter had. Even though I didn’t have a fever. That’s exactly what should have been done to begin with. Not everyone shows the same symptoms. Turns out, I did have a fever when I went to the testing site, and my pulse was 125. My lungs sounded “junky”. They stuck the test swab so far in my nose it felt like they were scraping my brain. It is terrible. The results will be in sometime in the next 72 hours – 2 weeks, depending how backed up the lab facilities are.
Throughout these 14 days, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions. Not only do I have to deal with the fact that I have no income right now, but I don’t know when I’m returning to work, and I still don’t know if I have the virus. I had to deal with the panic of watching my daughter struggle to breathe and hear her coughing 24/7 and have her temperature be 104.2 for 24 hours. It was terrifying and I live alone and am quarantined, so I went through all of it by myself. I started having trouble sleeping. I lost my appetite. All while being sick with whatever I have. It’s been tough. Let’s not forget, I’m bipolar, and this is definitely a stresser. I have been on top of my mental symptoms and went back on my anxiety and sleeping meds for the time being.
I’m here to say that, maybe we shouldn’t be panicking about the pandemic, but we most certainly should be taking it seriously. If this is what I have, it is no joke. People who have any kind of respiratory issues (we have asthma) are at a higher risk, and it’s no fun watching someone you love struggle to breathe. Even if you will be fine if you catch this virus, your vulnerable family member or friend may not be. Please take this seriously, stay home, and fight for your right to get tested if you have reason to believe you have symptoms or exposure.
This type of post is not my usual thing, but I asked a nurse friend of mine to write a post about COVID-19 or coronavirus to give a perspective from the front line. Her name is Katrina San Juan RN, MSN, CSRN, PCCN, CCRN. Katrina is an expert in her field, and I trust her work. Please read it carefully so that you can get an idea of what we are up against! I truth the author of this post, but at the same time it is important to continue to educate yourself.
“Grab a Corona, Lets Talk about COVID-19”
Corona virus strains (and yes, there are numerous strains of them other than our now famous Wuhan Strain) are a group of viruses which, prior to 2003, was thought to normally cause similar symptoms to the flu, ranging from a cough, sore throat, fever and runny nose. Four specific strains have become notorious for the cause of the common cold in humans.
Corona viruses were first isolated and studied over 50 years ago, with one of the first reports in 1949, but it was not given its Latin royal name until the virus was observed under an electron microscope where its morphology resembled a “crown-like” appearance. They infect numerous species, responsible for a sweeping avian bronchitis and were the cause of an endemic gastrointestinal infection to swine’s, causing a largescale death of baby pigs in the 1970s-1980s.
In November of 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, commonly known as SARS, fueled the emergence of an epidemic virus in China, causing an estimated infection of 8100 between November to July of 2003. It killed an estimated 800 people, having spread globally to Europe, North and South America and Asia.
This write up would also hardly be accurate without mentioning Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, likely originating from an animal source (they were thinking via camel) totaling 2519 infections and 866 deaths; two of which were confirmed cases in the United States.
Fast forward 17 years later from the severity of SARS -a brand new respiratory infection has emerged, as the entire world now faces the pandemic results of the Corona Virus Wuhan Strain, AKA COVID-19. It is a new strain of corona virus which was not previously observed in humans, its origins thought to come from wild animal consumption of bats and possibly pangolins (armadillo-like mammals). It was first reported in November of 2019 as doctors in Wuhan discovered a pneumonia-causing viral infection which was not responding to treatment.
Not Feeling Well?
It has now been about 4 months since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, and now that China has finally entered a phase of decreased new cases, life is finally beginning to return to semi-normal life for its people. Needless to say, Chinese scientists have accrued vital new information. Though it may take quite a while to fully comprehend the entirety of COVID-19.
Let’s start with the basics: symptoms. Data published from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that 80% of people experienced mild symptoms (about 1 in 5 people), which appear anywhere from 2 to 14 days and range from (or combination of) fever, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough, body aches, runny nose, and in small cases, diarrhea. In severe symptoms, patients exhibited dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, chest pain, altered mental status and cynanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin due to diminished oxygenation). Thus, these patients require careful monitoring in an Intensive Care Unit, many of which will be intubated, their life supported by an artificial ventilation tube. These are known as severe cases, resulting in about 14% of COVID-19 occurrences and about 5% being critical cases.
Who Is Most Effected?
Chinese researchers have now found that both men and women carried an equal chance of contracting the virus, but the impact on men were much higher. Men had an estimated 64% chance of facing fatality to the virus, versus 36% of women, thus concluding that men were effected much worse. The same research found that 90% of pediatric patients were asymptomatic, with one case of a 14-year old boy dying and 6% were severe/critical cases. It is unknown why children were not as ill as adults.
However, as I mentioned earlier and repeat again, the virus has no regards to borders or age limit. As more and more cases in the United States are coming into light, the Centers for Disease Control has reported that about 20% of 508 patients that were admitted for COVID-19 symptoms and requiring hospitalization were within the age of 20 to 45 years. From a count of about 121 patients transferred into the intensive care unit, 12% were also within that age group.
This graph shows severe cases and ICU admissions from US cases reported between February 12 to March 16, illustrating that no age group is immune from the virus.
This Does Not Sound Desirous…What Can I Do Against the Virus?
Case trials are underway to help develop a vaccine, but this could take months, possibly even years. Therefore, the best fight against COVID-19 is preventing exposure to the virus. Most up to date studies as of March 23rd show that the virus can linger in the air for up to 3 hours, remain on copper surfaces for 4 hours, cardboard up to 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for 72 hours. Be mindful of cleansing metallic surfaces carefully as Chinese studies have found COVID-19 can remain viable on these surfaces for up to 9 days. So be vigilant about toughing handrails and door handles. Cleanse these regularly in your household with a disinfectant. Please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html for an extensive list and guidelines for disinfection.
Most important points to consider…WASH YOUR HANDS. And often. With good’ ol” soap and water for at least 20 seconds, exercising friction between the soles of your fingers and thumbs. If soap and water are not currently available, utilize a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% of alcohol, again rubbing this in carefully between your fingertips until the surface of your hands are dry.
DO NOT touch your face with unwashed hands, and cover or blow your cough or sneeze. Keep away from those that are sick or appear sick, and stay home if you are sick. COVID-19 is spreading in all communities. Studies have also shown that the virus can actually travel up to 15 feet, however it is being encouraged to remain at least 6 feet apart during the current “social distancing” phase with those that are not of your household. Remain up to date with expert advice, travel bans and restrictions and your state’s/country’s current activity restrictions. One of the best ways of prevention is practicing prevention outside of the household. These precautions are to protect us ALL.
If you are sick, wear a facemask or if you are taking care of those that are sick. If you are not sick, please consider those who truly do require these, such as your health care providers. There is a worldwide shortage on facemasks, please consider use of these rationally.
Once Someone Is Infected with COVID-19, Can They Get It Again?
Unfortunately, it is too soon to know whether people who have recovered from COVID-19 will become immune to reinfection. Scientists are aware from experience that reinfection is a concern in regards to the common coronaviruses seen during the winter seasons, causing illness time and time again despite a person having been exposed to the same viral strain since childhood. And despite the body’s production of immunity the antibodies eventually decline allowing vulnerability once again.
Patients infected with SARS were studied and found to have developed antibodies and these were still detected in blood samples despite having been infected way back in 2002-2003. However, the SARS epidemic was resolved within 8 months so further studies of reinfection are thankfully limited. As far as MERS, there were 2500 cases within an 8 year time span, so the case of reinfection also remains unknown. Although immunity was found for up to two years after initial infection.
Spring Is Around the Corner…Will COVID-19 Go Back To Its Corner?
It’s another question that has yet to have a definite answer. All scientists can gather is the same information they have collected from previous virus strains. Take the influenza strains for example. Its peak is in the winter, induced by the decrease in humidity levels not actual temperature. There are suggestions that perhaps COVID-19 may have temperature or humidity sensitivities, limiting its spread in warmer and much more humid climates. Take for example Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. There are certainly cases of COVID-19 but the spread has not gone out of control, but also keep in mind they were very much proactive in successfully containing the virus. But many tropical countries may not have as adequate access to testing kits so the reporting is inaccurate. But keep in mind, during the winter people tend to stay indoors, causing potential spread to be less detrimental. There is a current study being completed by physicists at the University of Utah who have received a grant to study the outershell of the virus and its responses to heat and humidity.
We hope for answers soon. Just as we hope for a resolution to this pandemic to end very soon.