By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
It was kind of like a cold, with a runny nose and big sneezing.
It was kind of like a bad case of bronchitis, with fits of coughing in morning, noon and at night.
It was kind of like the flu, with a hint of a headache.
After a thorough internet search, I came up with my own diagnosis: bronchitis. But when the coughing persisted, I made an appointment with my doctor’s office at the end of November.
Pretending not to look too miserable, I confidently announced my diagnosis of choice when the doctor arrived in the examining room.
He seemed pleasant, but tired, and listened patiently.
It could be bronchitis, he said, after listening to my quick short gasp when I tried to take a long deep breath. He mentioned that he could write me a prescription for a steroid and a second prescription for an inhaler.
That seemed odd.
A quick computer check showed that my health insurance wouldn’t cover the inhaler – but the steroid was available and covered. I’ve never used either option and knew about unpleasant side effects from the steroids. I wondered why he was suggesting what seemed like drastic measures for bronchitis.
The doctor also ordered a test. The nurse handed me two long white plastic sticks tipped with cotton swabs to push up each one of my nostrils, and I was instructed to stick each swab as high as possible to tickle the top of the nose cavity. Two hours later, the test came back positive for COVID-19.
How did I get this? I don’t know. I’m double vaccinated, and I’ve been careful to avoid exposure in a community where COVID numbers are rising. As recently as four days before the doctor’s visit, I brushed off a friend’s suggestion that we meet for coffee at a cute little café. “I’m just not yet comfortable eating inside restaurants,” I told her. We decided on a walk around town instead, catching up on each others’ lives and enjoying the exercise.
Through the last many months, I have mostly kept out of restaurants, preferring takeout, and large crowds. True, I did go regularly for groceries, and I enjoyed a little holiday shopping at a couple of my favorite stores, always with a mask. I avoided small indoor places that looked crowded and kept my distance with people I knew were not vaccinated.
My three-week bout with COVID hasn’t been pleasant. There’s been the coughing, of course, and the rising fever one night that threatened to send me to the hospital. I felt tired and distracted, laying in bed too exhausted to watch television, read a book or even scroll my phone. Friends, family and neighbors sent prayers, texts, calls, poems, cards, distance energy healing, little presents and offers to shop for necessities like food and medicine.
My husband, who had suffered a bit of coughing early on, escaped the depth and breadth of my sickness. He had received the COVID vaccine booster the week before my test, which likely limited his symptoms. I had not yet had the chance to get the booster but had scheduled it for later in the week.
I can’t say that I “fought” the infection, in the way we usually like to talk about illness in our culture. I had it and it had me. It gave me lots of time to think about decisions I made and decisions I wanted to make, along with how I might explain my experience with this illness and what I might advise people interested in my experience. I gave it great respect as a powerful force, a force that was “bigger” than me that wanted to offer lessons about health, life, death and our connections with others that can infect or can sustain.
I will continue to sort out the lessons of this experience. But right now, as my lungs heal, I will say that I am grateful for science, which has made vaccines possible, as imperfect as they are. I am thankful that I got vaccinated early in the year. And I am grateful for my health and life, which are the greatest gifts of all.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is the founder of the Lancaster School of Psychodrama and Experiential Psychotherapies in Lancaster, Pa., which teaches transformational learning in a variety of experiential methods and practices, including psychodrama, sociometry, Family and Systemic Constellations, sand tray, group skills and more. Subscribe to her e-letter for professionals and get first notice of training events, Early Bird discounts, helpful links and inspiring and supportive info. You may subscribe here.
A version of this article appeared in LNP on Dec. 22, 2021.
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Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is an author, trainer and psychotherapist who promotes, practices and teaches experiential methods including psychodrama, Family and Systemic Constellations, mindfulness and Tarot imagery.