A few weeks ago I came down with a runny nose and a scratchy throat. I had just returned from an amazing trip to Washington D.C., and I figured it was a reaction to the oak trees that had started shedding acorns while I was away.
I asked my physician-husband if he could feel any swollen nodes in my neck—my go-to determination for illness rather than allergies. He felt one on my left side then looked in my throat. There was a small spot back there so he figured it would be best if I got checked for strep.
The next day I saw my family doctor. Sore throat and runny nose symptoms directed me to curbside service. He came out to my car, looked at my throat and said, “It’s not strep, and since you traveled to D.C. it’s best we test you for Covid.”
It was a quick-test, but he told us we didn’t have to wait for the results; the office would call.
As I drove home I glanced over at my husband. “This is just a runny nose, right? It can’t be Covid, can it?”
He sighed. “It doesn’t matter. If it is Covid, this whole nightmare will be over. You’ll see it’s not a threat to you, at your age and health and vaccinated status.”
About ½ hour or less after we got home, my doctor’s office called with the results: flu negative, Covid positive.
My husband heard the phone ring but didn’t hear my conversation; he was getting ready to go out. “So, how bad is your Covid?” he asked.
My skin was prickling as it often does before I have a panic attack. I was about to burst into tears. “I’m positive. I tested positive.”
“Thank God!” my husband shouted, shocking me out of my impending panic. “This is the bogeyman you have feared for the past year-and-a-half. The only way you are going to see that this is beatable is when you beat it. Which you will now do because you are vaccinated. And then we can finally go out to dinner again without you counting down the days since your last possible exposure.”
“What if it gets bad?” I asked.
“First, you have a runny nose. This is probably all it’s going to be because you are vaccinated. If you start to cough or feel tightness in your chest you will talk to your doctor and he will treat you just as he’s treated every person who has come to him with Covid in the past year and a half. This is the beginning of the end, baby! Be happy!”
“But you’ve been exposed to me,” I said to him. “What are you going to do?”
“I’ve had my booster. I’m totally asymptomatic. I’m good.” And sure enough, the three Covid tests he had to take for work after exposure to me showed that he was, indeed, good. So were the kids and my mom. Granted, I hadn’t been all that close to any of them (except my husband, who categorically refused to stay away from me) since my return, because I didn’t want to risk giving them anything, but we were in the same house. Still, with all of us vaccinated, all of them tested negative multiple times, both on the quick test and the longer PCR.
Life went on for them. I quarantined for 10 days.
I hadn’t infected my family, it seems, and I certainly didn’t want to, so I confined myself to one basic living area and wouldn’t let the kids come near me. I still couldn’t stop my husband from coming near me, but I insisted on wearing a mask any time he was around and even when I went to bed. “You’re absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
“I don’t want you to catch this,” I replied.
“Yes. Because clearly your runny nose is devastating.”
“This could get worse, you know.”
“There is a very slim chance this is going to get much worse.”
“But it could happen.”
“Anything can happen. There are no guarantees.”
And there we were, back at the advice I held close a year and a half ago when I first wrote about my Covid fears. There are no guarantees. There are, however, likelihoods, and my greatest one is this: that my mind, when left to its own devices for ten days, will torture me.
I tried to keep myself busy, but the minute I had down time my brain whispered, “What if today is the day you develop a fever?”
I never developed a fever.
“What if today is the day you start coughing?”
I never coughed.
“Is that tightness in your chest? What if it’s a pulmonary embolism?”
The tightness went away after I took a deep breath. It has not come back.
“Your leg feels a little tender there. What if it’s a blood clot?”
Turns out I had a slight sunburn.
For all ten days of isolation, my only physical symptom was a runny/stuffy left nostril. I now call it my Covid nostril. Three days after diagnosis, that symptom disappeared.
My anxious mind, however, remained far longer than 10 days, torturing me with all kinds of facts. “Covid can seem very mild for the first five days and then wham! hit hard right after.”
Symptomless, I waited, counting the days. Day five came and went. Nothing.
Day ten came and went, and I was released from isolation.
“You know some lady developed a blood clot the week she got out of quarantine,” my mind informed me. “What if that happens to you?”
My husband just shook his head. “Stop with the ‘what ifs.’ You’re fine. This is done. You are free! Let’s go to dinner.”
Anxiety, however, is an illness of “what ifs.” The mind takes the most minuscule threat and blows it up to–not even huge proportions, just unrealistically large ones. In a conversation I recently had with friends, we talked about risk. My friends see a one in a million chance as protective. If only one person in a million has something happen, they reason, the chances are incredibly slim either of them will be that one person.
I, on the other hand, immediately think I will be that one.
“You’re really not that important, you know,” one of my friends said. “You’re not so special that you’re going to be that one person.”
And you know what? She’s right. Our chat made me wonder to what extent my anxiety is based on my thinking that I am uniquely at more risk than everyone else. That I will beat the odds in the negative. That the worst possible thing will realistically always be headed straight for me.
“It’s never what you think,” my husband said. “How many things have you worried about in your life? And how many of them happened?”
He’s right. The things I’ve worried about my whole life—my childhood home burning down, my parents dying in a car accident on the way home from the grocery store, being in a plane crash, my child dying of sudden infant death syndrome, nuclear war (hey, I’m an 80’s kid)—haven’t happened.
“Then remember the bad things that have happened,” he continued. “Did you worry about them in advance, or did they hit you out of the blue?”
Again, he was right. I never expected my mother-in-law to die of pancreatic cancer three years after her son and I married. I never expected to miscarry my first child. I never expected my grandmother to die peacefully in her sleep half-way to 91 after having battled diabetes and breast cancer. These events just . . . happened. I didn’t predict them, forsee them, plan for them, prepare myself for them. I did not weigh the likelihood of them happening. I did not, could not, expect them or do anything to prevent them.
Does this mean that I should not have worried about Covid?
Yes. It does. I will say it right here, now. I should never have worried about Covid. I have wasted a year and a half worrying about what, for me, thanks to vaccines, turned out to be a drippy nostril.
My worry did not change one thing about this pandemic. People still got sick. Far too many–over 700,000 in the U.S. alone–have died. Even more are suffering long-term effects from catching this illness. But my worry did not effect this outcome. It neither mitigated nor prevented it. It just made me miserable far longer than I had to be.
Does this mean I should not have taken the precautions I’ve taken?
No. It means I shouldn’t have worried about it. I should have taken all the sensible precautions I took until I got vaccinated, but then moved on with my life. Like the rest of the world is doing.
Moving forward I am once again reminded that I need to work very hard on my humility—not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less. I am going to try to become the person who does not believe the worst possible case scenario will always—or ever—happen to me, because I am not that important. I am going to try to remember that I am only the star of my own movie, not the world’s. I am going to tell my ‘what-if’ brain to shut up.
And I’m going to let my husband take me out to dinner a little more often. All because of a positive Covid diagnosis.
Sometimes, the only way out is through. I’m going to hope that, at least for awhile, I’m through with Covid. Whatever will I blog about next time?