By Heidi Schauster
I’m a previously robustly healthy 48-year-old, and at Day 52 of COVID-19, I am still recovering from a virus that has ravaged every part of my body. I use the word recovering because every time I say “turning a corner,” the virus reminds me that it’s not done with me yet.
That said, I’m one of the lucky ones.
Separation from my daughters for a month was the worst part. Their father and I made the tough decision to keep them at his house while I became very sick very fast. Alone in quarantine, I made healing a full-time job. My newly-virtual nutrition therapy practice became very part-time. I rearranged clients so that I could see them for two hours during my most energetic hours, then slept the rest of the day. When my lungs threatened to shut down and my chest got crazy tight, I poured pasta pots of boiling water into the bath and soaked in my homemade hot tub. This opened my lungs and relaxed tension in my body. When I couldn’t breathe one evening and I worried that panic would send me to the hospital, my sweetheart (a Canadian, who I can’t see until they open the borders again) played a lullaby on his Irish whistle, settling my anxiety so that I breathed more deeply and eventually slept.
Dear friends dropped off grocery items, since I didn’t preventatively hoard. I named my friend Paul the Easter Bunny because he would leave a dozen eggs on my doorstep weekly, smelling of isopropyl alcohol. He reminded me, the nutritionist, that I “needed my protein.” Family checked in over Zoom and group text, sending humor and helping me with my “Kicking COVID to the Curb” playlist. I Facetimed with my daughters, putting on my strongest game face. For them and for me.
I don’t know how I would have surmounted the acute phase of illness without the support of community. Some who stopped by with air hugs or homemade soup were single parents with young children, friends going through tough divorces, or busy healthcare workers. I can’t thank these kind humans enough. My doctor’s office took nearly two weeks to call back when I first got sick, but I didn’t need a doctor as much as I needed community.
Those with COVID-19 who don’t have friends who can step outside their own situations will not receive what I did. Those that don’t have means and time to do the therapy and meditation training I’ve done, which helped me manage anxiety, might not fare so well either. I know how to work with fear and panic, which also bring on shortness of breath, one of the virus’ scariest symptoms. Those that don’t have the freedom I’d had this year to swim a couple of times per week and get my lungs pandemic-ready might also not fare so well.
I guess what I’ve been considering, as I slowly start to get outside with my daughters again, is that I was privileged enough to be healthy, well-educated, well-resourced, and skilled to work with personal trauma before I got sick. I’m grateful I was able to access those skills and stay out of the hospital, but deeply saddened when I consider that many have not been so blessed.
Madonna sat in a bathtub of rose petals and called the coronavirus the “great equalizer.” With all due respect to my teenage dance idol, I disagree. The virus doesn’t discriminate, but the resources necessary for healing are not available to all. As the toilet paper stocks the shelves again, will we finally stop thinking of me, me, me, and work towards more of the “We the People” on which this country was founded?
First, take good care of yourself right now. Beyond that, if you are able, extend a little love and assistance to someone who doesn’t have the same resources you do. Help others breathe easier during this crisis. After the dust settles, let’s work towards equal access to medical, psychological and social resources so that we are more prepared in the future.
I am one of the lucky ones. Let’s make sure there are more.
Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S is a nutrition therapist, educator, mother, and dancer who writes about disordered eating, whole-self-wellness and embodiment for all. She lives and practices in the Boston area, teaches at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and is the author of the award-winning book Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self.