It’s March 2020. I’m inside of my New York City apartment, and I’m scared.
I can hear the ambulance sirens swirling in the air outside of my window. Two or three or more are overlapping, I think -- or am I delirious? What day is it? What time is it? I am fevered and tired. It is my fourth day sick with this disease, this “novel coronavirus” that my doctors do not yet know how to effectively treat or cure.
Go home, try to ride it out, and if you can’t breathe, call an ambulance, they said.
I called the emergency room at Columbia Presbyterian yesterday. If I didn’t think I was dying, they advised me to stay home. How could I know something like that? I stayed awake all night, pushing through, forcing myself not to succumb -- I can still breathe. I am still here. Breathe in, breathe out. The sun is rising.
I made it.
It’s frightening, being alone, battling this mystery virus that is ravaging my body and mind. I’m in excruciating discomfort: the most intense body aches of my life are pulsing through my being, my fever is rollercoastering, and I can do little other than practice the pranayama breathing exercises with which I have trained my unrelenting, asthmatic lungs. The grocery guy dropped a few bags of nourishment outside of my door. My dog is by my side, loyally sharing warmth and comfort.
My phone rings. It’s the client I treated a few days prior, the last day my upstate New York office was open, telling me her husband is in the hospital and tested positive for COVID-19. She also tested positive. Was I sick?
Breathing the same air in the room for ninety minutes was, I guess, enough.
In February, I chose to preemptively close my city office -- it was hard not to sense the impending tsunami of disease that would soon wash over our urban island. I closed my Westchester acupuncture office just four days ago. I wanted to stay safe -- I wanted my patients to stay safe! -- but now, this.
Thank you for letting me know.
It wasn’t her fault -- it wasn’t anybody’s fault. I didn’t know it at that moment, but my body would battle this disease for three weeks: waves of symptoms, waves of delirium, waves of wondering how long it would take me to push through this nightmare of an illness.
Spring blossomed and I grew healthier; my fevers and rashes subsided, my fatigue slowly waned. But the city -- really, the world -- was hardly the same. I practiced mindfulness and meditation, and made a conscious effort to turn off the news to immerse myself in whatever helped me stay bright, positive, and grounded.
OK. I can do these things. I can care for myself.
I remained isolated as the COVID-19 pandemic gutted and consumed New York. And at seven o’clock every night, there was a glint of magic: balconies and fire escapes would burst with sparkling cheers for healthcare workers. I would open my window and listen, cheer, smile. I am a part of this. The determined spirit of my community nourished me through and through.
I checked in with my patients over Zoom and text. Some were unravelling mentally. Some wanted advice on how they could improve their lung function and immune systems. Craving a return to normalcy, some asked when I would reopen, when I could help them again.
And so, in June, I did reopen.
It was different this time. By now, I had spent countless hours consulting with medical and business professionals in my network about how and when to safely resume care for my patients. What kinds of PPE will I need? What kinds of disinfectants? What kinds of operational changes? How much time do I book between appointments? I do not have the kind of practice that makes sense to convert to telemedicine; I need to work with people’s bodies, I need to have my hands physically on people to help them. I need to keep people safe.
From the time I walk into my office building to the time I leave, an N95 mask is taut against my mouth, its tight elastic against the back of my head. I leave work thirsty, wanting to drink a refreshing, cool, glass of water throughout the day but sensitive to the potential consequences of even for a moment, removing my mask indoors. I test negative for COVID-19 and currently have antibodies, but doctors are unsure about what this means for me or for others.
And so I take it day by day. I feel lucky. Will I have to shut down my office again? It’s possible, and I’m prepared to do that.
Patients ask me for advice on how to cope. The messages we receive -- whether from the media, marketing materials, or from our own friends and family -- are often filled with stress, uncertainty, and fear. Here is what I believe, from the bottom of my heart: It is a good time to practice how to adapt. Try to not put pressure on yourself for what you can’t control. Take care of yourselves, be careful, and be kind to yourself.
As told to Emily K. Schwartz by Kristen Salomon.