Corona or Sars-CoV-2: Falling ill with Covid-19
But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1, 10
I hear the message: Jesus lives!
Lord, help my heart to rise
out of grief, doubt, fear, and suffering!
Get it ready for your comfort!
I hear the message: Jesus lives!
You messengers of hope,
lead me towards He who is risen,
that I am safe with him!
Lord, help me!
Saying hello at a meeting, I hug a person who two days later tests positive for Covid-19. Immediately I am sent home into domestic quarantine by the local health authority. It is to last 46 days. On day 5 the scratching in my throat starts, a test two days later is negative. Chills, fever. Then the coughing starts. It’s very bad, in the evening I feel like my lungs are nothing but raw meat. It’s a Saturday. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, Sunday, but the day passes with less coughing and in a deceptive calm. On Monday I have severely low blood pressure. I can do nothing but lie down, crawling on all fours when I have to go to the toilet, because I feel my heart isn’t managing to pump the blood all the way up into my head. I’m close to passing out, have to lie down and can’t even lift a finger. I lie there thinking how easy it is to imagine my heart simply ceasing to beat! Several times on this day it seems as if death is already knocking at my door. Test number two on day 15: negative.
The cough stays. It comes in waves. I’m getting weaker. We try to keep my temperature down with tablets. After more than three weeks since it began, my family doctor tests me for the flu: negative. Then for whooping cough (negative) and is concerned: she wants a picture of the lungs and refers me to the hospital. I am admitted to hospital as a Covid-19 contact person. Another smear. A blood test. A sputum test. In the afternoon of the following day (I have the strange privilege of being the first corona patient in the local hospital) they do a scan of the lungs, and the result is quick: bilateral viral pneumonia. I’m immediately transferred from the “suspected” to the “positive” Covid-19 restricted area. The doctor stands back in the doorway, in full protective clothing, when he informs me: “There is neither a cure nor a method of treatment. Following the suggestions made by the Robert Koch Institute, we’re going to try antibiotics and a malaria remedy, but this can cause severe cardiac dysrhythmia as a side effect.” Oh great, I think, because sometimes, especially when under great stress, I often have a rather irregular heartbeat. The next day it is clear: Both tests are Covid-19 positive after all. I am not allowed to leave the room. Four times a day and once a night I see people in full protective suits, and that’s it. I am an alien, an outcast, although it’s all the others who look like that. I’m a “danger to my town.” No visitors, no contact, just post which can be delivered for me. Extreme isolation.
After 8 days in hospital and after all treatment options have been exhausted, I am discharged into domestic quarantine at home – with wobbly knees and shaky legs. For a few days we are uncertain whether my body will now manage on its own. It’s a rollercoaster. After another week it slowly starts getting better, thank God! I’m still quickly exhausted – whether I really need to climb those stairs is something to be considered very carefully indeed. I’m so tired. One more week and then it’s my first day back at work. Just Thursday and Friday, and then it’s the weekend – what a relief! As a part-time employee I only work in the mornings (and I love my work!), but the following week I’m hardly able to do anything in the afternoons, I’m exhausted. Apart from the physical problems (headaches, dizziness, fatigue, exhaustion) I have problems concentrating, I can’t find the right words. My mind is still lagging way behind after all these events. It’s just not possible yet: three more weeks of sick leave. My body and my mind are still trying to work this all out and process everything.
What helped me practically
First and foremost, and most importantly, an understanding, caring and amazingly helpful husband who did the cooking, hoovering, stacked and emptied the dishwasher and did so many other household chores, and also supported me on my trips to the toilet.
An adult daughter (who lives just round the corner) and friends who did the shopping and brought all the things we needed (and some extras too!) to our front door. The value of family and friends!
Internet in the hospital. This means of keeping in contact with family and friends in extreme isolation was invaluable. I fed my soul with beauty, checked the news only once a day.
At the beginning of the time in domestic quarantine, planning home office days. Routine can be a real help because it gives the day / time a framework. Especially then later, during the times of illness and rehabilitation: Make a daily plan and try to keep to it. Readjust if necessary. Plan specific times for work and for breaks too.
Planning beautiful and positive things: watching a concert online or taking a tour through a museum online, reading a novel, treating myself to a bouquet or just one single pretty flower, eating ice cream, holding my face up to the sun for a moment, drawing, painting, listening to music, whatever I used to enjoy, now I needed to do even more of it! As long as it was still possible: walks in the countryside. A walk through the garden. Taking care of my body. Picking out a stack of books from the category “I’ve always wanted to read these”.
Writing a diary, noting thoughts and feelings, completely unedited, just as they come to me. My method: I only write on the right-hand page of my notebook, the page on the left remains free for later additions, reflections, insights, observations, words of thanks to my heavenly father. Turning back and seeing how far I have already come gives me strength: you have already mastered that! But it also shows me which patterns repeat themselves, which trains of thought want to pull me back into the dark again and again, where I have to counteract with something positive. The magazines that have been waiting to be read for such a long time. Reading my Bible in the morning and having more time to look things up and write down my thoughts and prayers. Light gardening is therapy for me. Whatever – anything that helps me relax. Using my natural resources, simply doing more of what I usually enjoy.
Music: listening to my favourite songs, worship songs, chorales (hymns). Making music yourself. Spending more time with my instrument – or even: building one (a rhythm rattle or a makeshift cajón). In the hospital I listened to the classical music concert on the radio every day between 2pm and 4pm.
Taking a shower: I never imagined I would need a stool in the shower at this age. Putting eucalyptus bath salts on the floor of the shower as an inhalant.
Inhaling: again and again and again. Using chest ointment, for example, or with chamomile (from the chemist, or just cut open a tea bag). In the convalescence phase: Inhaling with chamomile, breathing exercises outdoors to strengthen my lungs. (there are lots of instructions from physiotherapists on the Internet.) Also, doing pelvic floor exercises because coughing has made my prolapse worse.
What helped my psychologically / spiritually
With fear: Making myself aware that there is a Creator and I am His creation. I do not hold everything in my own hands. I do not have everything under control. Even though my western culture wants to make me believe it, there is no fool-safe security. “Life is dangerous,” – my husband has been saying this for 35 years. Years ago, a friend of mine was asked to do an interview after having survived cancer: She said she was now a “specialist in dealing with death.” She found it strange: “We all have to die, just some of us have to do it sooner than others!”
Dealing with death, not avoiding it: it may actually be your turn now. Are all my relationships resolved? Who should I call, who should I write a letter to, where should I apologize, where should I ask for forgiveness, where should I grant it? Who should I send a thank you card? Have I made my last will, have I said or written my last words? In my experience, doing all this in a practical way is also a great sleeping tablet and has absolutely no side-effects: with every heavy stone that disappears from my “rucksack” I sleep better and easier. Getting things in order. Maybe the first thing I have to do is to forgive God? Ask a friend to accompany this process. A priest, a minister, another Christian.
When I was frightened (and this new corona thing has a whole load of potential for fear) – when rational thinking no longer helped, rituals were helpful: holding a small wooden cross in my hand. Some also take a rosary or a special pearl bracelet (pearls of life). Although I am actually a Protestant, I have learned to appreciate a Catholic ritual: My evening blessing after brushing my teeth: I sit on the edge of the bed, cross myself and say these three sentences out loud: “I do not belong to Corona. I do not belong to myself. I belong to Jesus.” The supernatural peace that then descended into my heart helped me sleep soundly. Loudly vocalized it also helps against supernatural powers. What a gift! You can replace the word “Corona” in the three sentences above with whatever term is suitable for you (there are plenty of other reasons one can be in danger of dying). Crossing myself: With my index and middle fingers I touch my forehead, stomach, left and right breast. Or also: wetting my fingers with water and drawing a cross on my forehead (I had no oil in the hospital) makes me aware that I am baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. My name is written in God’s hand (in the Bible, in Isaiah 49: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.) That my soul is sealed, and I belong to Him. Nothing can snatch me from His hand (in the Bible, in Romans 8: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.)
Hymn book or Internet: Reading the old songs from times when people were in mortal fear or danger. These are often texts that have been tried and tested over centuries, that carry, that comfort, that put things into perspective. They are also called chorales or hymns. Johann Sebastian Bach, Martin Luther, Gerhard Tersteegen, Paul Gerhardt, more modern: Jochen Klepper. Poems by Arno Pötzsch, Hans-Joachim Eckstein. Jesus himself set us the perfect example: on the cross he laid his soul down to rest in the comfort of the old words from the Psalms.
Friends are invaluable: encouraging text messages, a little greeting, cards, flowers at my door, prayers, a song sung for me, paper flowers – in the total isolation and loneliness of the sickroom it is so good to know that a circle of people around me hasn’t forgotten me and is praying for me.
A colleague at work has a very special idea: Together with his family he sings a Jesus song for me as “medicine” against Covid-19 and sends me the recording. When I felt lonely, this greeting was particularly uplifting.
Whatsapp-live with my children and grandchildren. Arranging “meetings”. Skyping with the whole family on Sundays as a highlight. Text messages back and forth during the week. Of course, visitors were not allowed in the hospital, but letters could be delivered for me. A bag of orange juice and chocolate. Drawings done for me by my grandchildren. A paper flower. Waving to my husband through the window. Visual contact, live but at a distance…
God smiling down on me: Outside on the lawn the two magpies every day, once a hare and for the first time in my life I see a green woodpecker up close. Sunshine. How beautiful: I’m not just looking at dreary walls, but at a green area with a rarely frequented path, and beyond that a little wood. And a very special gift, a great privilege: A person on the ward “out there” on the other side of the door, who I know from my church. Knowing that he is here, working in his place, gives me a feeling of security.
The Word of God: I always had my Bible with me. If you are a newcomer: Read the chapters in the Bible where Jesus works on earth and introduces us humans to God, tells us about God’s love: Luke, Mark, John, and Matthew. You can find various Bible translations here.
It is said that God himself put a longing for eternity into the heart of man. Don’t let yourself be deterred by what others say: form your own opinion. A very good sermon (in German) about eternity can be found here.
The experience: The worse I feel, the less I am able to do anything practical, I just don’t have the strength anymore. My interest in my surroundings dwindles too. My physical weakness causes my field of vision to become more and more restricted. Soon everything revolves entirely around me. I cannot get involved in anything else, it is all just too much. I can’t do anything anymore, I can’t cook, I can’t do anything else in the household, I can’t even read, just for the sake of the family I have to get in touch every now and then and give a quick report. I simply lack the strength for anything. The will to survive sets in and I start focussing solely on myself. It’s important for others – especially my closest carers – to know this, so they can adjust and be patient with me.
The physical convalescence also requires patience. It took much longer than I was used to for a normal flu with my otherwise normally robust health. My mind has to learn to cope too: Don’t be surprised if signs of a post-traumatic stress syndrome occur (concentration disorders, nervousness, and, as in my case, difficulties finding words).
Also good to know: Be patient with the medical staff too! So much is new to everyone and the level of knowledge changes with every day that passes. People are doing pioneer work while putting their own lives at risk.
What helps when thinking no longer helps? I have already described many things above. Here again, in more detail: Songs. In the hospital I started each day with the song “What a beautiful name” by Hillsong. It did my soul so much good; it gave me a positive start to the day. Prayers. Talking to Jesus. Pouring my heart out. And thanks: thanks for the magpies on the lawn outside the window. Thanks for the sunshine. Thanks for the whole-wheat bread roll. Thanks for the nurse. Thanks for the tablets. Thanks for the orange juice my husband brought to the hospital. Thanks for my husband.
Gratitude is the watchman at the gate of the soul, guarding it against the forces of destruction (Gabriel Marcel)
When even that no longer works, simply: “Jesus!” He knows everything and knows all things. For people who are not so well-trained in prayer, here is a tip: Nicole Waberski, pastor at the Martin Luther Hospital, has compiled morning and evening prayers (in German) here.
My lunchtime prayer: reading Psalm 23 (out loud).
In the morning: my daily ration of Bible verses from the Herrnhut Brethren Church (available in many languages and as apps for Android and IOS).
Praying The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) in the evening.
Translated by Karen Kersten