Being a certified nursing assistant (CNA) over the past year has been filled with so many emotions, decisions, and sacrifices. For those who love caring for older adults who are sick and frail in our nation, COVID-19 has caused so much upheaval in the healthcare world in so many ways.
I have been a CNA for 34 years this past April, and I have worked through many challenges in my career. The COVID pandemic has, by far, been the hardest challenge of all. That said, never once did I second guess my career choice or consider leaving it behind because of COVID. Walking away from my profession never entered my mind even when the pandemic was at its worst.
A Hard “No” to the Vaccine
The one thing I did struggle with, and knew I would not do, was take the coronavirus vaccine. How could I trust a vaccine when, for months, we as a nation knew nothing about the virus, how it was spread, how to protect ourselves and others against it, and what the virus itself would do to our bodies? And, most importantly, how would I trust something that is supposed to prevent it from spreading when it didn’t seem like anyone knew how to treat people who had it?
All this information was changing daily by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So why would I risk a vaccine that had been created to fight a virus that no one knows anything about? How could that be safe? What short-term, long-term effects would this vaccine create? I had many questions. My mind was made up. In fact, I was prepared to walk away from my career if my employer was going to mandate that I take it.
The Day COVID Hit Me
I will never forget Dec. 8, 2020. It started out as a normal day. I went to work, did my check-in, my temp was good. As usual, I had no signs or symptoms of COVID. Personally, I felt great. I had one of two weekly COVID tests that morning. As I was preparing to go the floor to suit up in PPE, the nurse told me that everything looked good. She said she would find me on the floor if the test came back positive.
I didn’t make it to the floor that day. Seconds before I was about to step out, I was rushed into the closet door as I had a positive result on the rapid test. I said, “no way, I feel fine! I have no symptoms, no fever.” But I was sent home to await a more thorough test from the lab.
In my mind, I was thinking I would get a call to come back in a couple of days, when the lab test came back as a false positive. Little did I know what was about to happen. I went home and prepared supper and did some laundry and other household chores.
At around 5:00 p.m. I started feeling bad. I began to feel hot, weak, and sick to my stomach, so I lay down. As the hours passed, I pivoted into a horrible spiral of sickness, with a fever of 104. I couldn’t eat or drink. I had no strength to even move myself.
A Hard “No” to the Vent
As time went by, I got sicker and sicker. I struggled to breath, I was begging for cold air and laying down propped up because I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. My children had to help me to the bathroom. They had to help me pull my clothes down and sit down. Then they had to help me get dressed.
After 10 days, I was no better. In fact, I was likely worse than I was on the first day. I decided it was time to visit the hospital. I ended up with two hospital stays for COVID lung, pancreatitis, and a blood clot in my lower left lung. My O2 was 79 to 80 percent, and at one point, the discussion of a vent came up. I refused. I knew that people who were being placed on the vent weren’t coming off of them alive!!
I told my children that I if I was going to die, it was not going to happen while I was hooked up to a vent. As the days passed and many doctor visits, tests, and medications had helped only to relieve my symptoms, I knew there was nothing that would cure me.
A Long Haul
After some 20 days of exhausting and excruciating symptoms, I finally started to feel a little better. I could sit up for short periods, but it would physically wipe me out for hours. One day, I was basically sitting propped up on my couch so I could breathe, when for the first time in almost a month I could focus on what was on the television.
They were talking about the COVID-19 vaccine. As I listened, I came to a realization that very instant. No one ever thinks they will get as sick as I did if they get COVID. I could have died, and at that moment, I said to myself: “Even if taking this vaccine kills me, at least I will die trying to live instead of letting it kill me without a fight.”
Getting to YES
Eight months later, I am still fighting the physical damage to my body left behind by the virus. I know I could never withstand another battle with it. But now I know I have a fighting chance because I said YES to the vaccine. We won’t know for many years what the long-term effects of either the virus or the vaccine are. But at least because of the vaccine we will live to face those effects instead of letting COVID kill us now!!
Please say YES and live to tell your story.