This time last year I was very sick. It’s taken me a year to write about it, and even now it feels too hard.
Do I start at the beginning, at the party at our neighbor’s house – they’d just returned to their vacation home here in San Juan del Sur, from their home in San Diego and thought they were over their bout with the flu (Steve came down with pneumonia the next week). Or did we pick up the bug the week before at the Military Hospital in Managua, where we have our Insurance plan and had gone for some routine checkups – the many waiting rooms had all been shoulder-to-shoulder packed.
It was late January. Sure there was talk of Covid-19, but not REAL talk, not yet anyway, so of course nobody was wearing masks or even thinking of wearing masks, little alone wondering how great an idea it is to travel on an airplane and have a dinner party when you’re just getting over a bug. Remember those days? Yep, me too.
And I was still in those days when first John got sick and then I followed suite. Sick as dogs. Full on flu. John was down for five days, then up for five days (grocery shopping, cooking, taking care of me), and then back down sick for another five days. Me, I didn’t have that graceful interlude in the middle. I just stayed sick with a day or two of hopeful scribbles in my calendar saying “feeling better” before I dove back in. One week. Two weeks. Dang I should see a doctor but too sick to walk into town. Finally, my sister in Florida while on the phone made me promise. “I’m starting to worry about you,” she said. “Go see a doctor.”
I walked into town to see Dr. Denis Solis, at the pharmacy across from the church. He put me on antibiotics, a medicine to prevent pneumonia (“You don’t have it yet,” he said.), and a syrup to help with the cough.
“Don’t exercise,” he said.
Three nights later, I hiked up to the Cristo Statue with John to view the Super Moon. Yes, it is a steep, challenging climb. But before I’d gotten sick we’d been hiking it daily … for years. (And yes, every day it is a steep, challenging hike, but definitely do-able. And why did Dr. Solis tell me not to exercise anyway, when it’s what I do?)
I thought I was going to die at the top.
I sat on a bench at the top, with my head between my hands, glancing up briefly at the sunset and the moon rise, my hand upon my heart. What a freakin’ stupid idea!
Two days later, I decide I’m well enough to attend my weekly yoga class in town and catch a ride with my friend Tella. I tell her about how sick I’ve been, embarrassed but feeling like she should know. At yoga, I tell my yoga teacher, Kristin, so that she knows too that I might be taking it a bit easy in class.
I picked my spot in class and set up my yoga mat, in the crowded class. It was 10:00 am.
And that’s the last of my known, normal, waking consciousness until maybe 8 pm, and two hospitals, later that night. Except for a few snippets.
My first snippet of a memory: I’m in the yoga studio. The class has emptied out. I’m on my mat and Dr. Denis Solis is leaning over me. Tella is there and Kristin is there, as is the owner of the yoga studio.
Next snippet: I’m outside of the hospital in SJDS and discussing something with Tella or Kristin.
Last memory snippet: I’m in a rental car with John, who’s driving, heading to the Military Hospital in Managua. He asks me to call my sister in Florida so that someone in my family back home knows what’s going on. I ask John what happened and he laughs, saying I’ve been asking him that same question for hours and he’s been giving me the same answer.
When I “come to,” meaning when my normal consciousness could integrate with and hang onto my memories of a few seconds before, and a few seconds before that, for a continuous stream of remembered reality, I was in the Emergency Waiting Room of the Military Hospital in Managua, being checked in. An acquaintance of ours, Kevin, was there chatting up the nurses while waiting on someone else. Seeing him was when my consciousness first clicked back into place and stayed.
It is COLD in the waiting room for the Emergency Room. And when we first arrived the waiting room was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder sitting on plastic chairs and wearing jackets as if they’d all gotten the memo to arrive prepared. I was in shorts and flip flops and for the previous 8+ hours hadn’t known anything beyond my name, or so said John.
My name was called and John wasn’t going to be let in with me (policy, I guess, that family members are not allowed in the back with patients), but I insisted that he keep me company, telling them I wouldn’t be able to answer any questions for them on my own.
They ran a neurological test, blood tests, a Cat Scan, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. And then, since it was midnight at this point and a doctor wouldn’t be in to read the Cat Scan until the morning and I needed to remain under observation, they had me stay the night. Sitting up and freezing.
It wasn’t like being in an Emergency Room in the States. In the States, you’re put on a cot with warm blankets and curtains are drawn around you for privacy. Here, we did see a few cots like that in the back corner with a person or two in them. But I wasn’t offered one, nor were the handful of other patients that sat upright all night around me, IV bags attached to most of their arms. From test to test, John pushed me around in a wheelchair which we “rented” from them by leaving my cedula (Nicaraguan residency document) with them for collateral.
The next morning I was finally called into the office of an overworked doctor. He said I was fine but that I needed to stop exercising. “For how long?” I asked. “Forever,” he replied.
So of course I argued. What kind of craziness was that? He backed off and said “Ok, cut it in half.” But how do you cut a yoga class in half? Or a mountain climb in half or kayak a river in half? And why even cut back when apparently I’m fine and they couldn’t find anything wrong?
“Why did I lose my memory for 8+ hours yesterday?” I asked him.
“When I get backed up with a lot of patients and I’ve missed lunch, I can get really stressed. Your body got stressed and your system shut down. Think of it this way: Your body is running a Windows XP program. And it took a long time to boot back up.”
And with that, John and I left.
Three days later, I was flat on my back with dizzy spells, unable to walk, and spent two days lying flat.
Three weeks later, I had two more days of inexplicable dizzy spells.
This was followed by a couple of weeks of noticeably dragging myself on our more challenging hikes and at one point plopping down on the dirt for awhile to catch my breath.
And then the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the worldwide New Coronavirus Pandemic, Costa Rica closed its border with Nicaragua and John and I began our seclusion.
IF what we had wasn’t Covid-19, AND if Covid-19 was worse than that, then we sure as heck didn’t want to get it.
At least my hospital visit in SJDS was free (it’s a public hospital, which are all free). And since we have a medical plan with the Military Hospital (we pay $168/mo which includes both John and me), it was also “free.” So, at least there’s that.
And the dizziness has not returned, thank God. But is my health fully back? It’s hard to tell.
It’s now been 11 months since John and I began our self-isolation due to the pandemic. We haven’t been in a vehicle this entire time, just walking everywhere we’ve needed to go. And I haven’t been to a yoga class either.
P. S. Not that it has anything blatantly to do with the above story… but John and I stopped at La Colonia, a grocery store in Rivas, on our return drive from Managua after our night in the hospital. I noticed they were selling testicles. We didn’t buy any.