Of all people, why me?
A nurse reflects on his experience when, despite all the protective measures, he caught Covid-19
By Jolly Tayaban
I am a registered nurse, working in a respiratory ward and medical specialty in a hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
When I found out I had tested positive for Covid-19, I was in complete shock and denial. I had always thought that the transmissibility of the virus within the ward, from an infected patient to a healthcare worker, was slim to none, because we depended heavily on meticulous use of personal protective equipment. We also continuously modified the protocols so as to be in line with government health department guidelines.
Even my senior nurses repeatedly underlined that acquiring the virus was almost impossible, as the hospital policies on infection control were so stringent.
Unfortunately, after five months of direct and constant exposure to Covid-positive patients, I still became infected. The hospital told me to isolate in a hotel for 14 days and until all symptoms ceased.
During my first week in the hotel, I was restless. In my mind the symptoms seemed catastrophic, and I thought I might only have weeks to live. My brain constantly searched for an answer as to how I could have contracted the virus. And it was eating me inside out.
I began to doubt my clinical skills, my intellectual capability and my critical thinking as a healthcare professional. I analyzed all my actions and started to blame myself for my ineptitude. This thought process was more disturbing than the real respiratory symptoms of the disease, and it was causing unexpected psychosomatic manifestations.
Then I began asking God why he had allowed this to happen to me, of all people? Why?
I had never missed a day of prayer asking for his protection and guidance. My family and friends, as well, had prayed constantly for my safety. I am compassionate to my patients and always try to go the extra mile in loving them, because I see in them another Jesus, who is suffering.
Every time I had entered a Covid-positive room, I would try to provide optimum care to each suffering patient. In fact, during this time of pandemic, one of Pope Francis’ homilies deeply struck me because it reminded me to try to love each neighbor as Jesus would — that is, ready to give my life as he did for us.
Slowly, happier thoughts came. I remembered many past experiences at work, which brought me peace, because I could identify where Jesus had been with me.
Once, while doing post-mortem care, I was told to complete it quickly to minimize contamination. I thought to myself: but this patient is somebody’s mother, or sister, or wife. What if this patient was my friend or family? Regardless of the Covid status, this patient needed to be thoroughly cleansed and properly wrapped in a body bag. At the end of my shift that night, I felt I had done the right thing and was able to sleep peacefully.
Sometimes, I overstayed inside a Covid patient’s room for chitchat. Though I should have limited my exposure to 10 minutes, I would often stay for 20 minutes or more, knowing the depression that many Covid patients experience, at some stage, because of prolonged isolation.
I remembered feeling exhausted when my shifts ended, as well as the leg cramps and skin tears I had on my face and behind my ears from the masks I wore for the whole eight-hour shifts. But I saw my tiredness as something to offer to God for the patients who suffered most. I remembered how this gave me consolation and joy.
But then again the thought, amidst all this effort to love: why had I been rewarded with this deadly virus?
I began to realize some things. God is love and full of mercy — that’s an indisputable fact. Seeing Jesus who was crucified and died on the cross, one could ask, “If God is love, how could God have allowed his only son to suffer and die in such a way?”
But Jesus didn’t die on the cross for nothing; it’s his death that caused our salvation.
And with Jesus on the cross, there came an answer to this question with no answer.
Had God permitted me to get this virus, even if my prayers had asked to be spared from it?
Yes. It was because his logic is far superior to what I had asked for. God has a greater plan for us than what our feeble minds can comprehend. Perhaps it is because he loves me and he wanted me to be faithful.
I may not see clearly his plan, and maybe in the future he will give me other trials; but never without the grace to handle it. I have found a new peace.
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