At this point, we all know someone who’s battled with COVID-19, if not died from it. Probably more folks in our social circles have the virus than we’re aware of, because some keep it secret, even feeling ashamed they have it. I think secrecy compounds suffering. Shining a light can reduce it.
Like most suffering in our culture, COVID-19 lands unequally on people of color. I hate the fact that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to die from COVID-19. It’s facts like these that are sending me to the surgery table December 16th to share my extra kidney. It’s a relief to have something concrete to do about how flipping mad I get about our country’s systemic racism.
Back to what you’re expecting to read. I’ll note here that Gloria told me to go ahead and write this post. (I would only write about someone’s health issues with their explicit permission.)
Early this month Gloria called me. I noticed right away her voice was lower and huskier than usual. “I’ve got COVID,” she said. Shock and grief stabbed my body.
“Oh, sweetie!” I said. We huddled together virtually, fighting our tears, giving in to them, choking out words here and there. I wished I could hold her. (Of course one of the worst things about Covid is our inability to do that.)
I learned that Gloria got tested in the course of screenings for her thrice-weekly dialysis. She doesn’t know how/where she contracted it. “It’s horrible this happened right after your mother died,” I said.
“I know!” Gloria’s 90 year old mother, who’d been on hospice, passed away four days before Gloria tested positive. “And I hate that our family can’t come together for a funeral, on account of my having COVID.”
I tried to get centered. Gloria needed more than my fear and worry. And it happens we’re both people of faith who believe in God.
“You’re going to beat this,” I said, in a different tone of voice than my earlier one. “You’re strong. You are going to get better, and then you’re going to get a new kidney.”
“Yes, I can beat this,” she agreed. “And then I’ll get a new kidney.”
In the next days, Gloria became “sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, for longer. Nausea, aching all over, it was like COVID wanted to get inside of me and hurt me. It was nothing like having the normal old flu.” She was able to get to dialysis, driven by someone else (death can come within days if kidney patients miss their dialysis.) Her cousin Lizzie took care of her. “I thought I might die. I prayed at the side of my bed. I knew things could go either way. God could take me home and I could be with my mother and father. Or I could stay here. I could feel God answering my prayers to stay here.”
Gloria was taken off the kidney recipient wait list as she battled with COVID, as are all kidney patients not strong enough to undergo surgery. It means that far more than 13 people die every day while on the wait-list for a kidney transplant, since ironically, you’re off the list if you’re too sick to receive your desperately neeeded kidney. Blacks suffer from kidney failure at a rate more than three times that of white people.
When I talked with Gloria a few days ago, she wasn’t just better, fever gone and feeling like herself again. She had also tested negative for COVID twice in a row. This means she is now back on the kidney recipient registry. The way our paired donation works is that my kidney transplant surgery (to a matched-to-me recipient somewhere) on December 16th will give her a voucher, which will let her receive her kidney from a different, matched-to-her donor, probably within 1 1/2 to three months of my surgery.
It bears repeating, as I wrote awhile back, that I am not a savior figure in this story I’m narratng. I’m an ordinary person with wounds, flaws and neediness. Gloria’s grit, loving cousin Lizzie and her relationship with God got her through her battle with COVID.
Hallelujah that Gloria beat COVID. Wish I could hug her.