A New Year to Forget
Many of us have already lived or witnessed the dilemma a positive covid diagnosis creates for the unfortunate few, but it goes beyond that. The perplexities continue for a first person contact or contact of a contact. A hotel stay may precede the choices to stay with another close friend or family member for ten days, until the final negative test.
Memories jarred for me recently. It is a lonely feeling to deal with an unknown disease personally and responsibly toward others when even the medical world does not fully grasp what it is...exactly.
Mine was not the Covid crisis of 2020… it was the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Before medicine therapy had been discovered to stop the HIV virus from burrowing into AIDS—HIV had one certain outcome at the time—a death sentence.
A New Year to Forget
I don’t remember too much about that eventful night shift in our inner-city Medical Center. Assigned as a float to a medical unit, the nurse who gave me report complained the gift her boyfriend gave her for Christmas fell short, and she planned to break-up. I hoped this year, I might meet someone special, but first I had to tunnel through the midnight hour and New Year, 1990.
I folded my notes and stuffed them into my accessory bag, where I carried extra Kerlix, alcohol wipes, scissors, hemostats, and extra pens—worth a million dollars on any shift in those days—the era of charts, notes, and clipboards.
Around 2am, I tiptoed into one of my patients’ rooms to hang an IV antibiotic. A single mom with children, she had a bad infection, probably from street habits and easily aggravated. “Karina, I have a medicine to give….” She lightly stirred, so I walked to the overhead sink and switched on the light. I worked with her IV, a needle and medicine. She jerked. The needle scraped my finger. Blood spurted out, and I rushed to the faucet to run water over my digit squeezing the blood to the top of my finger. I can’t believe I did this. Fear crawled into the back of my brain. What if she has HIV?
I hurried down the hall to the ward secretary. She took one look at me and concern crossed her face. “What’s wrong?”
“I pricked myself with a needle in the four-bed room. I didn’t want to wake up the patient so I turned on the sink light and—“
“You calm down.” The large woman with the large faith spoke. “Perfect love casts out fear. The Lord’s got this.” Relieved by her confidence and the Scripture, my panic calmed. “But now I need to get a bloodwork panel because whatever is in her blood can infect me. Whatever she’s been exposed to, I can be exposed to.”
“Here, take this paperwork and tell her to sign it so you can get the blood drawn before the shift ends.”
Dreading the encounter, I headed back down the corridor. “Karina?” I whispered near her ear…
“So sorry to wake you, but I need your permission for some added morning lab tests including HIV. I accidentally stuck myself on a needle I used with your IV.”
“What?” She was silent a moment and looked into my eyes, lids half closed. “That was stupid… nope. Nah. That’s your problem.”
Suddenly, tears felt like they were hiding in my throat. She’s right. How could I have made such a poor decision? It doesn’t pay to try to be nice over reasonable. My eyes twitched. I turned around deflated and stumbled back down the hall to the unit service assistant, my angel. “She said no.”
“Her mother and I go to the same church and we’ve been praying for Karina for a long time. Don’t you worry. I’ll speak to her—you’ll get your lab work.”
Stunned, I whispered a prayer of thanks to God—and added another when she trotted back with the signed copies.
A few days later, the tests returned. In addition to Hepatitis B, (which I had been vaccinated for) Karina tested positive for HIV and was placed on blood and body precautions. My risk was low, but I had to be cleared of HIV through Employee Health, which would require bloodwork every three months—until a year out. Alarmed, I hoped I could exit the window period free of disease.
My immigrant Grandmother repeatedly stated, “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, one day at a time.” I battled to dock my thoughts at the harbor of today. I had seen so much. Since 1981 HIV and Aids had burdened health care. Those years HIV research and clinical trials had brought some relief, but hopes hovered between life and death, should HIV morph to Aids. No one could stop it.
As a career hospital float nurse, I had worked on the designated end-stage Aids floor and prayed with patients, many younger than I. In the Aids clinic, I had listened to betrayed spouses share the bitter findings and consequences of unfaithful partners. Visited patients on hospice in their homes, and one entire family, Dad, Mom, and children, all with the diagnosis confined in their apartment.
In the hospital, I met hemophiliacs embattled in lawsuits who had evidence their transmission could have been prevented if the plasma they received to keep from bleeding had been heated degrees higher—but at a higher cost to the pharmaceutical company. We lost a huge percentage of our hemophiliac population to Aids during those years—also blood transfusion patients following replacement for traumas as motor vehicle accidents or even surgeries.
The very real hidden threat lingered through our hospitals, ORs and clinics, those years. We worked with an unknown predator, an invisible virus, exposed to the human eye only under a microscope who slowly digested it’s prey, leaving only skin and bones at the end of it’s ravage. This was not the Covid crisis of 2020… it was the AIDs crisis of the 1980’s. Before medicine therapy had been discovered to stop the HIV virus from burrowing into AIDS—HIV had one certain outcome at the time—a death sentence
I coped by attending a small Bible study of solid believers who prayed for me every week. I tried not to talk about it with those in my circle of friends, and did not tell my parents. Why worry them?
At the time, I had four roommates. One expressed her dismay to me. “Why should I put myself at risk? I don’t want to share the bathroom.” She was right. I hadn’t prepared myself for her response. Nor was I ready when I noted a few people who unconsciously stepped back—once I confided I was being cleared for HIV. I didn’t blame them—I learned to be discreet about discussing the situation.
One young couple I had worked with in Young Life, where I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior in high school, wanted to set me up with a great guy friend of theirs—my age and searching. My excitement waned when I weighed my present circumstances. What if I have it? Minor chance, but what if… I did not want to take anyone with me on this journey.
So, I answered, “No, I am not in a place for a relationship right now.” A good single answer, but a sad one as I desired greatly to marry and have a family. Not a few times, I looked in the paper at the advertised “HIV Dances.” Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Worst-case scenario—I’ll go to the ball.
One evening, I attended a midweek Bible
study. The Lord met me in a most intimate way.
The pastor read from Matthew 8:1 when Jesus came down from a mountain and great crowds followed him, including a leper. “Lord if you will you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Leprosy was an unclean disease and people traditionally stayed far away from lepers, like across the street at the closest. It was more like across town and hidden in their own designated areas.
But Jesus touched the leper. I feel like a leper, Lord. I’ve known these stories all my life, but now this one is ringing in my soul. Thank you for healing people and loving the unlovely.
I felt a deep connection to Jesus that night. Whatever would happen, I knew I would be okay, because He would always be with me. As a hospital nurse, I was aware we cannot control many things that happen to us this side of heaven. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and unjust. We have only to trust Him that whatever happens, He is with us.
From the very beginning, God’s grace had been with me, that first night. It would be there for the young resident, who exited surgery, eyes large. "I was exposed to blood and have to be ruled out now...and I have a wife and two toddlers." The Lord gave me words and prayers and there would be more for many along the way...who endured the clearing year. Ancillary staff as housekeepers cleaning rooms and enduring a sudden prick from needles incorrectly disposed of in garbage cans. Stuff happens. One more clearing year would be accounted on my future ledger.
Literally. I had felt the fear flee from my mind, by the presence of a person I'd never met that first night. Along the way, others offered the light of His peace through prayers whenever my anxieties began to loom in the gloom—another light. Another word, another comfort before I exited that tunnel a little different than I entered, knowing He never leaves us alone in the darkest of trials. He helps us carry the heaviest of crosses we bear...as someone helped Him. Follow Him? Where else can we go?
He knows. He exchanged His innocent blood, for our sinful stained blood, to purify us, so we could live free of fear and death—our hope lies beyond this world. In a prepared place where there is no more disease, or sorrow, or death. He has prepared a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb… for all His bride. And that is a dance I don’t want to miss.
God bless those who are working in this mire and mud. I pray they know the Lord's great love and strength.
Psalm 40:2 He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay.