My Personal COVID-19 Experience

In the beginning of March 2020, California Department of Corrections closed down all visiting, including Family Visiting, because of COVID-19. When CDCR shut down visiting it came as no surprise because the highly infectious world wide pandemic had already caused the closures of all schools, public venues, amusement parks, stores, dine-in restaurants, as well as cancelled concerts, public events and sports. Our Governor issued a stay at home order and we were only allowed to leave our homes for essential jobs, groceries, and doctor appointments. The death toll and the number of people who tested positive rose steadily without decline, our daily lives have changed so much that it’s barely recognizable and all the while we do not know what could happen further down the road.

The first time I heard about COVID-19 I wasn’t sure what to think. Some people were making light of it by posting memes online of a mask-clad Corona beer, afraid of the other groceries in the fridge. When I finally read the facts COVID-19 I was absolutely terrified, not for myself, but for my husband who lives in an overcrowded unsanitary prison without much control over his environment. I do not trust CDCR to adequately protect him. I didn’t ever consider that I may be the one to contract the virus. I wore a mask in the grocery store, washed my hands, and stayed at home except to go to work; all while feeling shell shocked and numb. I felt paralyzed by fear. We had no idea how long it would last or what would happen. The unknowns were the worst part for me. While others complained about missing loved ones they could easily Skype, text, call and leave groceries for; I had to survive on unreliable 15 minute phone calls with my husband. It was painful., to say the least.

My COVID-19 temperature

Then in early April, I got sick. I always forget about my asthma until it affects me. It started with terrible headaches that lasted for days, a runny nose and sore throat. Maybe just allergies I thought. Then came the shortness of breath, chest congestion, pressure and pain. It hit hard and fast. I called in sick to work and wasn’t able to go back for 4 weeks. I have never in my life taken 4 weeks off of work due to illness. I was alone in my apartment, battling the worst sickness I have ever had. It felt like a combination of the flu and pneumonia. It was a rollercoaster ride from hell. I was completely exhausted, most days I didn’t leave my bed. It was difficult to breathe, walking into another room was an effort. I was covered in sweat for days, feeling confused and dazed. I could not focus, I could barely care for myself. Taking my dog outside for a short walk so he could go potty was the biggest challenge for me. Just when I thought I was getting better, the symptoms would get worse again. I experienced symptoms that had not been made public knowledge yet, such as skin rashes, painful swollen lymph nodes and body aches. It was incredibly frustrating and the only thing I wanted was my husband there by my side. But he was hundreds of miles away stuck in a hell hole otherwise known as prison.

My post COVID-19 respiratory supplies

At one point it became so difficult and painful to breathe I honestly thought there was a possibility I would not make it. I had 2 inhalers I was taking twice daily and doing breathing exercises 3 times daily. I did steam treatments in the shower, practiced expanding my lungs and tried to get rid of whatever it was that was blocking my airways. My lungs felt like a dead heavy weight inside of me. My fever rose and I knew what I had was COVID-19, although I was denied testing because of a shortage in tests. I knew from reading articles online, the only people getting tested are front line workers and the dead. I also knew going to the hospital would likely be a one-way ticket to the morgue with only complete strangers to say goodbye. I don’t have health insurance, and I knew others without insurance had already been turned away already. So I made the choice to stay in the comfort of my own home my dog and cat. Sean and I left nothing unsaid on our phone calls, we both knew it was serious.

Luckily, I slowly recovered, it has been two steps forward then one step back. I saw the messages of hope others were spreading online, collaborations from thousands of people to share their talents with others for free. John Krazinski, who played the character Jim from my all-time favorite TV series ‘The Office‘, started a YouTube channel based on just that: spreading light in a time of extreme darkness. Friends and neighbors dropped off meals, groceries, and supplies. My aunts emailed uplifting music video links and wrote about their daily lives, which made me feel somewhat grounded during a very unusual time. I focused on what I could do and tried to forget about what I can’t do, even though there are still days when it feels impossible to continue. It makes my heart ache to see so much hate, fighting and division when we need to unite for one common goal: survival. It still feels surreal to survive something that is claiming the lives of so many others.

It is now late May 2020. I have not seen my husband since February 28, 2020. Today it has been 84 days since we were together. I miss him every single day, sometimes the feeling is unbearable. CDCR will probably not open visitng back up until at least August, if not longer, we do not have an official open date as of yet. They will wait until it is completely safe to do so, because opening prematurely could jeopardize the entire inmate population and although it is painful to wait, that is what we want. We will do whatever it takes for everyone’s safety. We both understand that sometimes we must endure some hardship for the cause of the greater good. The most important thing is the health and safety of the people; not money, convenience and luxury. But at the same time it feels akin to death. We are grieving the loss of the life we had before. The pain of what has been taken from both of us is so consuming I don’t know if it will ever heal.

My life has been completely changed. Right now I only work part time because my hours have been cut back due to COVID-19. I worry about money. Grocery shopping has gone from a normal chore to something that has to be planned out in advance with lists, masks and ample hand sanitizer. I don’t go very often but when I do it is stressful. I am still recovering and my lungs are still healing but I worry about getting the virus again. I still worry about my husband getting sick, he does not have any medical conditions but because of the prison I worry. I worry about the long term changes CODVID-19 will have on our daily lives, society and the prison. It already feels comparable to post-9/11. The world has forever been changed and hopefully we will never forget.

#terriblewritingclub

Empty Aisle in Target store, California, May 2020 Emelia O’Brien

Thank you to our supporters. We would love to know how you are doing during this time, feel free to leave a comment.

About Sean & Emelia

Sean O'Brien was wrongfully convicted in adult court in El Dorado County, California and sentenced to Life Without Parole at the age of 16 without a shred of physical evidence tying him to the crime for which he was convicted. Sean and I have been friends since grade school and we were married in 2017. We live and grow together in love with the knowledge of his innocence, our faith, and hope for our future. We embrace this journey, wherever it may take us, cherishing each moment we have together and staying true to our hearts. This blog is about the past we share, our life together and our fight for justice. Thank you for reading. God bless.
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