Life Lessons from Our Brush with COVID-19

My mother finally got to come home after almost a month of hospitalization. Their household is now COVID-free with everybody having already tested negative. The virus may be gone, but the havoc it wreaked still lingers. My father is now physically gone from us, and Mom has a long road to full recovery yet.

Less tangible than the physical effects of the sickness is the trauma of going through that nightmare. I’m not going to detail what trials and hardships we bore because, at the end of the day, we were more fortunate than others. Dad and Mom were both admitted in hospitals whereas multitudes expired while waiting to be seen at the ER, any ER.

My heart just aches for what’s happening in our country right now and for those who are in the thick of suffering through it. The mental and emotional anguish I feel is so immense that I can’t even get political about it. Last year, I was always ready with a rant to express my displeasure at the poor response of the government to the pandemic, but now I just don’t have the heart for it.

That doesn’t mean that my mind hasn’t been constantly grinding. It has been working overtime even if I hadn’t been voicing my thoughts out. Some of them are futile anyway – unprofitable what-ifs, pointless bargains, and other useless musings. In my grief-clouded brain, however, I still managed to glean realizations that helped me understand life better and appreciate the important lessons that this painful season of my life is teaching me. Here are some of them.

Important Lessons from COVID

1. It can happen to you, so make sure your soul is at the ready with peace like a river, joy like a fountain, etc.

Nobody is spared from bad things happening to them – cancer, accidents, and now COVID. Whatever happened to God’s protection, right? I used to take it personally when something unfortunate happened in my life, never fully acknowledging the thought, but still knowing in the back of my mind that I was feeling like God didn’t love or like me enough to spare me from one form of misery or another.

I’ve been taught all my life that being a Christian doesn’t spare one from suffering, that the difference was in the way God makes peace, comfort, hope, and even joy possible in the direst of circumstances, but, see, I didn’t really want spiritual fitness; what I wanted was to have a charmed life. I was in for a rude awakening because nobody is immune from adversity.

I may not have been very welcoming of this teaching, but when the rubber hit the road, it was one that I clung to. When the greatest tribulation we’ve ever faced as a family was unleashed upon us, the pain was so great, the details so plentiful, the challenges so overwhelming that I had no choice but to retreat to God for refuge to avail myself of the peace that passes understanding (Side note: As a kid listening to Kid’s Praise, I thought the song said “I’ve got the pizza pasta understanding down in my heart.”).

So, the takeaway is that we will all face affliction, and we will have to deal with all the unpleasant emotions and disquieting thoughts it comes with. That’s why it’s best to have God to turn to for our hiding place. (Side note: Remember that song? I loved singing it when I was a kid because we sang it as a round song. Did you too?)

And during trying times, let’s trouble ourselves to observe keenly that God is using them to grow us in our knowledge of Him and to make them work together with everything else in our lives for our good.

2. Never take anything other than God’s goodness and faithfulness for granted.

Our tendency is to make assumptions, educated and otherwise, but you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a downfall when you take anything as granted. They say that change is the only constant in this world, but we can count on God to be unchanging. His goodness and faithfulness are more reliable than the constancy of change.

In any case, everything in this world is temporal, even those things that they say last forever. Our time here is fleeting. In the post-Eden world, nothing endures, and, yet, we behave as though reality as we know it is indestructible.

Hearing my dad’s recorded sermons from last year’s ECQ made me realize that I took it for granted that I would always be hearing his words. They’re so familiar and ever-present to me that I didn’t always properly appreciate them. I’d heard them my whole life and I assumed that I would be hearing them throughout my days.

I used to be amused by Daddy’s standard lines like “That’s the world” (he obviously had a very poor opinion of the world) or “I’ll always choose Jesus” (he loved Jesus the best and nobody, not even his family, could persuade him to compromise his adherence to God’s principles). He uttered them ad infinitum and I must shamefully confess to having mildly made fun of them, but I experienced such profound sadness to realize that I wouldn’t be hearing them again from him. I was foolish to take the presence of Dad and his sermons in my life for granted.

My daughter Marguerite has a similar regret. She has a propensity for asking deep, existential questions at bedtime. Since my intelligence steadily declines from 9pm onwards, I find that I’m rarely equal to these discussions. I urged her to talk to Grampa about it, and she said she would, but when Grampa asked her what her questions were, she was so busy with all the things that occupied her attention during the daytime that she said she didn’t have any at that moment. Marguerite sadly took that opportunity for granted. She thought she had all the time in the world to ask her questions.

It’s also never wise to make assumptions because even the most logical ones can have the rug pulled out from under them. For instance, we assumed that Mom would get the Philhealth benefits for critical pneumonia since her pneumonia was undoubtedly critical. However, I was absolutely floored to learn that her pneumonia was only classified as severe. Her lungs had lost 80% of their function when she was brought to the ER. Her O2 level was at 70%. She was gray and her lips were turning blue. She had to undergo four rounds of hemoperfusion and stay at the ICU for almost a month. She was dying, and her case couldn’t be classified as critical? Unfortunately, the doctor said that his hands were tied. Philhealth had issued very specific guidelines on classification. If the patient hadn’t undergone renal replacement therapy or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, then she couldn’t be given a critical classification. That’s hogwash!

We were furious but too exhausted to make a fuss. At any rate, a world system may have failed us, but God, of course, could be counted on to be our ever present help in time of need. Despite the more than Php400k difference between our expected bill and the actual bill, God made sure that we had sufficient funds to settle Mom’s bill.

Universal truths, ancient standards, natural laws… they can all go berserk and bail on you, but you can always depend on God to be steadfast and unchanging in who He is.

3. It’s good to have advance directives in place.

Here’s a very practical lesson. It’s a good idea to determine now if you want to be resuscitated, intubated, or even hospitalized on the occasion that you fall critically ill. My dad signed a “do not intubate” order. The doctor assured me that he was lucid when he made the choice, but since he had been having hypoxic (brain was not getting enough oxygen) episodes, I couldn’t be sure that he had made that decision rationally.

I’ve accepted that God had set that time for Dad to go home to heaven, but I’m afraid that, at the time, I had to do everything in my power to ensure that Dad would be given every chance to survive, so I made my case that he hadn’t been himself since he got sick and tried to override his DNI order.

In the end, it was too late. By the time I got to the hospital and suited up in PPE, Dad had lost a pulse and they were already trying to resuscitate him. I was able to revoke the DNI order, but it was all just too late. Since it was a legal matter and the question of ethics figured into the whole thing, it took some time before my request was granted.

At least I was able to be there in Dad’s last moments. Standing right outside the door trying to stay out of the nurses and doctors’ way, I repeatedly called out to him that I was there and that I loved him. This study says that patients already in an unresponsive state may still be able to hear, and I certainly wish it’s true. COVID deaths are often lonely, but I managed to be present at his end of life, and I was allowed to say my goodbyes and thanks. I just hope that Dad was aware of it.

God’s control will always prevail, but it’s important to have these directives in place so that medical professionals and family members can be certain of carrying out the patient’s wishes. Loved ones will be able to avoid arguments as well as the agonizing burden of making such crucial choices.

4. Community is vital.

I’m not the warmest or friendliest person out there. I’m ridiculously introverted and often prefer my own company, but I like to think that the connections I’ve made are meaningful and lasting. My parents, on the other hand, are well-loved by many, and, by default, this sentiment is also extended to me. The gift of belonging to such a caring community has been made apparent to me in the past month.

Our close relatives have, of course, been very helpful, supportive, and generous. We have been blessed by aunts, uncles, and cousins of faith, who have been our rock to lean on during this incredibly difficult time.

Our church has been extremely wonderful as well. More than ever, I truly appreciate that we’re a smaller and more intimate gathering of believers. We have a personal connection with every member, and the sense of family is incredibly strong.

Our congregation has been consistent in their prayer and in their active help. When we said that we were bringing, first, Dad, and then, a few days later, Mom, to the hospital, several members were there along with me calling hospital ERs to find a place that would admit my parents, a seemingly impossible task at that time. When we said that Mom needed oxygen, they started calling different places to see where we could source it. They didn’t just give us numbers and told us to try calling possible places. They themselves made the calls to spare us the trouble.

When Mom and Dad were in the hospital; my sister and cousins were stuck home with symptoms of COVID as well; I was restricted by having to stay home with small children who were not allowed out, considering the suddenly much bigger threat of infection; and our two family members who could go out and take care of the multitude of details that needed to be dealt with were incredibly busy and exhausted, church friends constantly volunteered to run errands for us.

Additionally, our friends from different areas of our lives have been very generous and caring, sending everything from encouraging words and assurance of prayers to food and money. We really felt loved and cared for. Belonging to a kind and warmhearted community made a world of difference in our ordeal.

5. Until the war against COVID is over, don’t let your guard down.

What’s happening in the country right now is a result of many of us letting our guards down. I sense there’s another factor involved. The surge in infection is just too insane for all of it to be put down to people not being careful enough. Nonetheless, if people behaved as though the virus was still at large – which it definitely still is, festering and mutating like a villainous entity in a horror movie – perhaps the disease wouldn’t have been in the wild rampage it has been on in the past month or so.

In war, you do not relax your defenses as long as the threat is still out there. This is a good time to be overcautious. It may make you look uncool, as though you’re fear-mongering, but that uncool over-caution actually makes a lot of sense in this strange time and may very well be just the thing to save you.

If there’s anything the reality show Survivor taught us, it’s that you’ll fall spectacularly when you get cocky. The past weeks show us that we definitely shouldn’t get cocky with the coronavirus.

6. Jesus is your omnipresent friend.

Encounters with COVID-19 are suffused with loneliness. Can you appreciate how vile this virus is? Not only can it ravage your body, but it can also separate you from the loving warmth of your family, leaving you more vulnerable to its ill effects.

When my dad was admitted, the hospital said that COVID patients may have a companion, but the companion would have to be in isolation with the patient. Without a companion, a CCTV would be installed in Dad’s room so he could be better monitored. Considering our situation, we had no choice but to leave him companionless.

Dad didn’t like cell phones so he didn’t have one, but his room had a landline so we could talk to him. During our calls, he never expressed that he was lonely. He said that he was bored, and even though he had a TV in his room, he preferred to work, so he asked for his laptop. Mark brought it to the hospital, but I don’t think Dad got to use it. I wished that he had a companion, but, based on his behavior, Dad hadn’t felt alone. Even as he suffered from pneumonia, he remained calm. That’s the thing about him; he was always aware of God’s presence and always mindful of God’s control over any situation.

My mom, who had such a long and traumatic stay at the ICU, also says that it was God’s presence that comforted her and sustained her during that harrowing time. Meanwhile, my sister, who was alone and self-isolating at home, had to grieve all by herself while also sick with COVID symptoms. It was definitely a blessing that she could draw strength, courage, and peace from God.

Through all this, it has been made even clearer to us how wonderful it is to have faith and to enjoy the privileges of having a relationship with Jesus. We may not be able to dodge heartaches and hardships while we’re in this imperfect world, but having Jesus in our lives means that we have a perfect, ever-present friend at anytime and anywhere.

Your Own Thoughts?

I’m sure other realizations will occur to me as I continue to ruminate, but for now, these are what I’ve gathered and wanted to share with you. What about you? What has this pandemic taught you? I certainly hope that the lesson hasn’t been painful for you, and that you and your loved ones are all well.

Whatever you learned in the past year, I’d like the chance to ponder on them, so please feel free to share any relevant food for thought in the comments. Take care and stay safe! God bless!

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