‘I was there.’ Reflections from One of Centre County’s First COVID-19 Patients

MARCH 28, 2021 07:00 AM

I thought I should tell my story. It was so early in the pandemic, and I was in the unenviable position of being the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Centre County. I’d been in New Orleans for a visit right when daily cases there went from zero to hundreds in less than a week, many in the neighborhood where I was staying.

I’m not sure how I was exposed. It could have been on the plane ride home — the guy next to me didn’t look well, and he ordered cocktails all the way to Chicago. I quarantined as soon as I arrived back in State College, and fortunately did not expose my family, but three days later I was acutely ill and would be for several more weeks before I began the frustratingly slow return to full strength which took many weeks after that.

Alone in my room, my family fretted over how to minister to me through a closed door while members of the church and other friends offered support and countless prayers for my well-being. Without much forethought, I posted on Facebook a picture of pill bottles, thermometer and cough drops (plus a copy of “The Plague” by Albert Camus) strewn across my nightstand along with a description of what I was experiencing. The post went viral and was viewed, shared or commented on thousands of times. Requests from journalists poured in, and though I was too sick to respond to most of them, I did give several interviews to local media.

While I was going through this odyssey, I was certainly aware that countless others were suffering pain and grave hardships that far surpassed my own while health care workers here and elsewhere were risking their own lives to care for those who were desperately ill.

Despite that, others were calling it all a big hoax, denying the reality of what I knew to be true. I wanted people to hear that the virus was real, and that it could strike fast and with no warning. That is why I knew I had to tell my story.

In the end, all we have is our story, and so we must tell it as fully and as truthfully as we possibly can. The need for such testimony is most urgent when truth is in crisis, and that certainly describes this moment in our nation’s life, afflicted as we have been by a crisis of reliability. The most potent witnesses are those who can say, “I was there. This is what I saw. This is what I heard. This is what I felt.” It’s not the utterance of opinion, but rather lived experience. It evokes a sense of empowerment for the one who testifies and offers the possibility of understanding, healing and hope for those who listen.

I spoke up, because I knew of an imminent danger many others were not fully aware of, but I also had a joy to share. That was my own experience of being loved and cared about, and the deepest gratitude I felt for the kind attention I received and the many prayers that saw me through my crisis. Indeed, when I was at the very worst point in the illness, completely collapsed and unable to move for a time, I knew also that I was safe and protected, held firmly in the arms of God’s grace.

I never want to experience again a moment such as that, but I hold onto it, and I testify to it. I know that if I let slip the memory of that distress and fail to speak of it, I will lose touch with the love that came with it and the joy that still shines through it. “I was there. That is what I saw and heard and felt.”

Dean Lindsey is the pastor of the State College Presbyterian Church and loves to bike through the mountains of Central PA. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

This was first printed in the Centre Daily Times on March 28, 2021.