Editor’s Note: We are publishing personal essays from CNN’s global staff as they live and cover the story of Covid-19. Brooke Baldwin anchors the 2-4p.m. edition of CNN Newsroom. Based in New York, she was recently diagnosed with coronavirus.
It took a full two-week beating on my body. I went to some very dark places, especially at night. Evenings would bring on an eerie melancholy, which was particularly odd for me – a glass-half-full/chemically blessed kind of gal.
But under the influence of coronavirus, as each day came to a close, I would often cry, unable to stave off the sense of dread and isolation I felt about what was to come.
I was fighting constant body aches. In the evenings, I started a habit of climbing into the bathtub for 45 to 60 minutes just to try to use the hot water to distract my skin from the all-encompassing ache that would begin in my lower extremities – the kind of ache that only two extra-strength Tylenol could eventually dull. Looking back, my sense of time feels warped and inexact. Some days crawled by tortuously slowly, while others disappeared unaccounted for in my memory, lost in the wash of emotion, sleep, and illness.
But what preceded this haze is still crystal clear in my memory. I remember how I felt when the pandemic was first taking hold of our country and my beloved adopted hometown of New York City. I had a job to do. As a journalist, my focus and sense of purpose are galvanized during times of duress. I felt a deep responsibility to tell the stories of this pandemic, to connect our CNN audience with the facts they needed, to show them the human faces enduring this crisis right along with them.
In the few days before I got sick, I interviewed former Vice President Joe Biden, who talked about the urgency of flattening the curve. I interviewed a woman named Michelle Bennett who had just said her last goodbyes via FaceTime to her Covid-stricken mother. And I spoke with a nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, Emily Fawcett, who told me about the ways she and other nurses were buoying each others’ spirits between grueling shifts helping patients fight the virus.
Even in my off hours, I started a series on my Instagram account (“Who’s in your Corona Crew”,) recognizing immediately that a crisis like this required me to shine a light on our interdependence and connection with one another.
And then, I got sick and lost my ability to do my job. I was too sick to even continue the Instagram series from my bedroom. I was suddenly cut off from my purpose, and even isolated from my own husband, left to experience the virus firsthand all by myself. Like so many others.
My husband and I began sleeping in separate bedrooms and using separate bathrooms. He did his best to bring me soup, toast and tea, without making too much contact. The food didn’t matter much to me because I couldn’t taste or smell anything anyway.
I can remember the day before I lost my ability to taste or smell. I kept smelling the acrid ammonia-like odor of jewelry cleaner. Except there wasn’t any jewelry cleaner in sight.
By the next morning – wham – I couldn’t taste the salted butter on my toast, and couldn’t catch a whiff of the peppermint in my tea. Along with my appetite, my energy was also zapped. I slept easily 10-12 hours at night, waking many mornings soaking wet having sweat through the sheets. A golf-ball sized gland swelling under my jaw became the daily sign that my body was fighting.
Over two weeks, the fever, chills, and aches would sometimes leave just long enough to fool me into thinking I was finally recovering. Then they would revisit me with a vengeance. I never knew when it would end. It was relentless, scary, and lonely.
On the darker days, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. After days of trying to stay physically apart from my husband, it just became impossible. He hated to see me suffer and he couldn’t not take care of me. He began to hold me in those darker moments and let me cry, whispering: “Everything’s going to be all right.”
These simple acts of connecting with me and hugging me were restorative beyond measure. The isolation might be worse than the body aches. I am endlessly grateful that I have a selfless husband who is also lucky enough to have remained well while I was ailing. Get him one of those antibody tests because so far > the man has yet to get sick.
Today, I truly consider myself one of the lucky ones. My version of coronavirus did not take suffocating hold of my lungs the way it has with thousands of other patients, sending many of them to the ER. I never struggled to breathe. Even though my body constantly gave me the middle finger, my lungs did not. I know hospitals are overwhelmed with patients – and nurses and doctors have been working tirelessly doing hero’s work. I am glad I did not add to their stress.
And most of all I am grateful for the reminders this virus provided: First, that clarity comes from being quiet and listening to our feelings. And second, that connection is more vital to our health and happiness than we might care to admit.
In our normal lives, we’re faced with a barrage of distractions – events on a calendar, expectations of ourselves. But during this time of Covid-induced isolation – whether you’re sick or just socially distancing in your home – we’ve been forced to sit still sans distraction. The clarity this can bring is more illuminating than anything I could have uncovered in my normally busy, “full” life.
When I was sick and my body came to a screeching halt, I stopped doing and started really feeling. I found myself thinking about joy (“Why don’t I go to the beach way more often?!”); about my work (“I really would like to create a TV series helping empower women”); about my mother (“Mom, go get on that treadmill that has been collecting dust in your basement! I need you around a lot longer.” And dammit, she finally did); and about the beautiful interdependence of my marriage (“See how good it feels to let him take care of you – let him do this more. You don’t always have to be so damn independent and self-reliant.”). In the quiet of my quarantine, I was able to more purely isolate my gratitude and my values.
And one of those values is connection. Not just with my husband, but with my community, my friends, and extended family. I heard from thousands of you. Everyone from my parents, brother, aunts, current journalism colleagues, CNN boss, former boyfriends, old coworkers from every job I’ve ever had, my dentist, friends I haven’t spoken with since college and yes, even DJ Jazzy Jeff (who’d survived a nasty dose of Covid-19 and messaged me: “So all the prayers that people sent out for me, I’m sending all your way.”)
And this doesn’t even begin to include all the thousands of Instagram comments and DMs – mostly from people who have never even met me but who cared enough to selflessly send well wishes, love and prayers. Here’s the truth, at first, I didn’t feel worthy of all this attention and love. I’m a journalist. My resting state is giving someone else attention – not actually receiving it. It felt… vulnerable.
But as I re-read a favorite Brené Brown book from my sick bed one day, I came upon this gem: “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
And I realized that sharing my own vulnerability with others online and receiving positive energy and well-wishes back brings me the gift of connection. I quickly discovered how grateful I was to all of these people showing me love. It didn’t take long for me to learn to lean in and receive it. In my darker moments, I would log on to Instagram just to be lifted up by love.
It was overwhelming in a way I have never felt in my life. And it showed me how – even when the world stops and takes a collective breath – we’re all capable of showing up for one another. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
So, yeah … eff Covid. But also … thank you? I wouldn’t wish this virus upon anyone, but I hope as my smell and taste and some sense of normalcy start to return, that I will also hold onto the clarity and connection I found while I was so damn sick.