Social Distancing and Immunity
This is not going to be another blog post about numbers and statistics and handwashing directions. There are plenty of those floating around right now, and you are all capable adults who know how to find the information you need.
This is going to be a story about a doula and why and how we all need to protect each other all year long, from the thousands of viruses we are all exposed to every day.
As a postpartum doula and a mother, I’m exposed to all kinds of fun bodily fluids, viruses and bacteria every day. It’s just part of the job. Birthing people, newborns, toddlers, and even teens have a LOT going on in their bodies, and my job is to support them in their daily routines. I’m a generally healthy person with no major health issues. All my labs come back from the doctor perfectly and to this day, at age 43, I have never been diagnosed with the flu.
That is not to say I have never been sick or had flu-like symptoms, but I do have a fairly regular routine I follow for keeping my immune system healthy and happy and it usually works as a great shield in all areas of my life.
This is a story about how I got sick enough to lose 2 weeks’ worth of work, the things I did right, the things I did wrong, and how and why policies at my agencies are in place and will be regimentally followed in the future. We all have lessons to learn and I hope that my lessons can help you in the future.
It all begins in the fall of 2019. I had been working primarily with one family during the day (a baby & a toddler) and had filled in on overnights on occasion as needed. This is fairly normal for my industry. It’s rare to work with only one family at a time, but I had been pretty lucky to do just that. A couple of times I worked with families where one or more people in the household were sick. I would wear a mask, sometimes gloves, wash my hands even more, and up my immune boosters at home. Once in a while I’d have a day where I knew I needed to rest to prevent catching something, but for the most part, I was very healthy.
This is me in October 2019, wearing a mask while working in a house with a sick toddler.
As things tend to do with contract work, and families in need of support, I suddenly found myself working with multiple clients during the day, overnight and providing birth support. Everything was fine.
We have a policy at our agency that we DO provide care for ill families, but it is up to the individual doula to make that choice for herself and her family and her clients. What is the risk? How do other clients feel about masks and gloves being used in their homes, and who might they come into contact with that may be exposed to other germs brought in?
Since I have been doing this work, it has never been an issue. I have always been one of the people to fill in, work with ill clients and make sure to keep up on all the things that keep me healthy. Because of my willingness to help out, a mistake was made. Somewhere along the line, some clients stopped asking me if it was ok to work while they were sick. Somewhere along the line assumptions were made that because I had done it before, I would do it again. I began to show up to shifts where people were sick and I had not been told. I reiterated my illness policy. Then I would get a call to let me know someone was sick after I was already on my way to a shift. Instead of saying no, I did it anyway. I reached out to other clients to let them know I was working with other ill clients and asked if working with a mask was ok. They said fine. Young families NEED and deserve support. It’s easy to see someone in a mask coming to help you out and just be grateful for the relief without thinking about all the other people behind the scenes that can be exposed.
I’ll stop right here to say that what happens next is impossible to pinpoint. There is no blame to be placed. This is a story of how it can happen to all of us, and how we should work to take care of each other.
I had a very busy work week. Over 70 hours of client work was on the calendar, not including doula interviews, family responsibilities and multiple trips to coffee shops for fuel needed to keep going. Lack of sleep and stress are both known to lower your immune system. Handwashing kills a lot of germs. Wearing a mask and gloves provides a barrier between you and others who are ill, but what about babies who randomly sneeze in your eyes while you’re burping them, or toddlers who grab your hand to lead you to play after wiping their nose, or the doula who had a baby sneeze on her right before playing with a toddler and then went to the coffee shop and paid with that $5 you are now receiving as change at the grocery store across town?
It’s impossible to completely protect ourselves and expect to never get sick. The last week of February I had one client interview, 4 overnight shifts, 2 day shifts and 2 doula interviews, and a personal appointment. My last shift was Friday night and I everyone was healthy, except for one person, who never even breathed on me. Sunday morning I went for a hike with my family. It was a beautiful day, and I was so excited to see the weather starting to change…..even though it snowed later that day without warning….it is Colorado after all. About 2 hours later I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I had been so busy I had been letting my vitamins and supplements slip, and BOOM I was down for the count. I canceled my next shift on Sunday night and spent most of Monday and Tuesday working from my bed, feeling like death, using every brain cell I had to cancel appointments, rearrange life, get my clients covered. Mostly it was a success.
I spent the entire week with cough drops in my mouth 24/7. My entire body hurt, I was coughing so much I could barely have conversations, and my throat hurt so bad I didn’t want to talk anyway. The doctors didn’t want me coming in. COVID was on the horizon, but there was no testing yet. Based on my symptoms they were pretty sure I had one of the more severe cold viruses going around and they basically told me my body had to fight it off and gave me some cough pearls so I could sleep.
Thursday my youngest son (15) got sick. Friday I felt good enough to get around a bit, even though the cough was still terrible. My husband and I had already planned a weekend at an Air B&B, and the owner was informed of my illness. We decided if I was going to be coughing all the time I might as well do it in a cute little house with my love and peace & quiet. We had a good weekend. Sunday I was scheduled for a shift, so Saturday I went into urgent care, got some more meds to help with the inflammation, and a note from the doctor saying I was no longer contagious. I was free to work with clients.