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Sara’s Diary: Day 14 without baseball

Reflecting on the hardest thing I ever did on purpose and COVID-19

A runner in the 2017 Chicago Marathon high fives a young spectator
Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It’s supposed to be Opening Day and I originally meant to focus this post on all the historic baseball games being shown on MLB Network and Marquee Sports Network today, but as I sat down to write this piece I found myself thinking about another sporting event instead.

In 2017 I ran the Chicago Marathon, it was my first (and to date only) marathon finish after more than a dozen half marathons. I knew I could do it, but I still wasn’t prepared. It was an unseasonably warm day in Chicago and while I held steady through the half marathon and mile 18, I started to wilt on the back end of the course with 8.2 miles to go. It was 80 degrees, I was in the middle of the longest run of my life and when I ran (who am I kidding, walk/jogged) into my friends in Chinatown they yelled out “Sara! You look great!” and I looked at them skeptically and said “I f#()*@* hate everything right now.”

I knew I would finish. I’d done the math at mile 15 and realized I could walk the rest of the course and finish under the time limit. I didn’t really plan on run/walking from mile 18 on, but circumstances and my first marathon collided. I walked a lot of those final miles, slightly disappointed but knowing I would finish.

Then my big toe nail fell off at mile 25.

I’m going to spare everyone the gory details because no one needs that energy today, but I’m just going to say it was a brutal, searing pain in my right foot. The one piece of equipment I absolutely needed to hold out for 1.2 more miles. I limped. I would have crawled across that finish line — but then I met José right as we were turning onto the final hill before Grant Park.

José saw I was struggling and told me to run across the finish line with him. I looked at him like he was crazy and considered telling him about my big toe, but then I decided it didn’t really matter. I’d come 26 miles and I had a chance to run the final .2 across the finish line. José was right, we had to do this.

So I ran across the finish line of my first marathon and then didn’t walk normally for weeks.

It is my single proudest accomplishment and the hardest thing I’ve ever done on purpose that I would attempt to do again. I wear this small necklace every day as a reminder that I can do big things. Hard things. Things that seem impossible:

26.2 necklace
Gone For A Run

I couldn’t stop thinking about that race last night as the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily broke me. It was just another night, after all. Day 13 of our new COVID-19 reality, and then a friend shared this piece from the New York Times on Twitter:

In several hours on Tuesday, Dr. Ashley Bray performed chest compressions at Elmhurst Hospital Center on a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a 38-year-old who reminded the doctor of her fiancé. All had tested positive for the coronavirus and had gone into cardiac arrest. All eventually died.

Elmhurst, a 545-bed public hospital in Queens, has begun transferring patients not suffering from coronavirus to other hospitals as it moves toward becoming dedicated entirely to the outbreak. Doctors and nurses have struggled to make do with a few dozen ventilators. Calls over a loudspeaker of “Team 700,” the code for when a patient is on the verge of death, come several times a shift. Some have died inside the emergency room while waiting for a bed.

A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside to hold the bodies of the dead. Over the past 24 hours, New York City’s public hospital system said in a statement, 13 people at Elmhurst had died.

“It’s apocalyptic,” said Dr. Bray, 27, a general medicine resident at the hospital.

It’s hard to grasp 13 people dying in 24 hours. It’s harder still to wrap my head around a refrigerated truck serving as a makeshift morgue at a hospital in New York City. I mean, honestly, just watch this doctor talk about what’s going on at Elmhurst:

This is straight out of a science fiction movie, it’s also just the tip of the iceberg. We are at the beginning of a months long slog that is going to test everything about our society, our resolve to one another, and the way we care about our friends.

To be honest, everything about this felt like too much.

In particular it felt like too much it in the context of the thousands of people in Chicago who can’t be bothered to stay six feet apart from each other if it’s a little bit warm outside. I personally started my run towards the Lakefront Trail and balked when I got close to the corner of Irving Park and saw so many people I knew I couldn’t social distance there. I ran a route through my neighborhood instead and sure enough the Chicago Police Department was breaking up the trail from Fullerton to Navy Pier within hours. As of this morning all of Chicago’s trails, parks and the Lakefront are closed.

Oh and then, there was this from a critical care doctor at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Tuesday’s New York Times:

I paused outside my patient’s room to watch her for a moment. She lay on the bed, tethered to a ventilator by the tracheostomy tube in her neck. Her husband sat in a small plastic chair beside her with his hand on her leg, smiling at some silly sitcom playing on the TV. I hesitated a beat. And then I entered.

I had to tell him. There was no way to soften the blow. The hospital is changing its rules, I said. No more visitors. When you leave today, you both need to say goodbye.

I watched their faces shift. My patient’s breathing quickened, and her ventilator alarm sounded. Her husband quickly moved his hand to her shoulder and her breaths slowed; the alarms silenced. He knew how to calm her. He had been there through all of it — hospitalizations for cystic fibrosis, the transplant, the bouts of rejection. When we took away her voice with the tracheostomy tube, he spoke for her.

But now, as we tighten our protocols to protect our patients from the threat of Covid-19, she’s alone. Here in my hospital, as in so many others throughout the country, we’ve banished most visitors. It’s a tough decision that leaves our patients to suffer through their illnesses in a medical version of solitary confinement. And I’m worried for them. Because those of us on the front lines simply don’t have a plan for this.

I have friends about to give birth who are preparing to do that without their husbands. I have friends with chronic illnesses who are terrified of needing medical attention at a time when going to the hospital is a solitary confinement sentence that increases their risk of catching COVID-19. And then I think of the thousands of COVID-19 patients who will be struggling to breath and to fight without enough medical equipment or their loved ones by their side.

I cannot get the image of people fighting for their lives alone out of my head. I cannot even imagine one of my family members or loved ones in that situation. Everyday the realities of living in a pandemic hit, and they are harder than anything I’ve ever considered doing.

Then I remember this isn’t mile 25 of the fight against the novel coronavirus- it’s more like mile two. While, I know society will get through this and I know people are remarkably resilient, for a few hours on Wednesday night it just broke me.

Please, I am begging everyone, do your part: Stay home and stay six feet apart. It may be the difference between someone surviving or dying alone.