Patients and Patience

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Patients and Patience

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I spent the majority of 2019 in Afghanistan. As far as deployments go, it was as busy as it was rewarding. I spent my days providing medical care to the local Afghans which included the handling of war wounds, managing chronic diseases, or treating any number of the infectious diseases that are endemic to the Middle East. My day-to-day activities had me in regular contact with sick people, and it was my responsibility to help them. Later in the year, a sickness began to go around. Across the country service members and civilians alike were coming down with what was presumed to be the flu. With consistently negative tests, however, medical professionals began looking to other causes for the wide range of symptoms people were suffering from. When I got sick, I lost my voice for a month and could barely walk out of my room without losing my breath and so I resolved to spending my time lying in bed and watching movies.
When I returned home from Afghanistan in early 2020, I still wasn’t quite recovered. Unfortunately, my homecoming was not an elaborate affair as my wife and children were waiting for me in Texas where they had spent my deployment near family. The plan was for me to visit until it was time for me to move down there as well. I still suffered from shortness of breath and one day, shortly after returning, I nearly passed out on a light jog, and I knew something was wrong. I was scheduled to visit my wife and kids in the coming weeks, excited to see them after my deployment, but my unknown sickness had other plans in mind.
At this point in the year, COVID was in its infancy, there hadn’t been any lockdowns or travel restrictions, only the lingering concern that this new disease could become a problem. So, naturally, when I went in to see the doctors for my persistent symptoms, it was an easy assumption that I had caught COVID early while in Afghanistan in the months prior. While investigating the cause of my ongoing issues, they found a nodule in my lungs. Apparently, my weakened immune system and constant contact with severely sick patients had resulted in me contracting tuberculosis. I was now a high-risk patient. The ironic thing is that my newly diagnosed condition was contagious, and not being near my family prevented me from spreading it to my wife or kids. So much for visiting family after my deployment.
Over the next few months, I was treated with heavy duty antibiotics that left me puking in the mornings and unable to leave my house, which became easier and easier as COVID gripped the world. Flights were canceled and lockdowns were enforced while I facetimed my family 1,500 miles away. After my treatment was complete, I eagerly drove home on empty roads to see my family for the first time since I had left the year prior. I would intermittently make the drive a few more times before I made the official move down later that year.
Three years later, I still remember, as I’m sure we all do, the frustrations that were ever-present at the height of the pandemic. I remember my own frustrations at the difficulty of traveling down to see my kids, something that hadn’t been part of our well laid plans before my deployment. I remember having to explain to three young children why I couldn’t come home and helping my wife explain why they could no longer go to the park, to school, or hang out with their friends. In the end, however, I am grateful. I am grateful because I am able to teach them, through their own personal experiences, that we are all in this together. When they express annoyance at ongoing COVID policies, which cost them personal convenience, I can recount to them the sacrifices they made in order to keep us all safe from my sickness as well as COVID. They have learned that being patient and considerate is as much for everyone’s else’s sake as much as their own and it’s a lesson that has translated across their lives today.

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This item was submitted on February 2, 2023 by [anonymous user] using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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