It's a Thursday and I'm sitting in my home office. Since the onset of COVID-19, I've spent many days in this small space doing work that lets me stay safe at home. The flexibility afforded to me by my workplace, a Veteran's Administration (VA) hospital, which allows me to do odd jobs at home due to my cystic fibrosis has been a blessing. Living with cystic fibrosis may put me at a greater risk for adverse complications from COVID-19. Going to work during a pandemic was not an option.
My accommodations are coming to an end, though, despite letters from my CF doctor detailing the risks that COVID-19 poses to me. I've been given a date I'm needed back at work. It's been a struggle these past weeks, deciding between returning to the VA or to remain at home. Either way I go it won't be an easy road ahead. I've finished an email to my employer and I'm nauseated just thinking about hitting the send button.
I always knew I wanted a career where I was hands-on helping people. For the past 16 years, I've been in the nursing field, initially as a nurse and then as an acute care nurse practitioner (NP) for the past six years. I've seen people on their worst days, celebrated with patients taking their first steps after a stroke, held the hands of people passing on from this life so they wouldn't die alone, and worked tirelessly to save critically ill patients. To say it's been fulfilling would be an understatement.
Recently, I made a move to a new hospital and started working with veterans -- I loved it! I felt like I had finally found what my career had been missing. I truly envisioned myself staying there for the rest of my career to serve that population. Then COVID-19 happened.
Endless questions were running through my head during the weeks I grappled with the decision to return to work or stay safe at home. What if I contracted COVID-19, only had mild symptoms and it turned out to not be a big deal? What if I went back to work and didn't even become infected with the virus? Was I just being overly dramatic about all of this? Even though this is my dream job, is a paycheck worth risking my health over? I sat down and made a list of reasons to return to work versus stay home. I was desperate for anything that might help guide me in the right direction.
COVID-19 has the real possibility of wiping out everything I have worked so hard for throughout my life. How many hours have I spent on vest and breathing treatments, running, attending doctor appointments, or staying active even when it was the last thing I felt like doing? Even though CF is a progressive disease and ultimately out of my control, the aspects I can take control of, I do.
Most of you reading this know all the behind-the-scenes work that living with CF requires. I've fought hard to be where I am today -- with my health as well as my career.
During my struggle, my support system was there every step of the way. I've got to say, I have an amazing support system surrounding me -- my wonderful husband John, my mom and brother, friends so close they are practically family, and a supportive CF care team. All of them listened to me talk this through. More importantly, they all gave me the space to come to my own decision. I hadn't realized how important that small detail was until afterwards. At the time, the only thing I wanted was for someone to tell me the correct thing to do. Now looking back, I know how crucial it was that I made the decision for myself.
I sent the email. I lost a job I loved and that provided income and health insurance. I'm filing for unemployment and looking for work I can do remotely. I'm applying to organizations for assistance with (astronomical) COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which enables the continuation of health benefits) payments. But at the end of the day, I still have my health and I'm so thankful for that.
Many of you in the CF community are facing similar situations or worse. My story definitely doesn't stand alone. You don't know how much I wish that wasn't true. It's been a challenge to say the very least, as some of you likely know from first-hand experience.
This is why it is incredibly important that paid family and medical leave be expanded for those with underlying conditions, like CF, during this pandemic. With expanded paid leave, I may not have had to make this decision.
I'm looking toward the future now. I'm looking forward to the day when I can go on adventures with my husband, meet my friends for tacos, and travel to Kansas to see my family again. There have been good days and bad days the past weeks since losing my job, but not once have I regretted the decision I made. But I didn't have to make this decision, and with expanded paid leave, many others in the CF community wouldn't have to choose between their health and their paycheck.
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