An essay I’m considering video recording myself reading:
I am holding an urn with the ashes of one of my beautiful fur babies. He would have been 12 years old, along with his brother and sister, on December 21. He was a bit of an oaf of a dog: Large and clumsy, he always managed to bruise my toes when it was dinner time, with his funny little tap dance and silly song.
But this is not a tribute to my boy. This is a plea to put the health of others before your own convenience and comfort. This may seem disjointed and irrelevant, but please follow along, and all will be revealed.In 1988, I was madly in love with a local rock star that I’d known for a bit over a year. I was seventeen and believed that God wanted me to save myself for marriage. I was reasonably successful in school and planned to go to college. Dave, 21, at the time, wanted me to move in with him after I graduated high school.I told him that I couldn’t do that – it would set a bad example. He suggested that we get married so it would be ok. At seventeen, and in 1988, that was as romantic a proposal as I had come to expect.I had imagined waiting until after college to get married, but I was young and crazy in love and had never seen a successful relationship in my life, so what did I know?Dave and I had been together a year when he got his own apartment. Within a month or so, I was no longer a virgin. We didn’t use a condom, because…boys. But we took precautions to avoid pregnancy, and I trusted that certainly this man who loves me would protect me if he knew or even thought he might have something.Within a month or so, I began to have symptoms. I didn’t know what it was. Burning. Itching. Pain. My mom suggested it might be a yeast infection, but it would be several more months and a wedding before I learned that I had gotten Herpes Simplex 1, commonly referred to as “oral herpes,” and I had gotten it genitally from my husband, Dave, my very first lover.When I told him that I had herpes, he blamed a past partner. He told me that he knew he’d “had something, but what’s the big deal, right?”Well…In the years since Dave and I divorced (married for eight, together for ten), I have come close to death no less than three times because of that virus. The first was in 2000, when the scar tissue left behind by outbreaks caused my one and only pregnancy to be ectopic. It ruptured and I bled internally for several days before we caught it. I now have a scar from ovary to ovary because they had to search for the rupture, and no children of my own.The second time I almost died was in 2014. I had a tubo-ovarian abscess, part of the pelvic inflammatory disease family that is caused by STD. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed with the CVID, which I’ll discuss shortly, but when I first went to the ER on my doctor’s advice, the CT showed a mass on my ovary and a variety of enflamed lymph nodes. Their diagnosis was cancer.I incubated that abscess for six weeks, while doctors sorted out how they intended to treat it. That was six weeks of triple digit fevers, chills, aching, vomiting, and general misery.There came a day in which I woke with strep in addition to all those other symptoms. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to be alive anymore.The good news is that it wasn’t cancer. It was this episode that finally led to my diagnosis of CVID, which is Common Variable Immune Deficiency. CVID is a condition in which my body does not produce immunoglobulin G, which is responsible for creating antibodies to bacteria and viruses. I had been having chronic bronchitis and pneumonia for years. It had even cost me a job.No one knows what causes CVID, but there are those in the research community who believe that it can be triggered by traumatic bodily injury… like that ectopic pregnancy that I had that had required a blood transfusion. That ectopic pregnancy that was likely caused by scarring from that herpes virus that was No Big Deal.The treatments for CVID are varied, but most involve infusions of immunoglobulin G. I have to have them weekly. It takes me about three hours to administer them, myself. I jab four needles into my belly fat, connect myself to a pump and sit there for a couple of hours as other people’s blood plasma gets pumped into my body.The third time that I almost died, came upon moving to a state that refused to participate in the ACA subsidy. I went from paying $55/mo on the exchange for health insurance in California, to paying $600/mo on the exchange in North Carolina. It took several months for me to reestablish my infusions, because at that time, I was having to go into infusion clinics for IV infusions.I was preparing to go home for Christmas, my fist visit since I’d moved. On December 11, 2017, my now fiancé woke to find me in the throws of a grand mal seizure. He was told that I had encephalitis and that I’d suffered some strokes. He was told that I would likely not survive.I was in a coma for three weeks. I missed my visit home. I missed Christmas. My fiancé has been diagnosed with PTSD due to the event, but I have survived. My doctors say that I am a walking miracle.They should say, “a barely walking miracle.” The chronic lung infections have caused Interstitial Lung Disease. I require the use of a mobility scooter for anything involving walking or standing for extended periods. I used to travel the world. I’ve hiked all over this country and through Canada, Germany and Italy. I had planned to someday make my way to the British Isles, Japan, Mexico, Egypt and anywhere else I could get to.Now most housework will require a nap.Even worse than my reduced stamina is the brain damage caused by the strokes. I have to take seizure medication and sleep with oxygen to prevent more seizures. I have short term memory issues, and I experience confusion in stressful situations. It doesn’t even have to be bad stress. Tutoring my friend online in college algebra, a subject I taught for 17 years, was an adventure. I love algebra and I love my friend. She understands my issues, but it’s still quite humbling to have her correct my mistakes while I’m trying to teach her.And this brings me to these ashes.Due to my chronic health issues, my fiancé and I decided it would be better to live closer to family and friends since his job has become a work from home position. We left North Carolina on July 9 with my beautiful babies in my van, Opie, Chunk, and Despereaux. They were all from the same litter and tumbled into my life completely unexpectedly. Their mom had been rescued, and I was the lucky one to get to bring her home. None of us realized that she came with a bonus.Those three dogs were born into my hands. I have always felt that they were the Universe’s way of allowing me the experience of raising newborns. There had been seven puppies, but these three were the only survivors. I realized right away that I could not give them up.As we left NC, Opie, Chunk, and Despereaux were excited to get in the van and go bye-bye. Only Opie and Despereaux would make it to our new home.On the first morning after staying in a motel, I got up to take the dogs out to go potty and eat. My fiancé was sleeping a little late. After they all did their business, we headed back to the room. They were so excited to get into the van and go that I just went ahead and put them in. I’d be out in a moment and we could leave.When I got back into the room, I realized that Fiancé was still sleeping. I prodded him to get him moving. I communicated with the friends who’d flown to NC to help us drive back and I was gathering up my stuff.By the time we were ready to go, it was still morning, but it was July. I had no idea how long it had been. It seemed like only moments. When we opened the van, my worst fears were realized.I let my babies suffer in a hot, closed-up car because my brain was damaged. Pre-encephalitis Jenna would never have left them in a closed-up car for even a moment.The image of my precious babies panting, and gasping will haunt me forever. Chunk had seizures while I tried to get him to drink Pedialyte. He peed on me. I knew he was gone.I’m trying to make something positive of this whole experience. I hope to someday start a non-profit called “For the Love of Chunk” to help transport animals for people in need, help with vet expenses, etc.In the meantime, I can’t help but think that this is also a valuable and timely lesson for others. Dave, my ex-husband was asymptomatic. He assumed that since he had no symptoms, he could not transmit that virus to me. He was not a bad person. He genuinely loved me. And he made a choice to put his comfort ahead of my health and safety.Herpes rarely has the kinds of effects it has had on me. But they do happen. If I had died from any of those events I shared, cause-of-death would not have indicated herpes.So when you hear about Covid-19 having a 3 or 4% death rate, that number may seem low to you (though I fail to see how 160,000+ deaths since March is a low number). Keep in mind that we don’t know what other lasting issues it may cause. How many people will die from the aftereffects? What other suffering might it cause? We have no way of knowing.I may be no one to you, but I have become the adopted mama of a couple of young people who have found themselves in need of one. I’m an auntie, a sister, a daughter, and bride-to-be. I’m a teacher, though my classroom has changed shape. I am a mentor, and I am a writer with important stories to tell.I matter. I make a difference in this world. I did nothing to deserve the pain and anguish that the herpes virus has brought upon me and those who love me. I believe that if Dave were alive to know the effects his choice has had on me; he’d never forgive himself.All this heartache and suffering comes down to a single choice. He chose to think of his comfort. It’s ironic to me that in both the case of herpes and the case of Covid-19 the choice is the same: to wear protection or not.Dave could and should have worn a condom.You can and should wear a mask.It’s not just about you.