The Scarlet C

My husband recently had Covid-19.  He’s fully vaccinated and he had a very mild illness.  I’m also fully vaccinated and I’ve had my booster as well.  We lived together the entire time.  I tested negative initially and I never developed a symptom. 

My normally very active husband stayed home in isolation for 10 days and then we went back to our lives. 

In my mind the whole thing was no big deal. That, my friends, is the power of our thinking.

What I learned as I told people about what was going on and, as I observed different reactions to this news, was that most people did not share my rather nonplussed reaction.

From my point of view, it sucked that we didn’t get to see my father-in-law who was scheduled to stay with us the day after my husband’s diagnosis, but we quickly remedied that by planning a trip to visit him at the end of January.

Since I knew that as a healthy and fully vaccinated person, my husband was unlikely to suffer from significant illness, I was relaxed and at ease.  I found much the same reaction from my friends who work in healthcare.  We’ve seen Covid every day.  We know what it looks like to be terrifyingly sick and we know what it looks like to not be very sick at all.  We know that people get infected even when they’re trying to do all the right things.  We know that the reason to get vaccinated isn’t to prevent getting infected 100% of the time, but to aid your body in fighting the virus if you do get infected.

The fight against Covid, however, has been driven by fear and shame. 

Initially there was the fear of the unknown.  We didn’t even know what we were up against. Then there was the fear over how to respond. If we took all the recommended precautions, we’d cripple our economy.  If we didn’t, people were going to die. 

The problem is that when we look at the actions we take from a place of fear, they’re rarely useful when it comes to solving the problem.  Fear leads to a fight or flight response.  We either run away and hide or we set our defensive positions in stone and ready ourselves for battle.

I see this response all around me.  I have friends who still don’t feel comfortable going out and engaging in social activity even after three vaccines.  I also see it in my friends who are convinced that their approach to Covid is the right one no matter what.  They’ve fortified their defenses and they’re ready to shoot first and ask questions later at anyone who disagrees.  This is as true for my friends who have followed every public health recommendation as it is for those who have not.

This fear only serves to further divide us and it leads to the second emotion I listed above: shame.

The first time I remember encountering shame in the context of infectious disease was in high school health class.  The prevailing belief amongst health instructors of the time was that, if they just struck enough terror into our hearts at the thought of contracting chlamydia, we wouldn’t have sex.  It didn’t work then.  It’s not working now, but we don’t seem to be giving that action up.

There were many veiled questions about what my husband must have done to get Covid. Most of the questioners weren’t really looking for an answer as much as a justification for what must have been his dereliction of duty. What did he do wrong?  Did he let his guard down on accident or was it his fault?

I don’t think we’ll ever actually know the answer to that question.  Why does it matter?

When will we recognize that no amount of shaming will ever convince another person to do something they don’t want to?  It hasn’t stopped teen sex and it won’t lead to a fully vaccinated, masked, and distanced society. 

I choose to believe that everyone is making the decisions that they believe are the best for themselves right now.  I’m responsible for mine. When I come from that place of ease and acceptance, I’m much more equipped to deal with life’s circumstances than when I come from fear and shame.

I’ve worked to make this mental shift in my own medical practice as well.  I can accept your choices even if they differ from my own.  If you’d like to learn more about how to do that, sign up for my free course How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift.  Then watch your email for more information about upcoming opportunities to work together.