When I first heard about the COVID-19 outbreak in China, I looked at Twitter and saw nurses and doctors struggling there. As an ER nurse at a Level I trauma center in St. Louis, Missouri, I wanted to go and help them. I had no idea then we would face the virus in the U.S., and I would be needed here. I guess I got what I wished for.
Things started changing at work after we had our first positive case. We put on good poker faces, but inside we were afraid of the unknown. All we heard about were people dying in China and Italy.
At a Monday morning huddle, I looked around the room and saw the fear in our staff. As our leader reviewed that day’s protocol, I silently prayed for everyone in the room. We were all afraid of taking the virus home to our families. I looked at one of my coworkers and could tell he was worried about infecting his wife, who is pregnant with twins. Bringing the virus to my family was my biggest fear, too.
I asked if I could pray before we headed out. I prayed over our staff, and finally, the tears flowed. No more poker faces. We all bonded in that moment.
It was powerful to see Muslims, Catholics, agnostics, Wiccans and Christians sharing a moment of silence together. The next morning, they asked me to pray again. The following day, I was exposed to the virus.
I had helped an elderly lady from her daughter’s car. The daughter had tested positive for COVID-19. Sometimes we don’t think; we just do. I hugged the lady, and she wrapped her arms around me. In that moment, I knew I had been exposed. I didn’t have proper personal protective equipment — just the thin surgical mask that I had worn that entire day.
By Saturday night, I started getting chills and body aches. While getting ready for work Sunday morning, I checked my temperature. The thermometer showed I had a fever. No way. Not me. I checked it again. It was true; I had a fever.
I sat scared on the bathroom floor. Already, six of our healthcare workers were on ventilators. Two were younger than me. I have asthma, and I know COVID-19 is a lung eater.
Immediately I thought of my coworkers. I was worried about what they would think. Only a few days before, I had prayed for our safety. Now I was the first ER nurse from my hospital to get the virus.
I didn’t want my team to doubt God. But my boss called me and assured me that even though I wasn’t at work, I was leading them. But it wasn’t me that was leading; it was the Lord.
Coworkers were praying together. Muslims texted me to say they were praying for me. I got to minister from home and had many hours to pray for the frontline staff. I asked the Lord to bring me names of people to pray for. I prayed they would crave a relationship with God and know his grace and peace.
A few days after I became sick, my fear came true. Both my daughters got the virus. I felt horrible knowing they were sick because of me, and though a nurse and their mom, I couldn’t get up to help them.
But my husband, Chris, served his girls so well. It was sweet to see him walk room to room with gloves, mask, water and Tylenol for each of us. He took great care of us. To my amazement, neither he nor my son got sick. I’m so thankful for that.
This virus paralyzed me. I would lay in bed for days. My heels rubbed a hole through my bedsheet and mattress pad from rocking my legs at night because of body aches. Then the shortness of breath started. I was scared to go to sleep at night.
I was so emotional. I cried when I heard my daughter coughing from her room. I told Chris to make sure our son Jack and daughter Alle, our two youngest children, would get braces if I died. I made sure he knew who their pediatrician is. It’s funny that those were the first two things I thought of. I told him to make sure the kids didn’t forget me.
But on day 11, I started to turn a corner. I no longer had shortness of breath. Finally, I knew I was going to be OK. By then, my daughters were healthy again, too.
Looking back at those two weeks, I really had thought that God would use my virus experience to work in the hospital. And he did. But, my illness also was a gift to me.
God gave me the great gift of just being alone and still. I never sit still. I don’t even like going to bed at night because I think it’s a waste of my time. I’m a Martha. Even though I’m always busy doing things in love, I miss being quiet with the Lord. I want to be a Mary and sit and be still with him.
I had forgotten my first love.
I had forgotten my first love. But because of the virus, I got to spend many hours alone with God. I loved my worship times with him as I lay in bed.
Do you see what God is doing all over the world? I like this verse: He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us (Jas 4:5, ESV). He wants us to spend time with him!
My COVID-19 experience was an amazing two weeks. Thank you for all the prayers. I truly felt them. When I returned to work, I wasn’t afraid. I was excited to take care of the sick and give my coworkers encouragement and hope. God’s gift truly was the best two weeks for my heart.
Sarah Highfill, ER Nurse
Sarah and her husband, Chris, planted Grace River Church in O’Fallon, Missouri, five years ago.