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Balancing Act

Tim sat across from me in the small exam room. He was a friend, a colleague, and my doctor. He’d seen me for many years. “We’re walking a tightrope,” he said. Tim’s words rang true. We were balancing my many, complex medical problems.

For me, each day had bocame a carefully choreographed dance. Medications, IV antibiotics, a feeding tube, breathing treatments. A series of precisely coordinated steps, all to forestall my death. I learned to duck under the terror, to tamp down my fear.

Gradually, I grew accustomed to the idea of a foreshortened life. I made choices about code status, levels of intervention, and palliative care. A couple years before, I’d decided I wouldn’t want ICU care. Even as illness damaged my body, I was still able to exert some control over my future.

None of this, though, prepared me for the decisions I’d have to make during the COVID pandemic. I was at high risk of complications and death if I ever caught COVID. So I had to make judgments small and large to minimize my risk of exposure to COVID. Some of these were easy: In-person grocery shopping? No. Mask? Always.

Other decisions were far more complicated. I constantly weighed the chance that I’d be exposed to someone with COVID. This wasn’t easy, as the landscape changed by the month.

My husband is a professor at a local university. This fall, he will be teaching in a “hybrid” model. Though class sizes will be smaller, he will still be around many students each week. We had no doubt he would be exposed to COVID some time during the semester.

The risk for me would be high if we shared the same living space. How could I be protected? We each got a COVID antibody test, hoping one of us would be positive. No such luck. So, after a long discussion, we decided to live separately until there’s a vaccine. We would meet up only outside.

We are fortunate. Our kids are grown. We don’t have a big house or high living expenses, so we can afford to do this.

It was a tough decision. I want a good quality of life. I’ve given up so much already because of my illnesses. But I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve survived too much to have COVID take me out. I’m just hoping this works.

Mimi Emig
Grand Rapids, Michigan


2 thoughts on “Balancing Act”

  1. Dennis Gittinger

    Dr. Emig,
    Thank you for sharing your story. As I read it I noticed that there is not a hint of self-pity. Rather than lamenting the bad luck and challenges in the past—you’re not going back there anyway—you simply acknowledge that this current reality is your launchpad to the future. Everything you do is forward-looking as you weigh your options to determine what path appears most likely to lead to your best outcome. There are so many confounding variables, including incomplete baseline information and the impossibility of predicting with any degree of certainty all of the potential consequences of each of your choices.

    Life may not be a complete crapshoot, but sometimes all we can do is come up with our best educated guess.

    I wish you success as you stand strong, prevailing in battles I cannot even imagine.

    1. Thanks, Dennis, for your kind comments. You’re right. I’ve tried to take the approach throughout all of this- I can’t change what life gives me, I can only change my attitude. With the current pandemic, and all it entails, I’m still more fortunate than many. I have the medical background to make decisions about my health. I have the financial resources to protect myself. And I’ve been lucky so far to not get sick with COVID. Many others are not near so fortunate. So, I could feel pity for myself. Or I can be grateful. I choose the latter. -Mimi

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