For the first six months of the pandemic, I couldn't breathe. It started out episodically. When the numbers would surge or President Trump would do something extra stupid I would go into lung atrophy and struggle to breathe. I'd take long walks along the lake trying to get a breath. Even in the days before mask-wearing outside, I still couldn't get air deep down into my lungs.
My partner was getting tired of me holding my chest, dramatically widening my eyes as I tried to pull the air into my lungs successfully. I was becoming the crazy one in the house for sure. My teenage daughter would side-eye me in my moments of breathing panic and rhetorically question, "You okay Mom?"
I was beginning to feel like the boy who cried wolf. Every time I thought I really couldn't breathe, I could. I continued living. I could still exercise and work and cook dinner. But I spent my days craving the satisfaction of a full breath. Hour after hour all I could get was a little sip or a half-full experience. Around Thanksgiving, we had an outdoor social visit with a friend who is a surgeon. As we sat around the fire I tried to disguise my fish out of water breathing but eventually, she asked me, "Are you having trouble breathing?"
I was in a particularly stressed-out time then, thinking about the holidays, how I would manage emotionally. I told my friend how I was worried that one day I would just wake up and not be able to breathe at all. I told her I worried that I was COVID positive (even though I'd tested negative) and that I had one symptom-- trouble breathing. She suggested I get an oximeter. "You can get one for $30 online," she said, "And then you'll know that you are getting enough oxygen, even if you are struggling."
It was a simple answer to my problem. When I got home that night I ordered one. The next day it arrived and I put the device on my fingertip. My oxygen scored a 98. That's an A-plus for sure. I breathed a sigh of relief and took comfort in the fact that I could use the oximeter when I was feeling a tight chest in the future. It would be my secret. When I was feeling like no one else believed me, I could go to the oximeter and tell her my problems. She'd gently hold my finger and make everything alright.
I tucked the oximeter into our medicine cabinet and went about my day. That was four months ago and I haven't taken the oximeter out once. But I know she's there. My secret lover the oximeter. I don't complain to my family anymore that I can't breathe. I have moments of stress and worry where I can feel the tightness in my chest but I just imagine my confidant the oximeter up in the medicine cabinet and remember that feeling of her gentle touch on my finger making everything alright. Just the thought of it opens my lungs again.