By Mimi Teller Rosicky
American Red Cross volunteer Robin followed every Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Red Cross COVID-19 safety guideline to the letter. Robin only left her home to buy groceries, she always wore a mask, maintained the recommended six feet of social distancing in public, routinely washed her hands, and obtained both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. She even continued to support the Red Cross Los Angeles region remotely from home. Despite all these efforts, Robin contracted COVID and ended up hospitalized on oxygen for two weeks.
Robin has suffered from asthma for years and when she first experienced breathing issues, she assumed her asthma was acting up. She had zero reason to suspect COVID as Robin was fully vaccinated and strictly followed all pandemic safety instructions. When her symptoms became worse, Robin went to the emergency room complaining of severe asthma discomfort. She was given asthma medications and sent home – turns out unless you’re admitted to the hospital, they don’t test for COVID-19. Four days passed and Robin’s health declined to the point she had to call 911. Upon arrival the paramedics immediately administered oxygen, and when the ambulance pulled out of Robin’s driveway the paramedics turned on the siren and hit the gas. It was only then Robin realized her health was in serious trouble.
“I did everything I was supposed to do. I followed all the CDC guidelines to a Tee - I distanced myself from everyone, I didn’t go to the movies or parties, and I still ended up in the hospital with COVID-19” shared Robin. “My doctor told me the only reason I was alive was because I had been vaccinated. If you don’t get vaccinated for yourself, for heaven sakes do it for other people”.
Upon her arrival at the hospital, instead of being taken to the emergency section Robin was wheeled into an entirely separate area, which turned out to be the COVID wing. Robin did not understand how she could possibly have COVID-19 as she was fully vaccinated; but soon learned from her doctor that the vaccine is generally 93% effective, and that she fell into the 7% group where the vaccine did not prevent infection. It did however prevent serious illness and death. Even though Robin was on oxygen (not a breathing machine) and isolated for two weeks in the hospital, her case was considered mild.
Spending two weeks in a hospital’s COVID ward was deeply unpleasant for Robin. No visitors were allowed, Robin could not leave her little room for any reason, none of her personal belongings could come in she and pained for the dedicated nurses who had to don multi-layered outfits every time they tended to Robin. By her second week in the hospital Robin started to feel a deep anger towards those who choose not to get vaccinated.
“How dare people risk my life and the lives of other people by not getting vaccinated” Robin said, “People may not care if they catch COVID, but they should care about the people they could infect.” Robin’s concerns were echoed by recent CDC findings that state unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die if infected by the COVID-19 virus.
Starting as a youth volunteer in high school, Robin has served the Red Cross for 45 years, working as a Feeding Lead for dozens of shelters and disaster responses. Robin says her work with the Red Cross gave her early access to the COVID-19 vaccine and credits this benefit with building up the immunity she needed to weather the virus’ serious health threats.
After 14 days in the hospital Robin returned home with an oxygen machine and orders to quarantine for another two weeks. Even a full month after leaving the hospital Robin experienced low energy and the need to spend full days in bed.
COVID however did not diminish Robin’s sense of humor. She shared that five week had passed since becoming ill, being hospitalized, and then home bound in isolation. When the time came for her first market run, she realized with slight horror she had not worn anything but pajamas nor shaved her legs in over a month!
Despite the current and pressing need for Red Cross workers across the U.S., Robin has decided, with feelings of guilt, that she will not deploy to any disasters much before next year. Often however the Feeding Lead position can respond remotely – if she has the energy, Robin will consider stepping back into her volunteer role from the comfort of home and pajamas.