COVID-19 trauma is just starting

In March, after nine days of being sick with a high fever and cough, and just generally feeling the worst I have ever felt, my temperature reached 102.5 degrees and I found myself fighting just to get air into my lungs.

Through the fog of it all, my husband said, “That’s it, I’m taking you to the hospital.” And my six-day hospital stay began.

During that stay, I was almost always alone. The only exception was when someone, dressed in what looked like a space suit, came in to check my vitals. The few moments of human interaction beyond this were all tinged with fear.

In all, my COVID-19 nightmare lasted four weeks. The health care providers at the hospital told me I was one of the lucky ones. My case, even though it led to a hospital stay and being put on oxygen, was relatively mild, they said.

“Mild” is the last word I would use to describe it. Every part of me ached, and there were many moments where I thought I might never see my family again.

My experience was traumatic. For so many, what is happening now — the uncertainty this pandemic has brought to our economy and collective health — is traumatic.

And I should know: As a psychotherapist, I specialize in trauma. For my job at UNLV, I work with students who have experienced trauma of all kinds — sexual assault, interpersonal violence, childhood trauma and more.

Now that I am healthy enough to work again, I have started seeing patients remotely. Here in Las Vegas, the economic downturn is particularly harsh. Many students I know have lost their jobs as the main industry, hospitality, has slowed down with little hope of recovering in the near future. And even if their families and friends are healthy right now, they are constantly racked with fear that a loved one will get sick. Or they are terrified of the idea that this economic devastation will negatively affect their future.

This is the experience of nearly every person across the United States. We are dealing with very real traumas. Yet too many of our leaders seem to have lost the urgency they felt in March and April when it comes to responding and helping us.

Despite my own experience, the more than 151,000 people who have died from COVID-19 so far in the United States and the 22 million Americans who have lost their jobs, some of our elected officials seem to think the pandemic and the economic recession it caused are over. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House passed a bill to continue the country’s recovery and relief efforts in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there was “no urgency,” and the Senate has still not acted.

I worry, however, that our collective trauma is urgent and only beginning.

COVID-19 hotspots are flaring up across the country. Nevada had the worst month of job loss in the history of the entire United States and our state’s unemployment trust fund is running out of money.

Right now, every day, people are dying. My own ordeal with coronavirus showed me just how real the suffering and trauma of this pandemic are. Congress can do something to provide America with some relief. So why wouldn’t it act now and make sure we have everything we need to make it through this crisis? All aspects of our collective health, physical and mental, depend on it.

Liz Carrasco works as a psychotherapist for Student Counseling and Psychological Services at UNLV.