The United States of America (USA) is a country located primarily in North America and consisting of 50 states, a federal district and five major self-governing territories. It is the
world’s fourth-largest country by area and, with a population of over 330 million, the third most populous. To date, roughly 13.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the US, and
270,000 of them have died. How is the virus changing people’s lives – and especially those of our employees?
In the company’s “My life with COVID-19” series, Hapag-Lloyd Communications Director, Nils Haupt (NH) and his team take a look at the most affected countries to get first-hand information from the employees on how their lives have changed since March 2020.
In this issue, 42-year-old Natalie Alexander, Coordinator Accounts Payable in the Quality Service Center in Atlanta, Georgia, illustrates the effects of the pandemic on her life.
Natalie, you were hit extremely hard by COVID-19. Tell us more about it.
It was in early March that I had the first symptoms. I felt extremely tired, my hands were hurting right down to the bone, and I was running a fever. Since I wasn’t getting better but worse, I went to the doctor and that was when I was told I had Covid-19.
What did he say?
At the time, when I went to the doctor, they were wearing just masks and gloves. At that time, I do not believe anybody was ready for what was about to happen. I had all the symptoms except for the shortness of breath. I also had a few extra symptoms that were new. I am a diabetic so the doctor was trying to be very careful about what they could give me. When leaving, they put a mask on me, walked me out the back door and helped me to the car.
Did you feel better after taking the medication?
Not really. I actually got worse. I felt terrible. Every single part of my body was aching like hell, and I could hardly move. I was throwing up and everything else. If I got up, most the time I would fall at least once or twice. On top of that, I was extremely scared because I have pre-existing conditions as a diabetic. I felt like I was dying.
What did you do to fight the pain?
I really did not know what to do. I felt like a truck had hit me. I could barely eat anything, and I couldn’t keep anything down of whatever I did manage to eat. I was throwing up all day. I would also take extremely hot showers every two hours to help with the pain. Without exaggeration, I thought I was going to die.
Did you have any problems breathing?
Not at all. But when they brought me to the doctor again, the X-ray showed lots of dark areas on my lungs. He then decided to give me cortisone. But, unfortunately, the pain just wouldn’t go away. My family took care of me the best they could, but they did not know how to help, and they couldn’t get near me so that they wouldn’t catch it. They were helpless. My father told me to blow up balloons to keep my lungs from filling up in order for me not to get pneumonia. That might have saved my life.
What was a typical day like for you during this period?
I was isolated to just my bedroom and bathroom. I stayed in bed and hardly left it. I had enormous difficulties getting up, and when I managed to do it, I basically walked like an old lady. My father put my food at the end of the hallway. I didn’t have any appetite, also because I had lost my senses of taste and smell for about four weeks. My daily nutrition consisted of chicken broth, grilled cheese sandwiches, water, and ginger ale. But most of the time, I would throw everything up. One morning, I fell while heading to the bathroom, and it took me 20 minutes to get back up again.
How long did this last?
For eight weeks, I felt more dead than alive. My kids were begging me to go to the hospital, but I refused. I was too scared. I didn’t want to be put on a ventilator because that would have killed me. I don’t remember a lot about those eight weeks. I was too exhausted and too sick. I really think that I was closer to death than to life.
Did you have nightmares?
Some nights, I had delusions. One night, I saw my best friend and my grandfather, both of whom had recently died. I asked them if they were here to take me to heaven. My best friend hugged me but didn’t say anything. When I woke up, I wondered why I was still alive. I think God has a plan for me.
How was it to go out again after all those weeks in bed?
I was very afraid to go out in public. I was shaking. When I saw all the people without masks and not taking this as seriously as they should, I went home immediately. When I arrived home, my entire body was ice-cold, and I was freezing. I took a shower for more than two hours.
You are now back at work. How do you feel?
First, I would like to tell you that the staff of our Human Resources department was completely awesome and supportive the entire time. They called, they sent messages, they were always asking if I needed anything. My manager would also text me every day and at least call me a couple times a day; she, too, wanted me to go to the hospital. But I kept telling her the doctor didn’t want me to go because of my diabetes. Though I’m back at work again now, I’m still extremely tired. And although it is great that I can work from home, after eight hours, I need to go to sleep immediately. This virus has changed my entire personality. I was a very social and outgoing person before, and I was a workaholic. I feel grateful that I survived, but I also feel a lot lonelier and more isolated now. Friends have turned their back on me because they are scared to get too close to me. Sometimes, I feel like a pariah. My spirits are down, and sometimes I ask myself: “Why am I still here? Am I strong enough to withstand all this?” Also, the Covid-19 has completely wiped my immune system so that I am constantly getting infections. I was hospitalized again in August and was out at the end of September. My body isn’t able to fight like it used to.
One hears that there are many people in the United States who refuse to wear masks in public because choosing to do so or not is a matter of “personal freedom”. Is that something you’ve seen yourself?
If I could talk to these people, I would tell them: “Wear your mask. It isn’t just for your safety - it is for others’. I contracted COVID-19 and came close to death. The problem is that some people have it, and they aren’t even aware of it. You better avoid getting it.” Unfortunately, some people still don’t respect the distancing recommendations, and I would tell them: “Back up! You’re far too close to me!”
What’s your message to your fellow colleagues?
Please, be careful. Take it seriously! Wear your mask. It is not about yourself; it is about other people. Not wearing a mask can be harmful to others. Take care of yourself, as life is very precious and you only live once. Make it the best you can. Take care and God bless.
Author: Nils Haupt
Hapag-Lloyd’s Nils Haupt has started a series of interviews in which shipping line employees talk about their jobs and the daily challenges they must master in Covid-19 times.
The interviews are published in Hapag-Lloyd’s in-house channels.
By courtesy of the company’s communications department, we are authorized to publish the interviews as well.
This way, a broader readership gets access to the testimonials.
So far, Angie Morales from H-L in Guayaquil, Soniya Mokal of H-L Mumbai, Marcelo Alejandro Saravia working for H-L in Valparaiso, and Sophie Nieves from Buenos Aires were featured. More are to come.