Rev. Jane Pauw says she was ‘held spiritually tight’ after entering ‘blissful mindlessness’
July 30, 2020
The Rev. Jane Pauw remembers the date, March 12, when she blacked out and entered the darkness, into what she calls “a warm, mindless comfort” that she had never experienced before.
One of the first few hundred Americans to be tested for COVID-19, Pauw’s sinuses were already swollen when a long, bendable swab entered her nasal cavity.
“It felt like they were getting as close as possible to my brain and then they twisted it,” she said.
Within 10 minutes of feeling excruciating pain, Pauw, who serves Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church in Seattle, was on her way home with her husband, Jack, when she blacked out in the car. She’d had an adverse reaction known as vasovagal syncope, which causes one’s heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to the brain, which causes the person to briefly lose consciousness.
Pauw’s first coronavirus-like symptoms began in early March. On Feb. 29, she picked up an 80-year-old Rainer Beach Presbyterian Church parishioner from a local bus stop and drove her to a Bible study at a coffee shop about 20 minutes away.
Within two days, one of the congregant’s best friends had died of COVID-19 at the residential facility where she lived. While all the residents were being tested — the asymptomatic congregant was positive — Pauw was on lunch date with two friends who kept raving about how good the food was.
“I kept trying it, but I couldn’t taste or smell anything,” she said.
Then she began to feel tired. When exhaustion, chest congestion and a deep cough settled in, her doctor recommended she get tested for the coronavirus at a Tacoma urgent care center about 45 minutes away.
After the test, and until her fever broke on March 19, Pauw had a temperature of about 102 degrees. She had deep body aches, was nauseated and had no appetite. A few times she crawled to get water. Going down the stairs, she felt like a child again, sitting and sliding for a few steps before pausing to rest.
Unable to concentrate, she entered what she called a state of “blissful mindlessness,” where she was spared any real emotional involvement in her illness.
“While I didn’t feel comfortable physically, I never felt afraid or worried about myself,” she said, “but spiritually I was being held tight.”
Even as her daughters were frantically calling daily to check in, even when Jack stood by her bed to make sure she was still alive, even when church members felt like they wanted to come and say their goodbyes, Pauw felt nothing but that warm, mindless comfort.
Thinking back on it, she believes it was an answer to prayer and that it was God holding her tight, erasing all fear and anxiety — even though she didn’t know it then.
“Somebody was holding me,” she says, “but others were doing it for me by praying.”
While Pauw’s sense of smell and taste are returning, she continues to live with fatigue, having about half the energy she used to.
Pauw is hesitant to talk about how the coronavirus has changed her. While there are important individual and communal lessons to learn, she said she doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions of what those might be just yet.
“In my little death, followed by stay-at-home orders for a month, I feel a bit like I’m in a hermit cell,” she said, “trying to find the ways that Jesus is in solidarity with me, with us and the world.”
Thinking about the people for whom she laments in their illness and for those who might die alone, she said, “We always pray for people not to just be well, but for God to be with them. Could it be that God accompanies all people with this gift of warm, mindless comfort?”
“I know that I was held,” she said. “What if we are priests for one another, in very deep, life-saving ways?”
Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Rev. Jane Pauw, Ranier Beach PC
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord, our God, may our faith be strengthened. May we be watchful and found faithful at your return. We pray in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.