Judith Laguerre works in the geriatric psychiatric unit at Cambridge Health Alliance caring for people with issues like dementia, depression and substance abuse. It's a challenging job, but she says she loves it.

"It's very hard,” she said. “I get hit. People call me names. But… they are sick. So, [I try] to help them get better."

Last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic was picking up in Massachusetts, her patients started contracting the virus. Then she felt something.

"I had a little thing in my throat,” she said. “And from there I'm like, ‘Ugh, I think I got it.’"

Sure enough, at the beginning of April, Laguerre tested positive for COVID-19. She spent a month at home, alone, taking care of herself.

"I had some fevers. I had some coughs,” she said. “But also a lot of fear, anxiety. A lot of, ‘Maybe I'm next.’ You know, as a person of color, that's all you hear. And seeing the disparity."

People of color have been infected at a disproportionately high rate, and have had worse outcomes, including higher mortality rates.

Home alone, and feeling terrible, Laguerre said she lost track of time.

"I would not know from 1:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.,” she said. “A lot of sleeping, a lot of exhaustion, a lot of nightmares. … I dreamt of me being in ICUs, you know, and I could not share it with nobody."

She felt a responsibility to her friends and family not to scare them, she said. So she kept her fears to herself. But as that difficult month went on, she started feeling stronger.

"I re-tested, and it came back negative and that was such such a joy, such a time," she said.

She'd beaten the virus. She still felt a bit weak, but she went back to Cambridge Health Alliance at the end of April at the peak of Massachusetts’ first surge of infections.

"So it was a different world," she said.

It’s not certain if her infection gave her any immunity, so she still had to wear all kinds of PPE to do her job, which she says was a challenge. And the effects of the virus have lingered.

"I started experiencing needle and pins all over my extremities,” she said. “My hands, my feet. Numbness, tingling, shooting pain, stabbing pain.”

She’s still having that pain now.

In those long days of the first surge, she said, she'd hear the alarms of a code blue — a medical emergency she assumed was another COVID death. But every now and then, she'd hear another sound come over the hospital's speaker system: the song “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles.

"That's the anthem of recovery,” she said. “People doing better, people going home. So every time we hear that song, everybody clapped and laughed and we are happy that someone has recovered. Someone is going home."

After the initial peak subsided, Laguerre's job returned to something approaching normal. But now, once again, she's watching the state’s case numbers spike.

"I am afraid that it is going to be worse,” she said.

She’s seen what the virus can do. And she says people aren’t being careful enough to prevent it.

"We forget, you know, we forgot quickly what happened seven months ago, and I'm afraid people … are letting their guard down."

As a frontline health worker, Laguerre’s expecting to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks. But, she pointed out, it could be months before most people get it, so they need to stay cautious.

"As a healthcare professional, I don't know, maybe we'll meet someday, and I don't want it to be like that. I don't want to meet you on a hospital bed."