I just realized that it’s been roughly six months since I recovered from COVID-19. It’s hard to say, because all this time later I’m still having issues.
What’s it like?
My case was weird. Unlike a lot of people, I know what day I was exposed, and I know who I got it from. If the numbers are to be believed, I was one of the first 400 cases in California. My friends and I were exposed the morning of the day that our governor announced that bars and restaurants would be shut down.
If only we’d known that! I could have avoided the whole thing!
Because we caught it early in the cycle, our experiences with the coronavirus were different than what would happen today. A lot of our collective symptoms were not officially recognized. Tests were very hard to get, and only if you could prove you had traveled to a COVID-affected area. Contact tracing was not being done. There were no known treatments. At the time we were sick, if you wound up in a hospital, you had about a 50/50 chance of never coming home again. Everything about how to survive COVID-19 was guesswork.
My doctor didn’t believe I was sick at first, but even if he did, there wouldn’t have been much he could have done for me. Not a single one of the drugs that the FDA has approved for treatment were even on the radar back in April 2020.
I didn’t start feeling ill until more than two weeks after my exposure. My first symptoms, sneezing and extremely itchy eyes, were not on the list. I didn’t have any of the “official” symptoms: no fever, no cough, no body aches, no gastrointestinal issues.
These are problems. I didn’t know I was ill. I never had a fever, so temperature checks wouldn’t have caught me. I felt fine for two weeks, and I had been isolating at home quite strictly.
Based on my experience, a two-week quarantine is not long enough, temperature checks are pointless, and six feet is not far enough to distance.
I was quite ill for four weeks. The entire second week, I felt certain I would die any day. The third week, I cleared the virus but picked up an opportunistic viral infection in my lungs. I had a chest x-ray and got a prescription for antibiotics. This was the second distinct time period when I felt like my body was in the process of actively, rapidly dying. I couldn’t really say I was “better” for six weeks.
Two months later, I got bacterial pneumonia. Happy birthday. Had to treat that with antibiotics, an inhaler, and prescription cough medicine. I did not feel like I was going to die, but I did feel like I fell down the stairs and that someone was kicking me in the chest and back with steel-toed boots.
Two months after that, I started having gut pain that woke me every night for a week. When I finally went online to look at an anatomical chart, I discerned that the pulsing, burning pain I was having was in my duodenum. A bacterial infection there can turn into an ulcer. Fortunately, I was able to quickly reverse that with mass quantities of probiotics.
A few symptoms lingered for months, and others have never really gone away.
While I was ill with COVID-19, I lost my sense of taste and smell for three weeks. I couldn’t even smell bleach. I couldn’t taste chocolate, mouthwash, taco sauce, or other foods with very strong flavors.
I experienced, according to what I wrote at the time, “weakness, fatigue, malaise, tremors, dizziness, vertigo, headache, chills, the rigors (look it up), stomach pain, feeling faint, ears ringing, lost my voice, complete loss of sense of taste and smell for three weeks, memory problems, confusion, shortness of breath, heart palpitations” - the two scariest of these were the shortness of breath and the tachycardia.
I’m still having both of those six months later, just not as bad or as often.
The hand tremors lasted for several months but seem to have finally cleared up.
I’m also still having constant problems regulating my body temperature. I have a work partner who had COVID back in February, and both of us appear in meetings bundled up in blankets. I am always, always cold. When I get cold enough, I start shaking all over, and it takes hours to warm up again. The threshold temperature for this is 68 F.
I’m also chronically tired. My energy level, on a scale of 1-5, is generally between a 2 and a 3. Sometimes I just go to bed the minute I clock out at work, and sometimes I don’t even make it that far. I just get up from my desk, pivot slightly, and face plant on the couch.
I feel like I’ve aged ten years.
There are a few other weird problems.
My night terrors came back. That’s a “me” thing - obviously most adults don’t have night terrors - but it’s been super annoying and unfair to my husband. It also affects my work productivity the next day.
I’ve gotten migraine a couple of times, another thing that I had problems with prior to COVID but that I had gotten rid of for several years.
I still have issues with concentration and word loss. For me the difference is very noticeable. Sometimes I just run out of steam mid-sentence and stop before I ever remember the basic noun I was reaching for.
I have a persistent skin issue, acne on my chest, which is unusual for a 45-year-old. I tried half a dozen treatments and it still hasn’t cleared up. I read up a bit and it turns out that it’s not regular acne, but a yeast overgrowth called “fungal acne” that can result from taking antibiotics. Since I had three courses of antibiotics in December and two more in 2020, this makes sense. Now I am trying an OTC ointment and hoping I will be able to wear v-neck tops again one day.
Yes, this is gross, my point being: COVID-19 is not sexy, cute, or fun. Even a relatively mild case.
I gained 15 pounds and, with intense focus and effort, I have been able to drop four.
I’ve been trying to start up an exercise schedule again. It would be nice to be able to walk around our neighborhood, but we live in a dense area filled with young mask deniers. I also struggle with shortness of breath when I walk uphill with my mask on.
Another issue is that when I work out on my elliptical, I have a strange side effect. About a half hour after I get out of the shower, I start having sneezing fits for 2-3 hours. Then I will have symptoms of the common cold for several days. I did some reading on this, and it corresponds with something called ‘exercise-induced rhinitis.’ I ordered yet another box of OTC meds that other athletes claim are helpful, and we’ll see how that goes.
What I worry about most, six months after my case of COVID-19, is the stroke risk. This is why I’m so persistent in trying to get into a regular exercise routine again, despite all the setbacks. All I do is sit or lie down about 22 hours a day. I used to feel a decade younger than my chronological age, and now I feel a decade older. I don’t want to keep slipping into lethargy. I don’t want to live my life as a sort of invalid, although many days I feel like I am.
I’ve been very lucky in all of this. I lived, and my husband lived, and my family is still here. We have insurance, we have money, we have food, we have a roof over our heads. This is part of why I’ve been so vocal in sharing my experience - because I want to encourage others to take this virus seriously and do everything they can to avoid it.
Please, don’t be like me. Don’t go out expecting to have a fun social outing and share a casual meal with friends, and then come home permanently messed up from coronavirus. I hope that you and yours make it through 2020 together and that we all stay safe through 2021.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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