The doctors told me that it takes six to eight weeks – on average – for healthy folks with my symptoms to recover. It took more than six months.
Friday, April 10th, my work team had our first Virtual Happy Hour, so I was enjoying a little sun in my back yard and a tumbler of Scotch. We’re a relatively new team, and only had a few months to get to know each other before quarantine-in-place orders went into effect in Washington, so the social time together was very welcome.
When I woke up Saturday morning, I thought I had a hang-over at first, but by 9am I had a 103F fever. Anxiety was making my heart race — I had been jogging a couple times that week, and had ordered takeout on Monday and Tuesday. Can joggers really spread the ‘rona? Could it be food poisoning from take-out left-overs? Maybe this is something else…
With Tylenol, my fever went down to 101.5. As I spent the day resting, it started getting harder to breathe, and I’m grateful that my phone has a pulse oximeter built in. It didn’t feel like any flu I’ve ever had … my partner Tam was getting worried, so she came over. I remember saying to her that it felt like a Maine Coon curled up on my chest, minus the purring. It was hard to breathe. My hands, feet, and face were tingly, like I was hyper-ventilating, except I wasn’t, and my SpO2 stats were dropping…
By 4pm, I had a temp of 104.1 – I was still taking Tylenol – and my SpO2 had gone down to 93. Talking made everything worse and I didn’t want to call 911, so Tam started calling around for tele-health options that were open on the weekend. We reached someone. At 7pm, my SpO2 dipped below 90, and the tele-doctor said it was time to go to the Emergency Room.
The hallway was completely devoid of life – save for the nurse on a radio behind me, narrating my progress to invisible people.
In hindsight, the strangest thing about the ER visit is that they drew blood and ran a liver/kidney panel before they did the nasal swab for COVID-19. At the time, the hardest thing was simply being cold and alone. The staff informed me that they needed to minimize the use of PPE, but also needed to change PPE when leaving the room, and therefore were going to come in to see me as few times as possible — and only one at a time. They gave me the thinnest of blankets. I’m glad I brought my winter coat.
A machine hooked to my right ear monitored my SpO2, but I think it’s real purpose was just to keep me on edge. Every time I relaxed my SpO2 would drop again and trigger more squawking, putting me back on high alert. No one ever came to check on it.
After about five hours, a nasal swab, some x-rays, two cups of apple juice, a blood draw, and anxiously trying not to pass out, the attending doctor came in. I could tell because she wore the best PPE and she introduced herself instead of prepping me for another test. My x-rays showed some occlusions and my bloodwork was “ok”. The COVID-19 test came back negative, but she said it was only accurate about 70% of the time, and with the x-ray and all my other symptoms they were confident it was COVID… But, because I didn’t need a ventilator and my kidneys were doing OK, she said I should go home, get lots of rest, and come back if anything got worse.
When I finally left, the hallway was completely devoid of life – save for the voice of the nurse on a radio behind me, narrating my progress down the hall to invisible people.
I rested at home for a week — really rested. I didn’t work, because it was too difficult just to sit up for long. I binged on netflix while my housemate brought me food, wearing a mask and bleach-wiping every dish I had touched. After about ten days, I slowly started working again, and by day 14 I felt well enough that I thought I could leave the house. Yes, I checked with my doctor and followed the CDC guidelines. On day 15, I tried to do a little gardening – about 20 minutes of gentle weeding. I collapsed, light-headed and woosy, my ears ringing and my heart pounding, and I needed help getting inside.
I crashed the next day. My fever came back. The inhaler they gave me after the ER wasn’t helping enough any more, so I went in to Swedish’s COVID Respiratory Center, where they gave me two more scripts and a kind-yet-stern talking to for not resting enough. I spent the next few weeks at home, resting, with the hospital staff checking in on me by text message every day and by phone every couple days.
I started writing this post around week three. As I finish the post now, the calendar tips into week seven. This was, by all accounts, a “mild” case because I never needed to be on any life-assisting devices. I’ve been sharing status updates on social media in the hopes that, maybe, a few more people will take this seriously, wear a mask, and a few less people get sick.
I shared a summary on Twitter today and it feels appropriate to repost it here –
- Week 1: ER, very high fevers, bed rest, Rx to help cough
- Week 2: false recovery, collapsed in yard
- Week 3: unstable HR, more Rx, bed rest
- Week 4: bed rest, no fevers, still coughing
- Week 5: able to sit up at my computer for most of the day!
- Week 6: I cooked for myself, and went for an hour-long walk! I’m almost crying with joy and relief
I can’t believe it’s been 45 days since I went to the ER. It feels like last week and at the same time it feels like a year ago.
I’m finally getting back a little sense of homeostasis – I cooked dinner last night, and brunch today, and did some baking. Took a drive while it was sunny yesterday. I’m starting to pack, and hopefully moving in a month. Relative to dark times in my past, I’m doing pretty damn well — I was terrified this was going to be like Lyme disease, leaving me with a multi-year recovery, but it seems I’m able to start exercise again.
Thanks for reading, y’all.
Stay safe out there & tell the ones you love how you really feel. This life is too brief not to.