I’ve gone viral. Not in the sense a small-time blogger wants. I’m not yet appearing in The HuffPost, nor on The Today Show anytime soon. No, I’m talking about “viral load” in a medical sense. Coronavirus.
Disclaimer: I’m commenting here on my own individual health. Protecting the privacy of others in my household, I won’t discuss their health status. If you want to know how they came out of this, you’ll have to know them so you can ask them.
How It All Went Down
“Who are all these people getting coronavirus?“ I said in a conversation earlier this summer. “Because I sure don’t know any of them.“
And it’s quite amazing how your life can turn on a dime and suddenly you are one of “all these people.“ The phone call with my positive diagnosis came on a Wednesday evening in Mid-August; I’ll call that Day 4. I’m typically not known for answering my phone, but I had been watching for this call for a solid 48 hours. Anxious. Full of dread.
I started feeling a little bad on the prior Sunday afternoon, Infamous Day 1. Tired with a headache I couldn’t shake. I took a nice long nap, one of my favorite pastimes. I woke up to The Precious Pair shouting from downstairs, “Somebody’s here!“ And a few minutes later, “It’s Miss Deanna.“
“Send her up here!” I shouted back. Within a few minutes, there was Deanna sitting on my bed in my smallish room. I covered my face with my sheet and said “I shouldn’t breathe on you. I’m not sure I’m feeling all that great.” And we decided to move out to my front porch where we chatted for a bit longer.
She had kindly stopped by to drop off my work mail since she had recently visited our office downtown. My workplace is awesome, officially one of the “Best Places to Work in Indiana.” Deanna is one of my work BFFs. Yes, I’m fortunate to have a few of those. But she was the unlucky one who got tangled up in the web of this story.
Twenty-four hours after her visit on Day 2, I checked in at an urgent care center to be tested for COVID-19. I woke up that Monday morning just not feeling right. Headache, bodyaches, low-grade fever. I rarely get a fever. And by that afternoon, I could not taste or smell a damn thing. Yes, that part is true. (Maybe the news isn’t so fake after all, Mr. President.)
“But this can’t be happening…“ I told myself. I had been one of the more careful people I knew, in a community that was taking the risk half-seriously. Frequent handwashing/sanitizing, deliberate mask-wearing, and social distancing were important habits to us and had been throughout this pandemic.
The life-altering phone call I took from the clinic was surreal as I listened to what I already strongly suspected. I had tested positive for Coronavirus. I could only listen half-heartedly to the voice on the line. My mind was too busy racing with the people I needed to tell right away. All the people I had seen in the past week — maybe even the past two weeks? But the few I had just been with on that Sunday/Day 1 became my priority. Deanna, as mentioned earlier. A dear friend of Ellie‘s. Another dear friend of mine.
And this is a moment I hope you don’t have to experience in this pandemic or ever. A moment of guilt and shame that persists as you wonder and wait to know if you have caused others you care about to become ill. I can only describe it as a migraine of worry.
What Happened to My Body and in My Mind
The actual physical migraine headache was the single worst symptom of my bout with COVID. Yes, even worse than the loss of taste and smell, the side effect that led me to lose 8 pounds. Who knew there could be a silver lining?
But the headache was what floored me and truly interrupted my life and work. Screens did not help, so it was tough to do video meetings and TV was not enjoyable either. Reading? Not pleasant. That didn’t leave me much in the way of entertainment or passing the time. So I laid around thinking about writing this blog a whole lot.
My headache surely was not helped by my cold turkey approach to coffee. Anyone who knows me slightly knows about my Starbucks fandom. It’s fairly intense and usually daily. But anytime I fall ill, coffee is strangely the last thing I want. The same was true now as it was during my two pregnancies and anytime I’ve caught a bad cold. Why couldn’t I have just caught a bad summer cold?
That’s when all of this is happening, you know. In the dead heat of Late Hoosier Summer when we should have been at a pool or on a boat or at a baseball game. One of the things that carried me forward were my visions of summer giving way to fall, my absolute favorite time of year. One of my best texts during lockdown came from my good friend Rachelle who encouraged me with this: “You are in the house when it’s hot as f@ck anyway. You will be done with it when it’s your favorite season! We have lots of s’more’s and fires and cider and pumpkin lattes to have!!!”
This lady was speaking my language. And future-forward thoughts like this were crucial to me during my recovery. I daydreamed about so many things… pho soup dates on chilly days; family visits; getting this house scrubbed from head-to-toe to prep for the holidays.
And there were also my visualizations of my body healing itself. I refer to this part as “The Pounders and The Coders“ – an army of tiny badass bitches working inside me. The Pounders marched to work in sync, wearing bright pink hardhats with sledgehammers flung over their shoulders. Their job was to pound away at the virus. Their hard work was important, but it also created that pounding I felt constantly in my head. Associating the pain with the positivity of healing helped me to cope with it.
The Coders were a second workforce pulling overtime inside my body – developing, troubleshooting, and patching my immunity. Little spectacled super geeks drinking tons of Mountain Dew. I hate that stuff, but it kept them going 24/7 as they repaired my wellness.
My Lungs? I pictured them made of gleaming white metal inside my chest. Like brand-new lung-shaped school lockers, and COVID did not have the combination. I was determined all along not to let it into my lungs.
It Was Sorta’ Kinda’ (Not Really) Like a Porch Party
We celebrated a milestone during lockdown — a Sweet 16 for the oldest of The Precious Pair. Quarantine birthdays are the ones our kids won’t soon forget, either because they were unique and special or because they totally sucked. Either way, we celebrated in our little house filled with germs, but ever more powerful, filled with love. She got gifts left on the front porch, cards, phone calls, texts, Snapchat fame, and dinner delivery from the fanciest restaurant in town, Matteo‘s Italian Ristorante. She ordered salad, asparagus, and bruschetta. Vegetarian delicacies.
She did not go to school that day, of course. Neither of them did for 14 days due to their exposure to the virus.
Nor did we go anywhere. Porch drops became our lifeblood. Our beloved wraparound took in a bounty of generosity and goodwill, from matzah ball soup to homemade fried rice to Panera; from flowers to balloons to multiple birthday cakes and other sweets; from epically-assembled Corona Gift Baskets full of candy, crafts, coloring books, snacks, wine, and, yes, Corona Beer; from a collection of hot/cold compresses for my head to a specialty bag of dog food. Yes, my two high-maintenance pups, The Pug & The Thug, continued to need care and attention all this time, as always. In fact, I am convinced The Pug caught her very own case of Canine COVID. She had trouble breathing on many nights lying in bed or on the couch with me. Maybe it was just the bad ragweed.
Toggling between the discomfort of symptoms and the joy brought by the outpouring of support, I was up and down mentally and emotionally throughout the 2+ weeks. Nagging at me constantly, the stigma of it all.
Curiosity Killed the Coronavirus
The questions came frequently and rapidly from my circle of people. But I was usually fine with answering them. I’m a curious person myself, known to drill people with questions, so who was I to deny others of the same? I’ve identified my Top 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions to answer here and now…
“What are your symptoms?“
This was THE most popular question. The answer is a laundry list.
- Fever: mine was low-grade, fortunately. Never past 100F.
- Cough: minimal, took cough syrup only twice.
- Digestion: a problem for a couple of days.
- No Appetite: nothing sounded good.
- No Taste and No Smell: hit me simultaneously, even before I was tested. That’s how I knew. (I still don’t have them back.)
- Headache: a constant for nearly the full two weeks of symptoms. The worst part.
- Bodyaches: the second worst part for me. I described it to my girls as “falling off a cliff in the Grand Canyon and landing at the bottom onto hard, hot, red sandstone where I got run over by an ice cream truck driven by a creepy man who also backed up over me, then proceeded to park on top of me.”
- Fatigue: definitely, the longest-lasting symptom besides no smell and taste. Even yesterday on Day 19, I had to take a 3-hour nap.
- Metal Mouth: an odd sensation that overcame me on Day 11 when my nose, throat, and mouth were filled with a burnt metallic pineapple sensation. I don’t know if I will ever enjoy pineapple the same way. Someone else I know described it as “Burnt Fruit Loops.” I had not heard about this symptom before, but I looked it up and it’s a thing for people.
- Shortness of Breath?: it never came for me. Luckily. Remember: COVID did not have the locker combination to my lungs!
“Oh, but aren’t you glad you’ll have immunity now? You won’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Big Fat False. Immunity is loosely reported to last 2 or 3 months. That means I MIGHT enjoy antibodies until about Thanksgiving. Maybe. I won’t take that for granted nor will I assume it’s true. In fact, we will be more careful and aware now. If you know me, expect me to be your biggest nag about exercising caution, and I’ll worry even more about my parents, siblings, and friends.
“How did you get it?”
Best question. I’m asking myself the same one. No definitive answer. I’ve traced to the most possible source, from what’s typically a perfectly harmless setting, but there’s no way to know for sure. What’s the point in knowing that anyway, aside from satisfying everyone’s curiosity?
And that’s one message I have to share from this trying experience: all of us are living among an unknown menace. You can think you’re doing everything you can and everything right, and unknowingly, you can still be a target for this virus.
I pray you won’t be.
The Things That Helped
If you do fall temporarily to this beast, stock up or I will help stock you up on the following essentials:
Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, any painkiller you can get your hands on.
Gatorade or Powerade or Pedialyte and juice and seltzer water and Capri Sun and your favorite soda and hot tea and basically any ingestible liquid you can get your hands on.
A really great water bottle with lid so you can chug constantly and carry it around the house with you. Did I mention intense thirst as a symptom?
Protein shakes because you’re not going to have an appetite and likely not be able to taste anything, but your stomach will still growl.
A really good lip balm, because life requires it, sick or not.
A chillable eyemask compress (or two or three) to rotate in and out of the freezer and those disposable cold packs, all to use on your forehead when The Pounders are at work.
Soup. Endless soup.
Gummy vitamins because they kind of taste like gummy bears, until you can’t taste them anymore.
A little notebook for scribbling down all the things you need to do that you will not be able to do for quite some time. Accept it. You’re a lame duck, but not a dead one, and you feel eternally grateful for that since you did not fare as poorly as hundreds of thousands of Americans before you.
…This is the porch drop I would make to you if you got the Coronavirus. It’s my mission to pay forward the care I received. Because it’s certainly not something I can ever pay back to my friends, family, and coworkers.
On Day 11 when my mouth tasted like metal, someone in the household borrowed my desk and during virtual show choir class spilled raspberry iced tea on my internet setup and tech cords and fried our connection. This led me to the dreaded step of phoning AT&T tech support, an action that triggers PTSD in me every time. In the Summer of 2019, I burned years off my life on the phone with those people pleading to believe that I had moved. This time and by the grace of only God himself, I got to the friendliest and most compotent call center rep within the monopoly who expedited a new modem to arrive on my porch less than 48 hours later. Add that lady to my list of COVID heroes. In lockdown, you need reliable tech to conduct work, go to school, shop for things, entertain yourself, look up your weird symptoms, and maintain a general sense of sanity.
Why I Want You to Know
I shared with my girls recently a fun fact I once heard. Wish I could source it here. I think it came from a conference I attended. When you share anything privately with someone else, that person will tell an average of 5-6 other people your secret. So at this point, there’s a mighty number of folks out there who already know I had Coronavirus. So this article is just making it blog-official.
This illness impacted my life in countless ways. Physically, mentally/emotionally, socially, spiritually, nutritionally, professionally, educationally, technologically, relationally, perhaps even legally. Not financially, but for many others, sadly it does. For these reasons, it’s a heavy load to bare. You have to share the weight of it with others. That’s why I had to whine and cry about it to a lot of people. That’s why I had to write about it, even after struggling with “But I don’t want a lot of people to know.” Screw that. I want everybody to know.
Maybe God picked me to have this so I could become a spokesperson of sorts. He wants me to tell new and different stories about it. He wanted me to create this guide. I will do what I can to keep leveraging this strange opportunity as I slowly resume my role in our socially-distanced society. I’m well-aware that no one is clamoring to rush into my arms or my home after I’ve suffered from this, so I’ll do everyone a favor and lay low for a little while. 😉
Meanwhile, the guilt is going away.
The stigma is subsiding.
The love shown to us is lingering.
What about those friends I worried about exposing? One tested negative with no symptoms, one never had symptoms at all, and one tested negative yet still showed symptoms. I can only hope the spread stopped with me, but I will never know that.
I want to carry on into this pandemic with a message, a theme, a motto, a battle cry. And that’s likely to be …Think Twice.
Think Twice about hosting social gatherings of multiple people – unless it’s outside; and, if it’s inside, wear masks. Even if it’s awkward.
Think Twice about hosting a sleepover for kids. I will be the parent who has to tell my daughter she can’t go.
Think Twice every time you leave your house. Do you have a mask? Hand sani? Gloves for the gas pump?
Think Twice about assuming your children are 100% safe at school, even with the schools doing everything they can to handle this.
Think Twice about making blanket statements on social media. You don’t know what someone else knows.
Think Twice about spreading stories that this pandemic is overexaggerated and manufactured by politics. When you do that, you’re basically telling sick people to “quit faking it.”
Think Twice about who you’re going to vote for in November.
Maybe most important…Think Twice about putting your negative vibes out into this world. Pop a pill of positivity and enjoy its healing powers. We can’t buy it over-the-counter, but it’s the daily dose we all need to get through this.
Photo compliments of Unsplash.com @twinsfisch #fischerstwinsphotography
Author’s Note: The photo is not me. But it could have been COVID Me. This is what I looked like for 2 weeks!