In honor of my last day of isolation, I want to share my story in hopes that it may help someone, anyone, to reach out for help sooner and potentially avoid a more challenging experience.
I have an auto-immune disease. Basically that means that my immune system attacks my joints and causes widespread arthritis. In order to stop progression of the disease I take medication that suppresses my immune system. It makes me more susceptible to things like viruses and infections. Knowing this, I have been very careful since the outbreak of the pandemic. I work from home, always wear a mask, sanitize often, and rarely go out. I’m not perfect. I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ve done the best I can and, all things considered, am probably one of the most conservative people I know when it comes to the pandemic.
It didn’t matter.
On Black Friday I have a tradition of decorating my house for Christmas. I put up my tree and stockings and play Christmas music. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. This year was no different. I happily bounced around my house trimming the tree and annoying my children with my off key renditions of holiday favorites. By dinner time my throat was dry and scratchy and I felt extra tired but I had a pretty wild day for me so I climbed into bed early that night never giving it a second thought.
At 3:30 AM overnight Friday I woke up with the chills. I was literally shivering under my blankets. I grabbed my thermometer and had a 99.6 temperature. I usually run cool (96.5 or so) so this was a little high for me. I took some Advil and got back into bed. I remember thinking, “I hope I’m not getting sick”. An hour later, not feeling any warmer, I checked my temperature again and it was 100.1. Knowing that fever is the first sign of infection I did the responsible thing and went straight to the ER. I tend to be overly cautious when it comes to my health but I’ve been through a lot so I don’t take any chances. By the time I was checked in my temperature was under 100 but I was short of breath and my blood pressure was 156/110 so I was put in a room, blood was drawn, swabs were taken, and a chest x-ray was ordered. My x-ray was clear so I was asked to walk around the room with the PulseOx on my finger. At rest my O2 was 100% and after walking back and forth a few times it dropped to 85%. That’s when I was told I would be admitted to the hospital for observation. “Great”, I thought, “it’s always something”.
The “something” was the last thing I expected.
Around 11:00 AM the nurse came in to tell me that transport was there to bring me to my hospital room. As I was getting on the stretcher he said, “Oh. By the way. Your COVID test came back positive.” The room started to spin. Everything was a blur. It didn’t seem possible. I had a thousand questions but was already on my way through countless winding hallways to my room. As we navigated the dark and cold underbelly of the hospital for what felt like forever all I could think about were my boys. What if I’ve made them sick? When will I see them again? What am I going to do? When we reached my room and I had changed and settled into bed the doctor came in. I immediately burst into tears. “I don’t understand how this could be happening to me.”, I said. He shared with me that, unfortunately, with so much COVID out there and my background it was probably only a matter of time. There are so many people who have it but never have any symptoms that I likely got it from someone close to me.
The conversation we had next is something that I will never forget. The doctor explained that I was very early in my symptoms and we did not know yet what course the virus would take or what might come next. We talked about what would happen if my shortness of breath became worse and I needed to be put on oxygen. What would happen if I needed a breathing tube. I was asked who I would want called if things took a turn for the worse, whether or not I wanted any and all lifesaving measures to be attempted, and if I understood everything that he explained.
I felt alone and scared.
To be honest, I felt angry. Angry that I’ve watched so many people blatantly dismiss safety protocols and state mandates and flippantly roll their eyes at not being able to go on vacations or go to bars and here I was, having done everything right, wondering if I would see my boys again. I was angry and scared and alone.
The remainder of Saturday was a blur. I remember the spinning room turning into a monster headache, I couldn’t have any lights on. I was afraid to move for fear that the pounding in my head would get worse. More blood was drawn, a heart monitor was attached (in case my heart stopped it would alert the nurse’s station because the nurse was only allowed to come into my room to administer medication), and I was in and out of a restless sleep. I went from bad to worse. The headache made it impossible to do anything but try to sleep. The wave of nausea hit me out of nowhere. I threw up everywhere. Literally everywhere. I buzzed the nurse’s station and was told that the cleaning people were generally not allowed in my room so we would have to see if they could make an exception. I couldn’t keep anything down. Two trays of food came and went without ever being touched. I could hear my phone vibrating with calls and texts from concerned family but I couldn’t get to it. I couldn’t move.
Early Sunday morning my fever broke. I woke up drenched in sweat. The anti-nausea meds I had been given at some point started to kick in and I was keeping water down. I still couldn’t tolerate any lights and my head was pounding but the room was no longer spinning. Things started to feel calm. The nurse told me that they had administered some COVID drug that was supposed to help shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of my symptoms. I was starting to turn the corner.
Sunday afternoon I was actually able to sit up in bed to eat lunch. When the nurse came in to give me more medicine she shared that the night nurse called to see if I had made it through the night. She was worried for me. The cleaners were allowed to come in and clean my room. Things were looking up. I was stable. My breathing had not gotten any worse so I never needed oxygen. I was going to get through this.
I remember feeling overcome with gratitude. Things could have been so much worse. I thought about all of the people who had been through this but never turned the corner. What it must have been like to be alone and scared and not get better. It broke my heart. It still does.
Monday afternoon I was sent home to isolate and rest. I was so happy to see my dogs, sleep in my own bed, and enjoy the comfortable familiarity of my own space. It’s been almost a week at home. Each day I’ve felt stronger. I’m still exhausted, sleep more than usual, and have no sense of taste or smell (really annoying when aromatherapy is your go-to for just about everything!) but I’m ok.
If you’ve made it this far in my story please do me a favor: take this pandemic seriously. If you are young and healthy and strong you could have COVID and never know. Not knowing does not make you less contagious. Remember that there are those of us out there who are at greater risk. If we all do our part we can get through this together.