It was unthinkable to cancel the St.Patrick’s Day parade in NYC.
Our stories are connected so I will be talking about both my partner (Niguel) and myself.
It was unthinkable to cancel the St.Patrick’s Day parade in NYC. It was also inconceivable to close airports, stores, businesses. Then the unimaginable, the high society MET GALA, the Oscars of the fashion world, would not happen after all this year. It only took the Fashionistas a moment to get it. Broadway had already closed March 12. Off-Broadway a day later. But our Mayor Bill de Blasio took a moment realize there shouldn’t and wouldn’t be a parade this year. The first of many now previously thought implausible closures. …Next our Governor and Mayor were in a war of semantics over whether New Yorkers should ’Shelter in Place.’ Governor Cuomo didn’t appear to like that term. He felt that expression was only for big storms, national disasters, emergencies…New Yorkers would not ’Shelter in Place.’ It took the Governor a moment to get it. A week later he reconsidered. Non essential businesses would close…a little bit.. every day...not all at once…25 percent, then 25 percent each day till they were finally closed. Being high risk, I did my own quarantine and stopped going out as much as I could. My last photo shoot was at the Today show concert with Harry Styles on Feb 26. I also do voiceover work so I could work most of the time at home, though I had to go to several in-person studio gigs in early March. But my partner was a general manager in a store. A store which wouldn’t close unless ordered. Everyday I watched the press conferences, waiting, hoping they would close down the non essential businesses.Then, my friend joyfully texted ‘You got your wish, they are closing all non-essential businesses by end of the week.’ I replied ‘Too late.’
March 20. My partner Niguel wakes up in the middle of the night with chills and fever. He doesn’t seem to comprehend what it might mean. Full of dread, as I know his workmate was sick 2 days earlier but couldn’t get a test as he wasn’t in a high risk group. The co-worker was younger and had bad diarrhea, which wasn’t considered a symptom then. Early days testing was hard to come by in NYC. Niguel goes to the clinic again later that afternoon. As he has fever, is over 60 yrs, and is at high risk for COVID, he was able to get tested. You needed at least 3 risk factors to get a test at that time. I remember feeling achy when we were there but didn’t say anything about being tested and am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to get a test at that time. Doctor say Niguel most likely has COVID, as that’s what going around, not the flu. ‘It’s Covid season, not the flu season’ he says. We are shocked. Results took 8 days to get. They tell us to isolate but our apartment is small and even though I slept in living room I still got sick. Probably was already sick. The next 2 days are spent running around the neighborhood buying more supplies, and ingredients for chicken soup. Feeling extremely tired from the shopping, and wasn’t able to make the soup till next day. (Not normal)
March 22 . My turn. Chills and fevers. I was using ice packs and had the air conditioner on full blast. I don’t go to get tested because it seems obvious to me, it is COVID based on Niguel’s symptoms.The fevers are bad. Made the mistake of following a stupid piece of advice I read on the web (from a doctor), that says it’s good to have a fever, as it’s fighting the virus, so don’t take Tylenol. I follow that advice even though fevers are high, over 103. Getting up to go to the bathroom, feeling really, really dizzy, I either faint or collapse and am lying on the floor face down, Niguel tries to help me up but is so dizzy and weak he has to sit down again. I can’t help myself as my back and hip are killing me. About 10 minutes later Niguel is able to help me to the couch. For next 5 days I am in agony from the hip/back pain and the fevers. The pain from the fall was almost worse than the fevers. Almost. I need help to get to the bathroom.
March 27. It was becoming increasing more difficult to breath on a daily basis. I decide that I want to go to Urgent Care (normal doctors are all closed at this point) to get some help for chest pain, shortness of breath which I think is my asthma acting up which I have had since I was 13. The first place I go, where I called ahead of time, and gave all my vital information to, makes us stand outside in cold 40 degree temperatures to fill out forms. I can barely stand and certainly can’t fill out the forms asking for the same information already provided during the phone call for the appointment. An Upper East side well dressed woman comes out of the Urgent care facility giving me a terrified warning…’I’m sick, I have Covid, stand back’…I tell her ‘Don’t worry, I have it too’….I ask the Urgent care if they have a doctor on the premises as I’m really there for help with asthma. They say they don’t. A physician’s assistant I think. I was promised a doctor on the phone. At that point, still waiting outside the facility we decide to leave, and go to another Urgent care a couple blocks away as I wanted to see a doctor and couldn’t stand in the cold or fill out the forms. Arriving to another clinic, I am invited to take a seat to a completely eerily empty waiting room. It’s as though people are afraid to come out, even for help. The assistant asks all my symptoms and I breathlessly answer. Then the doctor comes in and asks me to repeat all the symptoms again. Exhausted, frustrated, abrasively summing up all my energy, I say to him ‘Didn’t the assistant give you all the information I just told her?’ He takes mercy on me, as he can see I’m having trouble breathing. I didn’t ask, but was able to get a COVID test because the doctor remembered Niguel as a COVID patient and his test had just come back positive that very same day I came in. He threw Niguel out of the facility since he was positive. He orders X-rays for both for my hip which still hurts like hell, and lungs. The hip is only a contusion. but it turns out I have bilateral pneumonia. Now, I’m scared. I said to the doctor ‘I’ve never had pneumonia before and with the asthma, and COVID, I’m scared.’ He say’s ‘ I don’t blame you, I’m scared for you too….especially because of your age!!’ I was 58. That was NOT reassuring!!
He also gives me albuterol to take every 4 hours for 24 hours instead of my normal inhaled steroid (for every day asthma) At the time they were worried about steroids and Covid. Also I have a WET cough which is because of the pneumonia. Later changes to a dry cough. The urgent care doctor won’t give a cough suppressant as he says I need to cough it up. I was given 2 antibiotics for the pneumonia. Turn off all news. No more press conferences. I can’t bare to watch the rising death rates anymore. I wonder how am I going to survive COVID, bilateral pneumonia and asthma.
March 30. I remember before getting Covid, being terrified of catching Covid. Endless hours on the phone with friends talking about how afraid we were and how horrible things were in the city. Once I got Covid, I had to put that fear away. As much as possible anyway. It’s a very different kind of anxiety, being afraid of getting the disease, and then actually getting it. Now, shortness of breath and coughing is exhausting, my brother and Niguel are begging me to go to the hospital. I agree. As I breathlessly go down the two flights of steps of the apartment building, I wonder how I will get back up if they don’t keep me in the hospital. Niguel drives me to Lennox Hill which isn’t that far from where we live. Niguel isn’t allowed in with me. I am put in a room by myself as a suspected COVID patient. (results came back 9 days later) The test probably came back 7 days later but it took two more days to get someone to answer the phone at Urgent Care. They give me oxygen and I stay half a day. They take another x-ray and that one was worse than the one I had on March 27 from the clinic. The criteria for being admitted to the hospital that day was that your oxygen levels had to be below 94. Luckily, mine were not. They release me, even though I still have shortness of breath and could barely walk. Though they say they fully expect I may have to return. I later find out that March 30 was the peak day for the most Covid admissions in the city. They also changed my meds back to the inhaled steroid instead the albuterol which was making me shake. ( find out later after 3 days of continuous use it is virtually ineffective and many people in the past died of asthma attacks from overusing it like that) I do get a cough suppressant which at least will let me get a little sleep. Doctors say the antibiotics given from Urgent Care, will not help as pneumonia is viral. I still finish them anyway, never know if it prevents another secondary infection. The hospital says call your doctor in 2 days. I think to myself what doctor? No one is answering their phones or in the office. They are all either working the front lines or scared and not in the office.. Nothing in-between.
Beginning of April – No appetite, loss of taste and smell. No energy. Continuous difficulty breathing. Persistent dry cough. Drink a lot of water and take Vitamin D. Very little sleep. Remember listening to the cheers for the hospital workers at 7 pm from my bed thinking they were for me. Or at least sick people like me to get better. Keep going. keep going. It was practically the only sign of outside life going on that wasn’t from a TV and gave me hope. I looked forward to the ritual, sometimes crawled to the window to knock my fists on the windowpane or raised my arm in support and triumphant depending on what I could manage that day. It was for the essential workers but it was also for me… Getting to the bathroom is a major ordeal. I can’t take a shower. Only sponge bath. And that was only when I went out for help. Both Niguel and I are so sick at one point we can’t even help each other. Even to get food or make a tea. At some point we order food. I bite into the sandwich and it tastes like cardboard. I can’t figure out if it is a bad egg sandwich or the Covid. Maybe both. I lost 8 pounds. I later gained a Covid 10. Watching mindless shows, like the horrible Tiger King, old Seinfeld episodes.
April 12. My birthday. I am happy to make it. We have chocolate brioche from the grocery store as it was the only thing available and I was thrilled to have it. All I wanted to do for my birthday was take a hot shower but the bathtub drain was badly clogged. We didn’t want to call anyone for help. My partner finally fixed it but was unable to do so on my birthday due to his own weakness and the stubbornness of the clog. I got a hot shower the next day.
Mid April – Walking 2 flights down my building or to the grocery store across the street is a big adventure and an even bigger ordeal getting back up the steps. Later we try to walk over by the boardwalk by the East River/Gracie Mansion, but go one block and decide we can’t make it, so we walk to an open seated area in apartment building half a block away because that’s as far as we can walk. Shortness of breath for both of us.
April 22. A client I like asks if I can do a 2 sentence voiceover job. It should take 15 mins max. It took me 2 hours and my chest was killing me the next day.
April 30. I am finally able to get an appointment with my pulmonologist who was M.I.A. for quite awhile. When I get there he says ‘Why didn’t I call him sooner!?’ I had only been trying for weeks and no one would get back to me. He also was closed down in the early days but reopened as he decided he wanted to give post-covid care. He says I have a wheeze, shortness of breath, Gives me a dual inhaler for 2 weeks (rescue and steroid) They should have given me that at the hospital. Till this year, I haven’t seen this doctor since 9/11 when my asthma got worse from the bad air in the city from the attacks. Mostly, the asthma was under control except for an occasional flare up due to a flu or cold. I went to a new doctor in January because of an insurance change and they suggested I re-visit the pulmonologist. In February he does some tests, my breathing wasn’t exactly what it should be, and he says my dosage is homeopathic, and ups my meds and says come back in a month. I can’t do that because of COVID. But I really believe that extra doses helped my lungs for what was to come ahead. I shudder to think how things might have gone if I haven’t made the adjustments to my meds in February before COVID hit us…. (April 30) He takes an x-ray and luckily the pneumonia is gone. Just asthma now (affected by the COVID) As, I’m leaving the doctor’s office he says ‘Congratulations, I’m glad you made it, cause your x-ray from the hospital didn’t look good!’
MidMay — Coming out of brain fog. Able to read more and figure paperwork out. Niguel lost his job on March 23 and was without insurance even though he had COVID! We were finally able to apply for insurance for him and figure a few other things out. I start telling clients I can work again and finish work from March. Still problems breathing at times. Walking is difficult. Before COVID I could do 10,000 steps, as could Niguel easily, now 4000 is a great effort. I am still working on it. Breathlessness after I eat food. That never happened before. Cottage cheese which I used to love tastes awful. I through away the tubs because it tastes so sour. One day, I can smell the light fragrance of a ripe banana, even better the taste returns, each bite more flavorful than the next, and can honestly say I’ve never had a banana that delicious before or since.
Late May/June – Doing better, but last week was rough. It was a set back as I had aches again, more shortness of breath and was scared I got re-infected. Things seemed to have improved since then maybe only allergies. But both of us are still NOT what we were before we got sick. Niguel is getting blood tests and something is off with his iron and we will have to follow up. (It was fine in the fall when he last got his blood tested) I have a follow up with doctor in beginning of July. We still have trouble walking distances, carrying groceries, walking up the steps without being breathless. So, it’s still a journey. Doctors seems to think it takes time. But we are better than last month, and hope to be better next month.
July- Still have shortness of breath at times after eating, doing nothing, and doing something. This is not an asthma attack as I know it. I had built up to 7000 steps but have taken a step backwards. Now can do about 3500. I don’t know what happened. Have to take another Covid test in order to do breathing tests in doctors office. Long lines to get the tested at eight in the morning. They take some of us who needed the Covid test a block away to Lennox Hill. Thoughts come back to March 30 when I went for help the first time. This time, the Covid test takes 24 hours. I’m negative. When I go to the back to the pulmonologist, he gives me a spirometry test in the office and the results come back to what I was in February before he upped my meds. I can’t seem to get him to understand that I want to be what I was in early March after he upped the meds. He says I had anxiety when I came in late April because I still had Covid symptoms. I said, ‘Yes, it was 5 weeks and on the news they said you would be better in two or three weeks if you weren’t on an intubator.’ He say’s ‘Well, I can tell you don’t have a lung disease, it’s sounds like anxiety.’ Trying to keep calm, I say, I’m happy it’s not a lung disease, I wasn’t thinking it was, and while acknowledging I may not be the most zen New Yorker around, I don’t believe it is anxiety. I think it may be some residual leftover from Covid. He agrees that might be possible and writes a script for a pulmonary function test. Back to Lennox Hill. The test, which has only been available for two weeks now, as the hospital testing area used to house Covid patients, takes place in a claustrophobic little booth, with a glass door. Even though I’m a voice actor and have been in small booths before I am uncomfortable. I have to close my eyes to get thru it when the door is shut. I do admit to anxiety there, but it is a different feeling to the shortness of breath I was experiencing. The test comes back within the normal range. I’m still having the breathing issues at times. Especially after I eat. I start eating smaller meals, take a OTC. It seems to help a bit. The doctor says ‘He believes me', recommends going to a GI doctor. as he says the breathing and GI are very close together and connected. I haven’t as of yet. But I start reading the posts from the long hauler Covid groups I joined and I discover I’m far from the only one with continued shortness of breath who’s breathing tests came out normal and was told it was anxiety. I see a post about a fantastic group called The Pulmonary Wellness Foundation which has webinars with live doctors, and a wealth of information and most importantly believes the symptoms are real, and not anxiety.
My partner’s Covid is also long term. His presented differently. He had gastro issues and now 4 months later is testing high in Ferritin ( High Iron). Two doctors didn’t know what that meant. He finally got a tele-health with a hematologist, who when asked said high iron was a hallmark of Covid. He will have to go back in August to see if levels dropped and for further testing. So, the journey continues. We are not as sick as others, we survived, but we are not done either. And that’s my story. Or at least what I can remember of it…