When I had COVID, I carried a “sick bag” with me from room to room. When I was still able to walk. Cough drops, inhaler, tissues, Pedialyte. Bottles and bottles of Tylenol. I had an arsenal.
The other day, I saw the bag hanging casually on the coat rack the other day, like none of it had happened. I've blocked out that time. I didn't write down my experience while it was happening as it was too overwhelming. Now I'll give it a try – as it may be helpful to others.
I'm a 35-year-old woman. I do CrossFit six days a week. I'm healthy, though I have anemia. Naturally, I continued home workouts while on lockdown in New Jersey. After a March 25 lifting session, I felt dehydrated and like a sinus infection was coming on. I went to bed thinking I'd just sleep it off.
The next day I said to my boss, “I may need to take the day off. I'm not feeling great. Don't worry – it's not COVID.” I penned the same message in an email to my father.
How wrong I was.
Those were the easy days, in the beginning. Just a headache and some muscle soreness. “Must be all those workouts,” I thought. But then came the fatigue, the fevers, and two long, hard weeks of feeling physically and emotionally shut down. At one point, I felt as though I'd lost my mind entirely.
For a while, it felt like my job was to get rid of the fevers. Tylenol. Cold compresses. Whatever it took. I would watch as my temperature rose to 101, 102, 103, and even 104. This, of course, would coincide with an inability to breathe.
I wanted to take cold showers, but it was too difficult. I only took three in the time I had COVID, and I only changed my clothes twice. I quickly became unrecognizable. Going outside was not an option – both for this reason, and because I eventually couldn't walk far. The mail piled up in heaps in the box.
One night, when another fever reached 104 and I was gasping for air, I decided to go to the ER. They did blood work, performed an EKG, and pumped me full of fluids. I had pneumonia, they said, but I couldn't get a COVID test. I didn't have any pre-existing conditions. After all, I was healthy ... right?
When asking me about my symptoms, the doctor asked, “Any diarrhea?”
“No, none of that,” I said, though I'd struggled with food. My taste and smell wasn't gone but altered. Everything tasted like the main ingredient in the item.
“Oh, you will,” she said.
The next week consisted of more fevers, the diarrhea she predicted, and an inability to move, breathe, or eat. I knew I wasn't getting any sustenance, so I would mix protein bars with water and just swallow. The taste made me want to gag, but at least it was something. Occasionally, I would be able to have chicken noodle soup, mostly the broth. Honestly, I saw no point in eating since I wasn't keeping any of it down. All told, I lost 8 pounds in two weeks.
Still, I tried to have a routine. Since I couldn't walk up the steps without hyperventilating, I couldn't sleep in my bedroom. So, I slept on the couch, the floor, and sometimes the pull-out couch. I would often go to bed at 7 p.m. in the hopes I'd be better in the morning. Usually, a fever would come in around 3 a.m., I'd battle it, and I'd wake up feeling okay. I'd pump myself full of Vitamin-C, try to eat half of a protein bar, and run to the bathroom. Typically, a fever would come in right around lunchtime.
The Sunday before I got better was a particularly hard night. The fevers were non-stop, and I wasn't sure I'd make it through the night. I had chills, aches all over, and I couldn't get in any air. I remembered the doctor telling me to “fight it out at home” since the hospital “wasn't a place I wanted to be.” I prayed aloud. I was mad. I didn't understand why this was happening to me – the healthy person. I kept telling myself, “If you get through this night, you can beat this.”
The next day felt a tiny bit better. Looking back, it may have been the turning point.
In the final stretch, I still couldn't breathe or eat, and then I started to cough. And cough and cough. I almost forgot how much I coughed because I blocked it out. Thank goodness I had the sick bag – everything I needed was in there.
Throughout my two weeks with COVID, people wanted to know how I was. I remember a friend kept telling me to check my mailbox. She had sent a package. I literally didn't have the strength to walk to the box.
Other friends sent batches of texts, and my family called daily. The support was remarkable but overwhelming. I would copy and paste responses. “No, I'm not better” was a common refrain.
In those moments, I felt like they'd never understand what I went through. Honestly, they probably never will.
It took me another four weeks to recover from COVID. But I still feel it now. My iron has dropped to low levels. I'm losing my hair. And sometimes my heart races in a workout. I'm convinced my anemia has something to do with why I got hit so hard, but I'm uncertain. That is perhaps the hardest part of it all – wondering what this might do long-term.