March 9. I was on my way to town, headed to the health foods grocery store to pick up some immune support items. I started to feel short of breath. It felt like regular tree pollen allergies while i was sitting there in the car so i didn’t think anything of it. By the time i was standing in the store holding a basket it felt like i needed to clear something from my throat. It felt as if i had a really bad sinus infection and my throat was blocked with crud sliding down the back of it, taking up the space that i would normally use to receive air…minus the crud. My sinuses were dry as a bone. The store owner was talking to me. I dont remember the conversation. I just remember thinking i had to end it. I really needed to end the conversation. I was in real trouble now. The breathlessness was getting progressively worse and i still had to purchase the items before i could leave. I was standing there trying to process that i was maybe not going to make it out of the store without people realizing something was wrong with me. I felt sooooo guilty for being in the store. I couldn’t have known. At that time people weren’t even entertaining the idea that COVID was in the united states. If i had told them i hadn’t traveled to italy or china they would have laughed and asked why i thought i was sick (which they did end up doing later). However, as a healthcare professional, i was mortified that i may have brought something contagious to a public place where it could affect others. I began backing away from the store owner, trying to put some distance between her and i. She took the hint and the conversation finally trailed away. I walked briskly to the checkout counter and set my items down with shaking hands. The feeling of breathlessness was overwhelming now. My arms and legs felt suddenly hot and tingly and then went numb. I recognized the sensation. I was going to pass out. I was standing there so angry, willing my body to be fine, and it was going to pass out on me. I felt suddenly fragile in my inability to take control of my suit of flesh. I began unwrapping one of the vials i was meaning to purchase. I knew i had to get some in me if i was to stay functional. My vision had blurred and my fingers, still numb, fumbled and grasped at the plastic wrapping around the lid. I could see that my fingers were somewhere in the general vicinity of where they should be and yet i was making no headway with the plastic. Though i couldn’t make it out clearly, i could see the husband of the store owner i had just been talking to watching me intently from the corner with anxious concern. I tried to offer an insight in case i passed out before i got the chance to explain, “i’m not feeling so hot.” He asked, “just all of a sudden?” I answered, “yeah.” He asked, “Do you want to sit down?” He went to get a chair but i was already on the floor. I sat with my back against the counter on the floor and wondered what i was going to do. I had to get out of there before i did any more damage to these people. They were good kind people. They had taken care of me with green smoothies and açaí bowls through every flu and virus my work had saddled me with over the past couple years. They sold me all my natural medicines and goat milk soaps. They didn’t deserve this. I had to go. I sat on the floor and swallowed the whole vial of liquid i had managed to wrench open. The owner sold me a spirulina kale smoothie. She asked if i had eaten that morning and reminded both her husband and i that it could be a number of things, including an empty belly. I drank the smoothie and the sensation returned to my hands. She put my items in my car and i attempted to drive away. I got a couple blocks down the road and the tingly numb sensation returned to my hands and feet. I started feeling more short of breath. The light turned green so i pressed the acceleration pedal and headed on through another intersection. It became clear that i was going to need to pull over. In total, i had to pull over 4 times during the 30 minute run towards home and i drove well under the speed limit the whole way because for some reason, pushing the pedal with my foot in the car winded me irreparably. I stayed on the phone with my mother gibbering on and on about how i was ever going to live with myself for exposing what was possibly the sweetest, kindest, God fearing family that existed in the hill country when my mother asked if i had a fever. I wasn’t sure. I told her i’d check when i made it home. I did make it home. I did not have a fever. My mother soothed my fears stating that covid-19 patients were presenting with high fevers and if i didn’t have a fever, it probably wasn’t covid. It was some virus and the family who owned the little grocery would be fine. I calmed down a bit then. It sounded like a reasonable enough explanation to me. I took a few supplements, drank some water, and crawled into bed. Luckily, it was my weekend. I was not needed at work. I say luckily because i slept through the next two days. I barely got up to let the dogs out to potty. I left them out all day when i did. I didn’t eat or drink. I made it to the toilet and back once in a blue moon. I mostly just stayed very still underneath the blankets pressing my head carefully into the underside of the pillow. I had a migraine and i couldn’t think. The light was too bright coming through the curtains. The wind chimes outside were too noisy crashing into each other with each new gust. I kept thinking, if i could just press my head a little harder it might alleviate the pain. I burrowed into the blankets and held absolutely still, trying not to move lest it become worse. I had made a decision at some point to take my temperature. I was curious what was behind this headache that wouldn’t go away, especially since my nasal cavity and throat were completely clear of mucus. What could be causing all the pressure in my head? My phone chimed. Work was informing me i had a full day scheduled for tomorrow. I protested, as i was supposed to have a half day because i had agreed to come in for ten hour days the week before when my coworker called in. As i was arguing my position the thermometer beeped and i notified work i had to go. I had a fever.
I immediately called my mother and asked her what to do. I said, “i have a fever”. Silence on the other end. After a while she began speaking again; rattling off hourly protocols and i began writing them down on the white board on the side of the fridge. This one every hour, that one every two hours, this one once a day for three days only, that one every 4 hours, this one twice a day…
The headache subsided with the tea i had made to cut my fever. I became a little more comfortable in my own skin. However, the shortness of breath became worse. I began to recognize that i was too winded to finish a sentence without resting, that my mind would get ahead of my mouth when trying to spew words and i would begin pausing to take a breath between every three or four words. At times i would have to stop moving my mouth and sit still for a moment to regain my ability to make intelligent vocalizations at all. This peeved me to no end. I’d never been good at summary and there was so much i was trying to say but my body wouldn’t match my break-neck speed with which thoughts raced to the surface. I had ordered high doses of vitamin c but they were on back order and had not arrived yet. Every day i checked the app on my phone but it indicated that the po box was empty. With the bottles on back order i couldn’t be sure when they would arrive. My mother helped me divide and portion out the vitamin c i had with me. Ten of the small pills every 4 hours. One hour after i had taken the vitamin c my airway would clear and i would feel a sense of relief flood my body as i could catch my breath once more. But it was a temporary state. Towards the third hour it would begin to wear off, almost time for a new dose. Not wanting to deviate from our concocted survival plan, i promised myself i would not take any extra vitamin c; only the scheduled amount every four hours. When it was gone, it would be gone for good. I didn’t have any more. The vitamin c was my lifeline. When it had worn off and i still had a whole 60 minutes to wait for the next dose, i would lay very still in the bed and try to stay calm. The best way i know how to describe it…it was like drowning above water. It didn’t matter how deeply i breathed. I felt no relief. The worse it got the more my instinct was to panic. It was the most severe in the wee hours of the morning when i would first awake after having slept through some portion of the night…meaning i had gone several hours without any medicinal intervention. I would wake up gasping for air and sit up as if that would help. My mind would panic as my new reality came flooding back to me. I would hurry and swallow the ten vitamin c pills and then try to stay calm for the next hour until they kicked in. During these dark hours of the morning i began making some observations. I would wake up absolutely drenched in sweat. The sheets and the pillows were soaked as if someone had thrown a bucket of water onto the bed. My clothes stuck to my skin and became cold, wet in the air conditioner. The other thing that seemed to happen was i would wake up with a racing heart. I slid my finger into my pulse ox one morning and it read, “O2 – 93. HR – 148.” During the first few days my heart raced day and night. After that, only at night. I never understood why. I would wake up feeling it beating rapidly in my chest. I felt like i was going to be sick. It was such an anxious pace for something i wasn’t normally aware of, i just felt icky and wired.
At this point my employer began to wonder where i was. I contacted the cdc and downloaded the protocol from their website. I was told that they were recommending individuals self quarantine at home if they could. They said if symptoms became more severe individuals were to call ahead and let the hospital know they were showing symptoms of covid and needed to come in…namely for the purpose of intubation. They told me there was no treatment or protocol for covid at that time, just management of symptoms. The focus would be on keeping it from spreading, so they didnt want the covid patients at the hospitals if they could help it. They said there were limited test kits at that time so it was recommended that i not waste one confirming infection now but save it to rule out active infection and clear me to return to work in 14 days. So, i was supposed to self quarantine in my home for 14 days and then call ahead to go to the hospital for a test in town to prove to my employer that i had beat it and was ready to return to work. When i informed my employer of this they were less than sympathetic. Some said nothing. Some mocked me in an amused manner, asking me out of curiosity where i got my information, to which i replied “the cdc website”. I was informed that corporate had been called and corporate handed down the order that i was to return to work 24 hours after having been fever free. I was informed that corporate had checked and there were no active cases in our county, so i couldn’t be a case, you see, because i was in our county, and there were none in our county. Because that’s exactly how infectious diseases work. “Excuse me mr covid? Did you know that nobody is aware of anyone infected with you in this county?” “Why no, i didn’t. Well, i’ll just pack my bags then. Everybody knows, i love to observe the rules.” Try as i might, i couldn’t get educated medical professionals to understand that this was how infectious diseases such as covid-19 spread…under our noses. For every case that tested positive in new york there were people out there in the community that also had the covid bacteria inside of them that were either denied a test, not showing symptoms, or showing mild symptoms and mistaking them for a common cold. But, the professionals in charge clung to their facts and figures and for a month and a half they would all treat me as if i was some over dramatic conspiracy person that had overnight developed hypochondria. It was during this time that i learned, there were two sets of rules that i had to play by; one that would keep my patients, coworkers, and community safe and another that would keep me employed. One set of rules was governed by instinct and common sense and the other by suits in offices thousands of miles away from this problem.
There came a day when i had been gone from work the allotted amount of days i was capable of being absent without termination (not very many). A month later everyone would be allowed 14 days with pay were they to contract the virus but when i went through it there was no such sympathy in place. I was aware that there was speculation i might just be hiding at home, afraid to come in and face the possibility of contracting the virus and it made me angry because i was at home fighting for my life.
One night i woke up after having slept a few hours without any oriental mushroom and onion soup, tinctures, supplements, vitamins, or lung health tea. I was having the worst time trying to breathe. I took my rationed vitamin c dose and waited for the affects to kick in. I knew i had a solid hour of agony, of feeling like drowning above water, before relief would come. I tried not to move or expend much energy, but, the tears wouldn’t stay down. Once the flood gates opened they just kept coming. I cried and cried. I cried because i was frustrated that nobody believed me. I lived alone and despite several people wanting to witness this state i claimed to be in, i wouldn’t let anyone near the property for fear of infecting them like i feared i’d done at the grocery. Which only fueled their suspicions that i might be faking to go AWOL. I was too busy trying to survive to argue with them and so i’d had to just ignore the passive remarks and tend to my regiment over and over again. All my free time was spent trying to come up with more ways to procure vitamin c. I cried because i was scared. Nobody could tell me how long this would last, how bad it would get, if i’d be done with it by the time my supplies ran out, if i’d have temporary or permanent damage to organs were i to beat it… i was afraid to die. I was lying there trying to breathe and i just couldn’t catch my breath. My limbs were tingly and hot again. As the tears ran down my face the one thing at the fore front of my mind was “if i die now, at 31, will i know regret, or does that not exist in heaven?” I wondered, would i mourn the loss of everything i had wanted to do on earth? Would i know that i had not made it to 90, or even 60? Would i feel sad for the things i’d left unfinished? Would it matter that there would likely be no one to finish the unfinished things for me, or would i instantly be at peace? I had some deep questions surrounding death swirling around in my head and i felt i needed someone thinking clearly to help me sort through them. It was late. I shouldn’t have called my friend, but i did. She picked up. She was a physical therapy assistant i used to work with and a cherished friend to this day. Always grounded. Very spiritual and with a deep well of faith. I asked her if she thought that when we died we mourned the loss of what we left unfinished or if we felt an instantaneous sense of peace. She said without skipping a beat that no, we did not mourn for anything once we’d reached heaven. She said that if we’d given ourselves to God and we’d made that decision to dedicate our lives to him, then that was that. God had an infinite plan for everything and if God had decided to take us, we felt an instantaneous sense of peace upon arriving in heaven. I’m not usually a trusting person and i don’t usually take other peoples’ words for things but the moment her words hit my ears through the phone i felt peace. It was going to be okay. No matter what, God was in charge, and i believed her, without a second thought, that when our time came we would know peace about it; that i couldn’t understand that or imagine that now in this moment, but when the time came it would be different.
One day my phone indicated that there was a box at the post office. I knew what it was. Damn. I couldn’t figure it out. I had the only key to the box. No one could touch the key but me because it had been with me and so was contaminated. Nobody could meet me to give me the contents of the box because that would also require them to come near me, and not many people just happened to have a full suit of ppe in the back seat of the car. I waited until midnight. I showered, put on new clothes from the shed (summer wardrobe), put hand sanitizer in the car, wiped the keys down, donned a n95 mask, and brought a couple alcohol wipes with me. I drove to the post office, parked, got out of the car, pulled the post office door open, and walked in. It was deserted. I stuck my key in the box, retrieved the bottle of high dose vitamin c, closed my box, touched the handle of the door once more, and walked to the car. I put the vitamin c in the car and went back to the door with the alcohol wipes where i sanitized the door handle on the inside and the outside where i had touched it and then took the wipes and their foil packets with me to throw away in my trash at home. I even wore sandals from the summer wardrobe in the shed in the hopes that i would not track anything from where i’d been to where i was going. I just needed that vitamin c so bad. I was almost completely out. That night i took a high dose of vitamin c every two hours, and it felt so good. SO GOOD! I felt alive again. I could breathe! I could say more than two words before drawing another breath! I could stand and walk across the room without getting dizzy. I felt so much better. It was at this time that i realized i didn’t have a fever. I hadn’t had a fever for several hours. I would have to return to work 24 hours from the moment i knew i was fever free upon corporate’s orders. So i began mentally preparing myself to return to work. I told myself i would sit far away from the patients. I would hand them dumbbells and instruct them from afar. No showers, no toileting, no transfers that required me 6 inches away from them. I would just do what i had to to get them through the day without touching them or being in their space. I would fulfill my obligation but minimally for their safety. I would eat lunch in my car. I would stay away from my coworkers. I very much intended to do all these things. To drive the car, i needed more vitamin c, to do strenuous things took more vitamin c than just existing and breathing at rest. So, i went in search of it. Heb and walmart were on back order. Amazon was on back order. So were all the vitamin supplier websites. However, i figured people might not know the dollar general sold vitamins. I was right. I found 7 small bottles of vitamin c in the little dollar general near me and one in the dollar general in town. But, i ended up having to tear into one full of tablets on the drive from my house into town because pushing the accelerator pedal and talking at the same time knocked the wind out of me, i couldn’t catch my breath, and i began to feel like i was going to pass out. As my eyes began closing i pulled into a church parking lot and put the car in park. I ripped the cap off and popped two tablets into my mouth. There was no time for finding water somewhere or waiting for them to dissolve. I chewed them. So SO sour, but worth it. Five minutes later i was driving again. I texted my supervisor to let her know and to allow her to let our team know to stay away from me. I didnt want to put any more people at risk. I told her i planned to stay 6 feet away from the patients and only do bicep curls with everybody, no self care until symptoms were gone, or at least less present. I told her about nearly passing out at the wheel trying to press the accelerator pedal and talk at the same time. I think she was one of the only people who could see that i really was not in a condition to lift, bathe, and toilet people at that moment. Breathing, driving, talking, standing…all those things were difficult for me at that time. How the hell was i going to rehabilitate others? I needed to rehabilitate myself. My supervisor went to my director and they collectively decided that i needed to stay home but corporate would need a note from a doctor about why. At this point i had no qualms about spending the dough to go see a doctor if it would buy me one or two more days that i didn’t have to live with the gnawing guilt of bringing this to others and try to pull a magic rabbit of stamina out of my ass. I drove to the local urgent care and donned my mask. I was unprepared for how much worse the shortness of breath was going to get sitting in that waiting room. I dont like to be stuck; in line, in gridlocked traffic, on hold on the telephone, or in a doctor’s office waiting room. I have this irrational fear that i’ll never get out, like time will freeze and i’ll be stuck in place forever. As i became more and more stressed out over the course of the next 40 minutes, my symptoms became more severe. For the first time ever since developing whatever this was i became nauseous. I found it more and more difficult to breathe and wanted to rip the mask off my face, but fought the urge. I waited in the office and tried to play solitaire on my phone but i was too busy panicking about how many minutes had passed since i had missed my next dose of spirulina, the next dose of oriental mushrooms, the next dose of vitamin c that i had left in the car and couldn’t take anyway with an n95 mask on my face. I felt like running away from the urgent care, back to my medicine protocol, back to the sunshine and the outdoors. Instead i willed myself to remain in my cold plastic seat underneath the flickering fluorescent above my head. I waited and waited some more. The doctor that came in was young and clean cut. He was very professional and friendly. He listened to my lungs and informed me that i did not have pneumonia. He said that while i was showing some hallmark symptoms of covid-19, i did not have the pneumonia which meant they were not going to test me as they had a limited supply of tests available to them. He asked me to understand that right now they were trying to decide who had covid and who needed to be intubated and they had to save the tests for those showing more severe symptoms. He said i appeared to be doing fine with these symptoms and i probably just had a really bad virus. Thinking there was sincerity in his words i relaxed and began asking him a series of questions, assuming that based on his words he did not believe i had Covid-19 and there would be no hurry for him to leave the room now. Instead of answering my questions he couldn’t get out of the room fast enough and was backing out and closing the door behind him when he informed me that even though i only had a bad virus he thought i should stay home from work 3 more days and the front desk would print me up a note for that. I was trying to process what just happened when i heard the girl at the desk (right next to the room they’d placed me in) say, “what do we do now?” The doctor’s voice answered, “what do you mean?” The girl said, “well there’s another one. That’s two now. What do we do? How do we clean the room?” The doctor shushed her and told her to go back to the desk. He said, “we’ll talk about this later. Just don’t put anyone in there for now.” The girls who printed my doctor’s note stood back from the counter and placed my note about five feet to the side of where i was standing at the counter. They were clearly afraid of me. It cemented the idea in my head that i needed to operate with two sets of rules…those society expected me to observe, and those i held for myself based on instinct and common sense. Side note…if i had known what went into performing the test at this point, i wouldn’t have been upset they wouldn’t give me one. Covid destroys the body’s ability to produce mucus so….we sought to measure covid bacteria in mucus samples….geniuses. There was no mucus to be had so they had to stick the swab all the way to the back of the patient’s nasal cavity, which appeared in the middle of one’s skull in the diagram i have since seen. A grown man described it as the worst pain of his life for 15 seconds. The one thing there has been a real shortage of lately is logic. If it destroys the body’s ability to produce mucus…why not look for it in the blood instead?
Three days later i returned to work, doctor’s note in hand. My first day back was 11 hours. However, then i got a two day weekend before i had to work again. I wouldn’t regain my strength until 7 weeks had passed but the shortness of breath had gone and i was feeling much more functional. I was tired, like dead tired. I clocked out and took naps in the car to get through the day. My eyes frequently began closing as i was instructing patients, but i powered through. During the three days before returning to work my friend, the PTA had called me and given me exercises and walking assignments to do for conditioning and rehabilitation before returning to work. I carried items back and forth from the gate to the front door. I started being able to make it from the door of my house to the gate of my property, crouching to a crawl at the end, gasping for breath. Over the course of several hours i conditioned myself to where i could walk from the house to the gate and back 3 times without stopping to catch my breath. By the third day i was making walks around the edge of the whole 2 acre property in big circles. I was a little sun burned but very joyous and proud that i could walk again. I felt like i was making forward progress.
When i first returned to work i thought the muscle soreness i was feeling was because i was out of shape from lying in bed for a week, but i quickly realized that the problem seemed to be in that i wasn’t sleeping long enough for my muscles to repair at night. For two or three weeks i dealt with severe and widespread muscle and joint pain every time i used my body. If i built something or lifted something, i would feel it for the rest of the week. Though i stretched and stretched relief was only present during and vanished as soon as i was done stretching my painful limbs. I felt like i had run a marathon just because i hauled the trash can in or lifted a mod assist patient from his w/c to the toilet. I did a lot of praying during the past two months. I prayed for God to spare me, to heal my body, to take my pain, and give me peace and maintain my faith that he had a plan for all this and it was infinitely better than anything i could think up.
To this day i still wake up with tachycardia every time i’ve been asleep for more than a couple hours. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if this is temporary or permanent. I typically don’t sleep more than two hours a night and i think that half of the reason why is fear of the tachycardia. May 9 will be exactly two months since i began showing symptoms. I circled it on my calendar. March 9 is circled and may 9 as well. It marks the scariest two months of my life. At some point i stood in front of that calendar and decided i would never see my family in person again. Always zoom or skype or facetime. I was an “essential worker”… I was the least safe thing for them. I had to stay away.
update: the couple that owned the health food grocery store never developed symptoms. They wiped everything in the store down multiple times a day every day and put a plastic barrier up at the register. It took me over a month to muster enough courage to go and face the potential damage i had caused though i called on the phone a couple times to inquire as to how everyone was doing and they said they were fine. I was pleasantly surprised to find them up and running and still healthy when i finally did go in. They will probably never know the amount of guilt and anxiety i carried over it. They are just the sweetest most caring family….the last people in the world to deserve misfortune.