I have COVID-19. I cannot prove it, I am not eligible for a test, but I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt. I am one of the approximately eighty percent recovering at home with no test. So grateful that this is so.
This is the story. I felt it best to share this, as I want to help others not to panic, since I am coming through. Please do not panic, you need your strength.
A week ago, Sunday, March 22, I woke up with a good deal of nasal congestion. Naturally, I went right to the internet to make sure I did not have COVID-19. The symptoms, as everyone knows, are dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. Did not have those. I decided to stay inside and forgo walking around the park or walking my dog, in case I had pollen allergies (which I don’t think I have, but anyway, maybe that was it). I felt stuffy, and when I would bend over my head felt full. Classic sinus infection. I put a warm washcloth over my face. That felt lovely.
In the evening, I decided to take a nice hot shower to relieve the stuffiness. I brought my bottle of scripture inscribed Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, as well as a bottle of eucalyptus oil, into the shower and loaded up a washcloth to put on my throat. I could not smell anything. Later, I stuck many more bottles of oils up to my nose, as well as a jar of minced garlic, a big jug of vinegar, a bottle of Pine Sol. Nothing. Not even my dog’s bed, face right in it, nothing.
As the day had gone on, eventually I started taking my temperature. It hovered above 99, a couple of times passed 100. Officially, this is not a fever, but as I slept, humidifier bubbling with a scented stick of rosemary/eucalyptus/smelled like nothing tucked inside, I felt my system fervently fighting something off. I dreamt of healing entities in some type of astral doctor’s office and awoke with someone telling me I was healed. From something. I was being called “Ms. A.” I do not know what this means.
By the next day, I was searching for info about “anosmia”, the term I had just learned. The term for not being able to smell anything. The first search turned up some concerning articles about the connection to COVID-19, but the symptom was not yet widely accepted. I decided I would rather have a sinus infection, another possible cause. I did not want to have the Coronavirus. Who would? Everyone on Facebook was seeming to be maintaining a permanent fortress of disinfection and fear, not to be entered. I felt like if I caved and accepted the dawning truth, I would become a receptacle for the world’s enemy.
I distracted myself in the foray of “remote teaching” for a couple of days, which I likened to rowing a leaking vessel which has been put into the air to keep it from sinking. My weak little fever never came back from that point, but I felt a bit breathless, a bit not right. Finally, on Thursday night, I consulted with a doctor. I have been between doctors lately, and not needed one for a while, a blessing of good health. I called one offered by my insurance company’s “telemedicine” option. The doctor was a soothing and competent person, calling me from California though licensed, as required, in New York. He told me the following things, to paraphrase: The data used for the usual symptoms list was taken from people who had presented at hospitals for treatment. People whose illness was mild enough to stay home were calling him with other symptoms, such as nasal congestion and loss of taste and smell. I was told to assume I had it, isolate at home and avoid my family. My son, who is healthy and twelve, is not much of a concern. My partner is healthy but sixty-seven. (I know he has no symptoms of anything wrong because I ask him at least every hour, still, and a couple of times during the middle of the night. He understands.) My instructions were to stay home, treat my symptoms, and go to the emergency room if I were to get a high fever or have trouble breathing. Beyond that, I can not have a test or see a doctor now. I can not have access to anyone who can listen to my chest with a stethoscope, who can give me an appointment, or a bed for a couple of days. We are all our own doctors currently.
I spoke to this doctor on day four of my illness. He cautioned that between days seven and nine or ten, some people were becoming sicker. Hence, the instruction for going to the emergency room. From this point, my fears of knowing I had the virus were supplanted by my terror that I would suddenly stop breathing. I was aware of what is currently happening here in New York. The steady drone of sirens, the lack of equipment, the death tolls, the makeshift morgues. A few days later now, these things are worsening, and the peak is supposed to be two weeks away. I thought about needing to go to the hospital, breathless, and dying in the doorway because there would be no one to help me. I thought about how there is no one who can adequately take care of my son. I thought about all the people who face health diagnoses every day, which include prognoses and percentages of survival. I cried for them. I have had bad things happen in my life but had not felt these fears.
Today is day ten, and these things have not come to pass. I am not feeling completely well, but I am closer. I have been somewhat able to function normally, with extra rest and remedies. Lots of steam, hot teas with ginger, honey and cayenne. Some Flonase and Robitussin. This virus, though I have a mild version, does not feel like a cold. I have had a persistent sort of burning “cloud” of illness that I can feel in my throat and head, like I have been invaded by something malicious. Sometimes it feels like nausea, sometimes like car sickness. I do not believe I have shortness of breath officially, I can breathe, but sometimes I need to rest and slow my breathing because my chest feels too full. This is lessening now. I remembered how the pediatrician showed me how to gently pummel my kids’ backs with a cupped hand when they had chest congestion. I’m doing that to myself because no one can touch me or come close to me yet. I sometimes feel like I inhaled poison, like the assault to the lungs a young person feels when smoking a cigarette for the first time, except it stays. I have gone back in memory to find the feeling, I vaguely remember respiratory infections as a child, maybe a bad bronchitis. It might feel like when I had mono in high school, but that was a long time ago. When I have been going to sleep at night, I breathe deeply and purse my lips to exhale. I need to choose to sleep, to breathe well. Each night I have slept peacefully, trying to remember to visualize healing through my body, once I get past the fear. The congestion is leaving now, as is the intermittent panic.
I was exposed to COVID-19 at my workplace, my school. After school had closed, the first weekend, we were instructed to come to the building for three days so we could learn how to move school on to the internet, for our student population who have severe and multiple disabilities, and families often without devices. In hindsight, we all should have stayed home. I should have listened to the wisdom of my son, who said early in March that he did not want to go to school and catch the Coronavirus. He is almost always right, and I should listen to him more.
Each day, I cling to seeing the names of my coworkers on the chat screen of the team meetings, and sometimes hearing their voices before someone starts saying “mute your mike!”. I miss them, and the students. I miss people and the world. Today, we were told that a coworker has died from this virus. Someone who seemed young and healthy, who I have known for years and will miss very much. This is not my story to tell at this time, it is his story, but I have felt devastated all day that this rampant disease is killing people close to all of us. It is nowhere near the end.
Six years ago, my daughter Susanna died in a Brooklyn hospital, after a ruptured brain aneurysm we had no idea was there. I knew, as the pandemic approached, that I would think about all that happened when we lost her. I know what the people who are working in the hospitals now are like. The are made of steel and golden light. They save people and send them home, and they are there with families whose loved ones are dying. They need to tell people that there is nothing they can do. They are heroes in the biggest way. I have been remembering talking to the pediatric emergency physician, on that worst night of my life. He asked me what I needed him to know, and I said this: “No matter what is going on, I don’t want to give up on my daughter.” In hindsight, I think that everyone, including me, knew that Susanna was too far gone and would not be coming back. He said this to me: “Now listen to me. I am a pediatric physician. I will never, ever give up on anyone’s child. I will do everything in my power for you and your daughter”. I know he did.
While Susanna rested in a coma, I felt I needed to show her picture to the nurses. I needed them to know that the very sick little body they were caring for belonged to my daughter’s beautiful soul. One of them said, “Oh, I can see her beauty”. Another nurse played the music from Frozen for Susanna on her phone. “I know it is my daughter’s favorite,” she said. And when Susanna died, as I watched through a glass partition, doctors and nurses had come running to help. They worked together, pumping and counting until they had to stop. And they came to me and hugged me, and they cried. They cried with me. It is such a horrific world sometimes, but we are not alone in the presence of all that people do for each other.
Please stay home, please care for each other, please hang in. Peace.