This post was first published September 2020. It has been updated with current CDC guidelines where noted. Please call your doctor if you suspect you have Covid
I am now six moths post covid. March 19, 2020 was the first day of symptoms, and here we are mid-September. It’s been a surreal and crazy experience, and I thought I would give an update on how things are going. For a little background context, you can read about my initial experience here. The post is real and raw, and details my frustrations with having difficulty getting answers.
Let’s Start with a Little Follow-Up
I didn’t know when I wrote my original post that I would become what is now dubbed “long hauler”. This term, which wasn’t really a term when I was in the thick of it, means that my life and my health have suffered long term effects from having the virus. The virus caused severe inflammation in my lungs. I never needed supplemental oxygen, but I had to spend weeks and weeks in bed. I could only be around my family for short periods of time because talking required so much effort. When you have three young children, you can’t be around them and just not speak. They don’t understand that.
Breathing felt like a brick was sitting on my chest, or that I was trying to inhale through a tiny coffee straw. When I needed to take a deep breath, it would take me several tries to fill my lungs. Because my lungs were having to work so hard, my heart was also having to work hard. My pulse was often above 90bpm at rest. This is still within normal rage, but it is not my normal. Then there’s the extreme fatigue. Think first trimester pregnancy fatigue. You just can’t shake it.
The fatigue and the shortness of breath were not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging as well. I don’t think there has been a lot of talk about the mental challenges of dealing with Covid. You see, by this point, it had been well over a month since I had the active virus. I felt fine. I didn’t have a fever or cough or anything like that. However, the fact that I could not participate in my normal life was crushing. It has given me increased empathy for those who suffer from chronic illness.
The Saga Continued
At the beginning of May, I contacted my doctor again to talk about the difficulties I was still having. He prescribed me a long acting steroid asthma inhaler. I use this inhaler each morning, and it lasts all day. He also sent me for a chest x-ray, which came back clear. In theory, it was nice to have a clear x-ray, but my symptoms were so significant that I also wanted validation. This is also when the antibody testing first became available. And you know what? My antibody test was negative.
It was crushing – completely devastating. My doctor couldn’t explain it, other than to say his other covid patients were seeing the same results. We now know that people don’t retain antibodies for long. I was really frustrated by this point, and I wanted more tests. I also craved simple things, like for the doctor to listen to my chest with a stethoscope (all of my appointments were tele-health).
About a month after starting the daily asthma inhaler, I started seeing some slight improvement. I began to have more good days, where I could do typical things like talk to my family without getting winded. Some days, I would regress back. It wasn’t a linear recovery process. Just because I had one good day didn’t mean that the next day would also be a good day. It was a surprise each morning. This back and forth nonsense was mentally challenging. I couldn’t make plans. I missed spending time with my family, cooking, and all the things my former healthy self enjoyed. But, ever so slowly, I began to have more good days than hard days. I started having three to four good days in a row. Also, I started trying to push myself a little. I would sing in the car or go for walks to strengthen my lungs.
Then Came a Set Back
It was a really good day at the beginning of June. Because I had a good amount of energy that day, I decided to go for a jog. I had done this once before, and I was excited to exercise again. I drove to a park that had a nice flat track, and I proceeded to do a mix of jogging and walking for about 30 minutes. When I returned to my car, I had some slight tightness in my chest. The tightness increased as I drove home (less than 10 minutes away). By the time I walked through my door, I couldn’t talk because breathing had become too difficult.
I immediately went upstairs, did my albuterol inhaler, put my pulse oximeter on my finger and laid down. After about 30 minutes, my oxygen was still below 94%. I was still having a lot of tightness in my chest, and my pulse was 130bpm. I decided to go to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses there were so wonderful. They ran all the tests. All of them. I even got a lung CT, which was a specific test I had been wanting. Everything was clear (again, nice in theory and I’m thankful, but I was still wanting some validation for my troubles). My heart rate and oxygen slowly returned to normal, and I was sent home. The whole experience was like an asthma attack, but I do not have asthma.
A Turning Point – Hopefully
As June and July passed, I had great days. Things finally felt like they were returning to normal. I was even back to regular exercise. Then, my seven year old came to me one day at the end of July complaining of her stomach hurting. She had no other symptoms, but complained off and on for about two weeks.
Furthermore, during this time, my two year old was a little extra fussy, and his diapers were slightly off. If you read my previous Covid post, you’ll know that my kids also were presumed positive for the virus in March. So, these symptoms were confusing. Covid testing labs were very backed up. We decided to not put them through the test, when others in our community were needing those resources more us. After about two weeks of stomach pains, my oldest then started complaining of being out of breath. It didn’t effect her activity level, and she would just randomly mention it. Then, I had a few days of feeling very run down and extra tired. My legs were cramping at night, and I developed a cough…again.
I know, as of right now, there hasn’t been concrete documented research on being reinfected with the virus (UPDATE: We now know that people can contract the virus more than once, but this is rare), but I really think we got Covid again. However this time, it was about 10% as far as severity as to what I went through in March. Thankfully, I listened to doctors who had been educating about how the immune system is so much more complex than just antibodies. I was confident that my body would be able to handle the virus more effectively this time. And it did. After about a week, I was back to my altered new normal. My kids improved as well, with no other hiccups.
This pandemic has been quite the rollercoaster for me and my family. I can’t go any further without giving my husband the BIGGEST shout out. He has taken such good care of me over the past six (!) months, never once making me feel guilty about needing so much rest. As of right now, I am still using my daily inhaler. Sometimes, I need the extra help of the albuterol inhaler (a short term steroid), but only about once a week.
Most days, I feel like my normal self, but it’s been a long road to get here. This is really my main purposes for sharing my story. Yes, most people handle the virus just fine and only feel sick for a week or two. But some people will be effected like me. People, like me, with no pre-existing conditions will have long term health consequences. I didn’t die. I didn’t need to be admitted to the hospital, but my life and the life of my family has been changed. That matters. That is significant. There’s more to this virus than just the death rates (which matter greatly). Take it seriously. Love each other and be kind.