Tis the Season of COVID

Not that a post can’t be personal, but this one is more personal than most you will see from me.  The words in part 1 below were written by my wife, and it’s something I think is worth sharing.  And at the very end, I’ll add my own details to the story (part 2).

Part 1 – Brandi’s Story

The Backdrop

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a weird, life changing kind of year. I won’t necessarily call it bad, because for our little corner of the world, 2020 has been a decent year. I don’t say that without realization that others have suffered greatly, and I continue to be thankful every day that despite all of it, we have been extremely blessed this year.

I started out 2020 with a great sense of excitement: Nick and I were supposed to take the trip of a lifetime over the summer. We had scheduled our very first trans-Atlantic cruise and were stopping at some amazing ports on our way from New York to London over the summer. We all know how that worked out.

I recall when all this COVID-19 stuff got started being one of those people who didn’t really think it was a big deal. I mean sure, it was deadly for some, but so is the flu.  And it wasn’t all that cool to be worried about something that probably wasn’t going to happen to me anyway. When my daughter was granted an extra week of Spring Break, we were excited to not have to get up early every day for another week. Like that was the worst of our worries or something? When that turned into the remainder of the school year though, I decided perhaps this was a little more serious.

I spent lots of time on Google, looking at news articles, reading stories from all over about how this Covid thing was affecting people. My main concern shifted way from the mortality rates that so many people were spouting off:

“It doesn’t kill that many.”

“You probably won’t die from it.”

Instead, I began focusing on long term. Sure, I might not die from COVID-19, but what is it going to do to my body down the road? What affects will it have going forward that we won’t even know about for 5 years, 10 years, etc. because we aren’t there yet? Will it kill off half my lungs? Will it cause some sort of disease down the road that lies dormant until you’re older? (Hello, shingles.) This became my focus, and no, I wasn’t anxious to become a guinea pig to find out someday. We began withdrawing from social situations.

My husband is a germaphobe by nature, much more so than myself, so he happily succumbed to quarantine life. No more calorie-filled customer lunches. No more lengthy commutes to meetings in Dallas. He has embraced the work from home life and to be honest, I think he would prefer to just do this forever exactly like it is now. But me? I can’t handle being in my home 24/7 with no escape. I don’t even need the social interaction – I just need different air to breathe daily. I began playing Pokémon Go again, just so I had an excuse to hop in my car every day and drive to a pokestop. I was the only one going to the grocery store. I tried grocery pick-up one day, but my Enneagram 8 can’t handle someone else picking out my groceries and not knowing how to substitute my choices properly. So that lasted one time.

Our congregation upped their live stream game, thanks in part to Nick, and I was grateful. I recall the last time Nick and I went to services in person…it had to be sometime around May? Our daughter was at her grandmother’s house (another reason we withdrew from society- none of us wanted to kill Nick’s grandmother, Nana as we call her, but still wanted to be able to see them), so Nick and I went alone. We were 2 of the only people once inside the auditorium who kept our masks on the whole time, as if the air somehow became magic the second your bum touched a pew. I was so uncomfortable the entire service I couldn’t even focus on why I was there.

See, I had adopted this strategy when out in public: everyone around me has COVID-19, and I must avoid them. I have become Pacman-level expert at staying away from strangers, and if I must be in someone’s 6’ bubble for some reason, it’s as quickly as possible and I’m out. Sitting in a room with several people, breathing into my clean air, singing, and not caring to wear a mask for an hour was just too much for me. We happily (and safely) switched to online services and haven’t looked back. At least now I can focus on what I’m supposed to during worship instead of wondering which person around me isn’t feeling well and should have stayed home but chose not to.

We even managed not one but 2 socially distanced family vacations this summer. Travel is my drug, and I needed more than a pokestop to keep me happy at some point. We were able to spend a week in a cabin at Beaver’s Bend in June, and then a week in a beach house in Alabama in August.

We decided to enroll our daughter in an online public school for her 5th grade year. She stays home with us, I facilitate her schoolwork each day, and she can still safely go hang out with her grandparents, which is where she wants to be most of the time anyway. We thought we were doing all the right things to keep us safe. I’ve watched countless people I know from the sidelines of Facebook do all sorts of things I consider nonessential, but that’s probably a post for another time. And I felt proud of the choices we made, the choices we thought were going to keep us from COVID-19. We were wrong.

 

It Begins

I woke up Sunday, November 22, feeling off. On the evening of the 21st, I felt exhausted, physically tired and I hadn’t done anything that day to make me feel that way.  But there it was. My neighbor, one of the few people I’ve allowed in my Covid circle, even invited me to come hang out at the house, but I was just too tired to go. Sunday morning, I took my place on the couch for services, and when it was over, we ate some lunch. But I was so very tired, so immediately after lunch I laid down and didn’t wake up for 3 hours. When I did, I had fever and a headache. My body, mainly my legs and lower back, felt like I had climbed 1000 stairs. I said the words I didn’t want to say to Nick: “I think I need to get tested for Covid.” Thankfully on Friday I had taken our daughter over to her grandmother’s house for the weekend. She was helping them decorate for Christmas and was in no hurry to come home.

We found a clinic close by that had PCR tests, and Nick drove me there because I didn’t trust myself to drive a car due to how sleepy I felt. At the time, we didn’t realize that I was testing too early. The virus apparently takes some time to replicate in your system enough to show up on tests. It would be several days, but that test would come back negative. On Monday morning, Nick found a clinic that had Rapid tests, so we decided to go there as well. This is where the nurse explained that the result would probably be negative because I had only had symptoms for 24 hours or so, and she was even reluctant to waste the test on me I think.  But we didn’t know…no one had divulged that information when we made the appointment. They did a PCR test on Nick too at the time, which was also negative. We were sent home with a diagnosis of a “viral infection” and no meds, no good info, nothing useful.

The next few days were a rollercoaster of fever. It ranged from 99.5 to 101/102 most of the time. At one point it registered 104 on my thermometer, and I freaked out and threw all my covers of and froze for 15 minutes before checking again and it said 102.4. With the fever came the chills, the horrible chills that I couldn’t stop no matter what I tried. There were times I had 4 blankets on top of me and a second pillow on top of my head, and I was still shivering like I was laying in the snow. Nighttime was the most difficult. By this point Nick had moved into the guestroom, so at night I was all alone to shiver in our bed, wondering when the fever would break, trying to make sure I could still take a deep breath without difficulty and wondering if at some point I would end up at the hospital. I think that is the worst part. I didn’t admit it to anyone at the time, but there were very real moments, usually in the middle of the night when I was shivering and hurting, that I would freak out that I was going to have to wake up Nick to take me to the hospital. He would have to drop me off at the door because I had Covid and they wouldn’t let him come inside with me, and watching him drive away was the last time I would ever see him. Then I would cry myself back to sleep. It was scary, and my imagination ran wild.

Besides the awful chills and body aches that came with the fever (I’ve never wanted a chiropractic adjustment more in my life), the headaches were excruciating. They were centered in a circle around the top of my head, and no Tylenol would touch them. The only semblance of relief I could manage was to take my fingertips and press them into my head as hard as possible and wiggle them around, almost as if I were trying to stick them through my skull. It would relieve some of the pressure, but not much. The headaches were worse when I would stand to move around, and along with them came dizziness and sometimes blurry vision. They wouldn’t necessarily last long, but when they hit, they hit hard. My neck and shoulders were tense as well, and my lower back ached. I threw up once early Monday morning.

I also had a painful cough. It was way worse each morning when I would first wake up. Some days it was dry and painful. Other days I would cough up mucus. My voice sounded horrible from the coughing, although I never lost it completely. I had almost no appetite.

 

The Turning Point and The Setback

This all lasted through Thanksgiving Day, when I began to get some relief from the horrible symptoms I was experiencing. My in-laws and my mom and both brought Thanksgiving dinners to us, so we enjoyed our traditional food without having to cook. My fever finally started going down and by later in the day Thursday was gone. I felt somewhat human, so I convinced Nick to help me get the Christmas decorations out of the attic so I could finally decorate the naked tree we had put up in the living room a week before. Friday, I felt good enough to decorate the tree and the living room, and I had Whataburger for lunch. Sometime around 3pm that day, I realized I couldn’t smell the essential oil I was trying to use for headache relief. I tried several other strong oils; nothing. I put some oregano oil in my mouth, which is the most awful thing you will ever taste but provides some health benefits…and got nothing.

This is not what I was hoping for.

Because of the holiday, we couldn’t find anywhere that was open for testing (plus it was after 4 pm at this point) so Nick made an appointment the next morning for another Rapid test. They had said to come back if I had any new symptoms, and this was most definitely a new symptom. Even though we already knew it would be positive, we had to know for sure, you know. Fifteen minutes later, and we had a confirmed positive test. Nick was also feeling off by now, and he had fluid in his ears. (He’s been a lifelong ear infection sufferer.) They didn’t test him though, since he didn’t have any Covid-related symptoms. Since he felt like he was getting an ear infection and I had a positive Covid test and was entering my second week of symptoms, the doctor gave us both a steroid prescription. During your second week of COVID-19 is apparently when you either start to get relief and your symptoms start improving, or your immune system gives out on you and you get worse.

Besides the steroid, we both upped our daily dosage of Vitamins D and C, added in Zinc and famotidine (Pepcid) at our doctor’s suggestion. We also each took an expectorant and a decongestant. Not having a sense of smell is weird but not a huge deal. Not having a sense of taste is just plain weird.

Ritz crackers became my best friend because they were interesting enough texturally that I didn’t mind the lack of flavor. I still didn’t have much of an appetite anyway.

Nick lost his sense of smell on Sunday afternoon. He got his positive diagnosis on Monday morning, eight days after my symptoms began. Thankfully, perhaps maybe due to that steroid, his symptoms were very mild, and he never even ran fever. I do feel terrible that I gave it to him, and had he ended up sicker than he did I would have never forgiven myself. Lesson learned – initially we probably weren’t as careful around each other at home as we should have been. Don’t get me wrong – he avoided me like I was a leper and moved into our guestroom and guest bathroom, but we didn’t lock me in my bedroom and make me stay there. I should have done a better job at that part, but it might not have even made a difference since he had been exposed to me for so long anyway. We will never know, and you don’t get a do over for these kinds of things. Sorry, honey.

 

Life After COVID

As I type this out to you, I am on Covid day 38, as I call it. Although I haven’t been sick for quite a while now, I’m nowhere near where I was pre-Covid. My lung capacity is still greatly reduced. I’ve been working on breathing exercises to build my lung strength up and have even participated in 3 virtual exercise classes, although at a low impact pace. Now that I’ve been affected by COVID-19, that worry of long-term effects is still very much in the back of my mind. There is a large part of me that wants to go pay for a chest x-ray. I had surgery back in January before the world turned upside-down, and one of the requirements beforehand was a chest x-ray. I would have a recent one to compare to now. I haven’t done it yet, but I also haven’t ruled it out. We also have our daughter back at home, after 3 weeks living at her grandmother’s house so she would be safe from us. We would have had her home sooner, but once Nick tested positive; we started our 14-day countdown over.

My sense of smell started coming back a little over a week ago, but my taste is still gone. I can now detect when things are bitter or sour, saltiness, spiciness, and a hint of sweetness, but flavor is absent. It’s been 33 days and I don’t know how long this will last, but at least it’s a decent diet plan. You don’t crave junk food when you can’t taste it.

We do not plan on changing anything about our social interactions just because we have Covid antibodies now, so they say. Even though reinfection is rare, I’m also not eager to be one of those statistics. Plus, our daughter has never had it, and we must protect her and our other family that we allow in our Covid circle.

We still don’t know how or who I got my Covid gift from. I had not been around anyone who was sick and other than my usual trips to the grocery store or Walmart, I had not been anywhere for an extended period in the days prior to my symptoms. We will never know, honestly, and it just goes to show that even though you can be doing all the right things, it can still get to you.

So be careful. Be smart. And for the love, if you don’t feel well, even if you think it’s just allergies or something minor, keep your rear end at home. If everyone had an ounce of compassion and cared just a little bit for others, so many of these cases could be avoided.

 

Part 2 – Nick’s Story

Out of Nowhere

An unseen force rocks your world and changes most everything.  The way you work changes, the things you do change, and each day seems similar to the one previous.  As the man of the house, you have to be strong for your family, take care of them, provide emotional support, be the spiritual leader, be a good husband, and raise a young daughter (and try to help her manage her own anxiety)…amidst a mountain of change.  Who doesn’t like a challenge, right?

I spent more time exercising (virtual classes), more time eating at home (insert better, healthier food), and more time outside in the fresh air.  I spent time learning new things.  I spent time in prayer for the health and safety of my family and friends.  And I spent time lost in my work or tinkering with technical things and less time reading news articles to avoid worrying.

I remember when she woke up that Sunday feeling a little off.  Then later that morning I made the mistake of sipping from the same cup during the Lord’s supper.  I did it without thinking and said, “great…now I am going to get sick too.”  And later that day was the moment she woke up from her afternoon nap and said she thought she needed to get tested.  If you’re reading this, I hope you never have to hear those words.  Though perhaps not showing it on the outside, this hit my internal panic button.  Ah yes, the red alert inside was firing.  It’s something maybe we all in a way mentally prepare for but never want to accept could actually happen.  Does she really have coronavirus?  How will I take care of her without getting it too?  Please don’t let me lose her because of this.  Why does the mind go there oh so quickly?  I don’t know why, but I know mine did.

The day her symptoms started I moved what I needed out of our room to live in the guest room (and guest bathroom) until she got better.  She didn’t feel well enough to drive herself to the doctor.  The tests from Sunday (PCR) and Monday (rapid) both came back negative.  They tested her for flu on Monday as well, which was also negative.  I had what felt like allergy / sinus type symptoms (feeling of fluid in ears, clear drainage in throat), and despite its similarity to my once per year ear infection, I had them do a PCR on me.  It took until Friday to hear the test was negative.  So we left the doctor after hearing she has some kind of viral infection and tried to figure it out from there.

Keep in mind this doctor visit was the Monday of Thanksgiving week.  I was focused on tending to her needs, enforcing mask wearing, keeping her out of the kitchen, cleaning counters and doorknobs constantly, and was not that concerned about how I felt.  I was working Monday – Wednesday, and there was plenty to do to prepare for the following week’s activities at work.  She went mostly back and forth between the living room couch and our bedroom, but thinking back I wish I had forced her to stay in our bedroom.

The Seesaw Effect

She started feeling better on Thanksgiving, and I remember having an extreme headache that day.  It was bad enough I had to lay still in a dark room for a while to help ease the pain.  I don’t think I ever associated it with possible COVID but rather just assumed it to be a biproduct of the way my ears felt.  When it feels like there is fluid in your ears, they tend to just hurt, which makes your head hurt.  I remember my head hurting off and on and daily naps from this point forward.

I remember how frustrated Brandi was when she lost her taste and smell on Friday.  There was no point in keeping the Thanksgiving food, and anything remotely unhealthy immediately became my enemy.  I was not going to allow poor food choices to create further inflamation.  My theory was the cleaner the food, the better chance she had of not getting worse and the better chance I had of not getting it too.

The positive COVID test on Saturday confirmed what we already knew.  The good news was no more fever, and it didn’t seem like she had a ton of mucus in her lungs (nothing that seemed like pneumonia).  My symptoms had not really changed.  Despite the headache here and there, I still felt like I normally do right before an ear infection.  Thankfully the doc put us both on a steroid.

The doc did issue a warning.  She said many folks insist on a steroid when symptoms of COVID begin, but it can do much more harm than good because it weakens the immune system in the early stages of infection fighting (when you don’t need it weakened).  Now it would be up to us to manage the mucus with decongestants, expectorants, and a sinus wash to keep it from getting in the lungs.  I did grocery pick up that afternoon since it could be delivered to the car and thankfully had my mom get us some various medicines from CVS (which she dropped off on our porch).  Maybe I could still avoid getting COVID.

Sunday night I realized the smell of my deodorant was extremely faint even with my nose right up to it.  In fact, I couldn’t smell the cat’s litter box.  Not good.  On Monday 11/30, I scheduled the test and got confirmation I had it too.  I wish I could communicate how mad I was at the time to be told what I already knew.  I felt it was more my fault that we got too relaxed at the house in completely isolating from one another.  Whether or not you think you are going to get it, no one wants to be told they have a virus which has been known to affect so many folks in different ways.  With Brandi apparently turning a corner in the sickness, the fears started to come for me.

I could taste solid food just fine but realized I could not taste the elderberry tea I had been drinking to help soothe my throat (which had drainage throughout this experience).  It seemed to be any liquid basically had no taste (even my protein smoothies for breakfast).  But I never lost the ability to taste solid food.

 

Working through Sickness

I wasn’t afraid my employer would make me work while sick.  I was working from home and could have taken as much time off as I wanted.  I needed something to take my mind off the sickness so I wouldn’t worry about it.  I read my bible for encouragement and prayed constantly, but I didn’t want idle time.  There was still work to do, and I planned to do it despite COVID.  At one point a co-worker offered a meal train, and I refused it.  I wanted to eat as healthy as possible so as to not give COVID any additional leg up on me.  After all, I was still mad that I had it.

Whether my actions starting at this point were dumb or smart I really can’t say.  All I can tell you is what it was like.  Each day at a certain point in the afternoon I would get really tired on top of the existing allergy / sinus feelings.  My brain would be so foggy and head hurt so bad that I could no longer function without going to take a nap for a while.  No amount of stength of will would allow me to push that limit.  The things I ended up missing as it relates to work were not much.  My colleauges understood (and probably thought I was a little insane).  I even prepped for and delivered a pretty important presentation while I was sick.  The brain was not functioning at 100%, so I am thankful for teammates who helped support me through it.

Each day if I was awake in the late afternoon, I would take a walk outside (staying far away from everyone).  I wasn’t going to allow this sickness to make me a complete slug.  I was going to make sure I kept moving as much as I could.  There were a number of times when I came back from the walk that I was completely wiped out and had to take a nap (whether I had taken one earlier or not).  Even just that mild, slow walk seemed to get me a little winded, which certainly was not normal.

That was the routine the week of testing positive.  As the next week began (week of 12/7) and I finished the steroid (which seemed to help the fluid in the ears a bit), I got so amped up I could barely go to sleep at night.  I didn’t feel like I was stressed at work, but there was a lot happening for sure.  My mind would race and race uncontrollably to the point where I would lay awake for hours after doing the same nightly routine before bed as always.  When you rarely ever have trouble sleeping, this is disturbing.  Maybe I was subconsciously worried I would get worse and end up in the hospital.  I don’t specifically remember my mind racing about that.  I just remember it racing.  I continued to work each day but reached a daily limit just like the previous week.  But I was also extremely tired.  I’d take naps when I could (and my body would relax enough for me to actually sleep).  I continued the same daily mass intake of vitamins as well as the decongestant / expectorant combo to help deal with the drainage.  I had drainage in my throat, but it was always clear and never really seemed to get worse.

 

Exercising Again

Before this happened I had pretty consistently been doing 3 virtual workout classes per week (Tues / Thurs evening and Saturday morning).  I thought maybe the sleep problems in that second week were a result of not exercising.  I had been doing stretches and trying to take a walk each day, but it was not the same.  On the evening of 12/10, I went for it and signed up for the virtual workout class.  I knew I would have to take it extremely easy (and talked to the coach about it before joining), and that is what I did.  Even with me taking it easy (probably 50% intensity or less), I was extremely winded at times and had to take breaks.  But I lasted the entire class, which felt great.  And then despite my feeling of victory, I felt extremely weak.  I was at least somewhat winded after the workout for quite a while, but I felt this weird, weak sort of feeling in my chest like my lungs had not worked that hard in a while or were not ready to do so.  My nose wasn’t congested / stuffy.  It just felt partially blocked like I could not take a super deep breath (like before the sickness).  In fact, it was enough to make me pretty anxious.  I wondered if I had overdone it, but Brandi said she felt the same way a few days before when she did a light workout.  That feeling went away by the next day, and the inability to go to sleep at night continued.  My workout coach recommended some peppermint oil on my chest (with a carrier oil mixed in) to help the anxious feeling.

On 12/16 I did 30 minutes of light aerobics with Brandi (which again made me feel very winded and weak).  I took it really easy, and I was winded for some time after that.  I worked out again on 12/17, and it still hit me pretty hard afterward.  I felt a little less winded when I worked out on 12/19 but still felt far from normal.  I worked out on my own on Christmas Eve (feeling like I could breathe well enough to raise the intensity just slightly) and was winded for a good 15-20 minutes afterward.  I’ve worked out a couple of times since then, and each time I seem to feel a little more like normal.  I’m still winded more than normal when working out and not back to the same intensity level.  Apparently this is going to take a while.

 

Still Not the Same

At some point in the last 7-10 days I stopped taking the decongestants because I felt like they were no longer needed.  The drainage in my throat and ears went away (as did the ear pain).  It’s been easier to sleep at night without taking those (may have been raising my blood pressure too much) and with the addition of mostly regular exercise.  My inability to taste liquids vanished within a week or so of noticing it, and from what I can tell, my sense of smell is back (have not noticed an inability to smell anything lately).  Lucky for me, I never once had a fever like my wife did.  I had a mild cough for a couple of weeks that eventually went away.  My nose never got stuffy (just kind of felt partially blocked).

I still get headaches.  It’s not every day, but sometimes in the late afternoon my head hurts so bad it feels like it might explode (and thus the nap requirement).  I have continued to insist on eating clean through the holidays and don’t plan to change my eating habits any time soon.  I almost feel like me from before getting sick, but I don’t yet.  My energy level is not what is was pre-COVID.

I have a chiropractor close by that I have consistently seen in the past and trust.  I have had him adjust me at least twice in the last couple of weeks.  He often uses the zone technique and said many of his patients have had zone 1 (glandular) hit really hard by COVID, and it has taken a few adjustments for them to feel somewhat normal again.  The first time I went to see him after no longer being contagious, he mentioned my adrenal glands and others were basically shut down.  In my most recent visit it was zones 3 and 6.  I felt better after each of my visits, so we’ll see what happens as the days and weeks continue into the new year.

Brandi isn’t the same yet.  I can tell she gets tired easier than before, and we know her lung capacity isn’t there either.  While neither of us made to the hospital because of this sickness (for which we are extremely thankful), it has left an impact even several weeks later.  In the mean time, we focus on keeping our daughter and others in our very small circle from getting COVID (i.e. my mother, stepfather, and grandmother) and on avoiding being someone who ends up getting it a second time.

I hope if you have questions about what it’s like to have coronavirus, when to get tested, how to make sure you manage the mucus (which I won’t ever forget), how to deal with thoughts about readiness to meet your maker and other worries, or something else entirely that you can reach out and ask folks like us who have been there.

 

The Doctor’s Helpful List

Here’s the official COVID “cocktail” as our doctor called it (recommended to take daily).  The official words from the clinic that gave us the recommendation were this – “it should be noted there is not cure or magic bullet for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.  While there is extremely limited data, the following ‘cocktail’ may have a role in the prevention / mitigation of COVID-19 disease.  This cocktail is inexpensive, safe, and widely available.  Take them if you can tolerate them / are not allergic to them.”

  • Vitamin C – 500 mg twice daily
  • Vitamin D3 – 1000 – 3000 iu / day (more than the normal recommended daily allowance of 800-1000 iu)
  • Melatonin (slow release) – start with 0.3 mg per day and increase as tolerated to 2 mg at night
  • Zinc – 30-50 mg / day (elemental Zinc)
  • B complex vitamins
  • Famotidine (Pepcid) – 20-40 mg/day
  • Aspirin – 81 mg or 325 mg / day to prevent clots (not to be taken with other NSAIDs like ibuprofen)

***None of this includes getting decongestants, expectorants, and something like a sinus rinse to help manage the mucus if you do contract COVID.

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