I should start by saying I’m a psychotherapist for a government agency. The first week arrived. I spent all day on the phone on Monday. I stayed late at work calling clients, checking in, and changing in person appointments to phone appointments. Tuesday I awakened with a slight sore throat and mild cough. Normally this is something I would power through since I experience allergies and sinus issues on a regular basis, but when I contacted my boss, she told me to stay home. I rest all day. It’s probably all this stress, I tell myself, plus I spent all day long on the phone yesterday so my throat is spent. The next morning I feel better and figured it was no big deal, so I went into work. I had advocated for myself, given my health conditions and my son’s health condition, to be allowed to do remote work from home and my boss was supportive. But there was a great deal of leg work to do first to make this happen. I worked Wednesday and Thursday, and they started stopping us on the way in and taking our temperatures before we could enter the building. I asked, “what happens if we have a fever?” and they said, “then you are not allowed in!” Obvious, I guess. I am thankful that I have the privilege of having a job that I can do remotely.
At the end of both days I feel fatigued, but assume it is from the harrowing transition to remote work, my interrupted sleep patterns over worrying if we have enough toilet paper and food, and all the worry about the pandemic situation in our world in general. Plus, every morning that week I had awakened at 4 or 5am to head to the grocery store to forage for our apocalypse stash, so it was fair to say I was tired.
Friday I am scheduled to be off from work as my son has a minor hospital procedure scheduled. Hubby, son, and I arrive at the hospital and they stop us at the door, we all have to answer some questions related to Covid, and then they take our temperatures just so we can get to the security guard’s area. Then, the security guard tells us only one parent can go in so we decide it will be me, and the other is not allowed to wait on the premises. We go back and my son and I have to sit six feet apart in the waiting area. After an hour wait, my son isn’t given a gown or anything, they just do the procedure with his tennis shoes on. Shortages on supplies I guess. I am glad it isn’t anything serious. We are then told to wait in the outside lobby, where the few people present suspiciously give each other the side eye as if to ask, are you infected? Hubby is allowed to pull into the roundabout to pick us up, but we aren’t allowed to leave the outside lobby without having to go thru the security checks again. That night I am super tired and just pass it off as being due to being a worried mother and the events of the day.
Day 1. Saturday. I know I am definitely sick now. It hits me like a ton of bricks. My throat hurts and my sinuses are barking. Maybe it’s one of my recurrent sinus infections, is the lie I keep telling myself to alleviate my anxiety. My energy level is down, others can hear it in my voice that I don’t feel well, and the fever begins, creeping in at first, and peeking one eye into reality, very low at first, almost unnoticeable. Then the cough arrives. At first kind of a dry, no holds barred just-get-it-out kind of cough. I still get up and get dressed, watch a movie with the family, but kind of take it easy. I watch all the news religiously, but at some point just turn it off. It’s all too upsetting. Plus, every time I see Donald Trump, I can’t help but think of how incompetent he is. A few weeks ago, the coronavirus was a hoax crafted by the Democrats. Now it’s a national emergency.
Day 2. The fever makes its grand entrance, but still low key, only 100 degrees, but this feels different. The head splitting migraine starts and I feel like my eyes are going to explode. My energy level tanks. I stay in my pajamas all day, only switch from daytime to nighttime pajamas. The cough becomes more painful and I notice if I take deep breaths the reward is an automatic cough. Chest pain. CHEST PAIN. What kind of cough causes this? Fear and uncertainty enters the picture. And of course the unwelcome houseguest of upset stomach and diarrhea decide to join the fever party. I contact my doctor and he said to stay home, hydrate and rest, and treat the fever with Tylenol, to only go to the hospital if there were life threatening symptoms. I decide to quarantine myself in the back bedroom just to be safe, for the others that I live with. I can binge watch some TV shows, it’ll be okay, is what I tell myself. I will rest and get through this, and in the afternoon some of my energy returned so I think things are getting better. Maybe it’s just a bad flu. That’s the lie I tell myself as I wrap myself in a cloak of denial.
Day 3. I awaken with more fever. The night was wracked with coughing. I couldn’t lay down flat, had to sleep with pillows propping my head up so I would at least stop coughing enough to fall asleep. In the morning the fever takes hold again, and now come with the tasty combo of body aches from hell. I have never experienced body aches like this in my life. Every part of my body that can hurt, does. My muscles hurt. My three bulging discs in my back that usually don’t hurt when I am laying flat in bed are screaming at me. My jaw hurts. It hurts to get up to go to the toilet. My head is going to explode with pain. My eyeballs hurt. Pain is everywhere, and all I have is Tylenol to help. My old friend Ibuprofen is persona non grata right now. I can barely speak, as my throat is on fire. I notify my boss I am not able to work remotely, to please cancel my clients for the week. THE WEEK. I have never called in sick for a whole week before, but I can tell I am THAT SICK and that this is serious.
The guilt of abandoning my clients for the week is a shitty dish served cold to me. But I need to recover. I can barely talk without coughing, how am I going to talk to others and conduct therapy? How can I help others when I can barely help myself right now? I have severe lethargy and loss of energy. I barely have any energy to even sit up out of bed, and feel unsteady on my feet, let alone trying work from home, it’s just impossible given my current state. My boss is understanding. An email from another director coworker asks me what my back up plan for my absence is. I am sorry, I am just trying to LIVE, to get through this. There is no fucking backup plan I feel like saying. They act like with my absence they are being asked to assemble the Avengers for Pete’s sake. Be grateful you aren’t sick I feel like SHOUTING but instead I just answer with simple and short and professional responses, and leave out the word fuck. I am sick, I am sorry there is no back up plan. I don’t have the energy for argument or any kind of back and forth problem solving. I AM SO SICK AND HAVE NEVER FELT THIS POORLY IN MY LIFE. I wish the other director had instead shown some positive leadership and compassion toward me. There was no “do you need help,” or “you focus on getting better and I will help you,” or “don’t worry about work.” NOTHING. It makes me wonder if she thinks I am playing hooky or decided to plan a quick getaway to Cancun or something. And this from someone I thought was my friend, to boot. So dissappointing.
I haven’t even turned on the television yet, as I just want to feel the cool breeze from outside and see the sunlight. It’s amazing how simple life gets when things go south. And now the fear makes its return with me again. Those niggling questions like, what happens next? Will I recover? Will I need to go to the hospital? My husband refuses to sleep in another room but I am quarantined in the back bedroom from everyone else. My son, who usually comes in to lay with me and watch TV, I turn away, as I am afraid of him getting sick, as he has underlying health issues. My faithful companion right now is my cat, who is looking at me like, what are you doing laying in my spot? My dog sits outside the door keeping vigil, I don’t want to let him in because he sleeps with my son, and my son needs him right now more than I do. I am afraid of being this household’s Typhoid Mary, of making everyone else sick.
I decide since I am too sick to answer work emails. That’s because all I can do is sleep and every time I close my eyes, my phone notifications are going ding! ding! with emails from work. Of course I don’t even have any energy to engage in any type of work either. I sleep intermittently all day and am then able to watch some TV. I watch a depressing post-apocalyptic movie about all the women in the world dying, and a father trying to protect the one lone girl (his daughter) who is left. Why do I watch such things?
I decide to tell my mother and brother (who live together) that I am sick but still do not really have a working voice and sound like a frog, so I text them instead. My mother, predictably, freaks out and tells me to call 911 and take an aspirin, and that since I have chest pain, it must mean I am having a heart attack. I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he yells in Kindergarten Cop, “It’s not a tumor!” when I tell her via text, it’s not a heart attack because it mostly hurts only when I cough. My mother out of worry begins to interrogate me on every medication I am taking and what I have been doing with my fever and other symptoms. She assumes that me being almost age 50, I must not have any idea on how to recover from a virus and must have contacted her for instructions on exactly what to do. Knowing SHE thinks she is helping the situation, I tell her thanks, but I wasn’t looking for advice, I don’t need you to fix this, I am good here, I was just letting you know. She is deeply offended and accuses me of being rude and goes into an emotional text rant about not knowing what I expect from her, and me being selfish and unreasonable. She then proceeds to call my husband to inquire about me, and later texts me to accuse my husband of also “upholding my daughter’s rudeness against me” too. Sigh. I respond, what are you doing to take care of your mental health? and then the texts stop.
I sleep several hours in the afternoon and enjoy the sound of the breeze outside. Later, I help hubby wrap his foot to shower as he recently had a foot procedure done and can’t get his bandages wet. I giggle about him wearing a white “clown boot” as I call it, since I wrapped his whole calf in a white garbage bag and then used duct tape to seal it around his calf several times. I laugh as he ends up showering with one foot out of the shower so as to not get his dressings wet. At least I still have a sense of humor. He insists on slathering my chest with Vicks Vaporub to help my cough and asks me to sit in the bathroom as he showers so I can breathe in the steam. “Let’s moisten up that cough,” he says, as it does sound like a dry rattle now. I notice that even though the Vicks burns my chest where he rubbed it on, I can barely smell it, when normally my sense of smell is very sensitive, akin to that of a bloodhound.
I cancel my April vacation to Disneyland when I learn family from Mexico will not be able to fly here. It’s a sad day. My dog looks at me confused as every time the door opens, he runs in and doesn’t understand why I don’t snuggle with him. His puppy-dog eyes look up at me, wounded as if to say why aren’t you giving me any love anymore?
Day 4. It was a horrible night. I hardly slept a wink, and my cough made sure of that. Every morning I awaken and play a new chapter of the “what new pain is there” game. Not fun. Today I notice my joints in my fingers hurt. Like an arthritis type thing — I had a grandmother with arthritis that complained every time the weather would change. On both hands, the knuckles and joints hurt for no particular reason since I have just been laying in bed and not knitting or playing the piano recently.
My throat is also more painful than yesterday and now it hurts to even swallow water. Again I am reminded that my sense of smell is altered, as hubby passes gas loudly in the bed and I can’t smell it. My usual MO would have been to complain of the stench but I didn’t this time. He was so amused that he ripped another one just to make sure as a “scientific experiment” that I really couldn’t smell it. I can just imagine talking to a doctor about symptoms and them asking, “why do you think you have Covid?” Well Doc, because I can’t smell my husband’s farts anymore! Maybe this particular symptom isn’t so bad after all. Come to think of it, the Campbell’s tomato soup hubby served me yesterday didn’t taste as good as I remember either, kind of bland so I guess my taste is altered too. All jokes aside, I am still scared. Scared for myself, and scared for my family members that live with me. I have underlying health issues that make me “vulnerable.” Not a good place to be. I called the health district today, actually hubby spoke for me since I sounded like a cross between Gollum and the Whisperers on the show The Walking Dead. They said I qualify for drive-up Covid testing in my car. One of the questions they asked was, “have you been exposed to anyone with COVID?” and my hubby let them have it. “Is that even a valid question since you just started testing a week ago?” “How are we supposed to know if we’ve been exposed to people who have the virus if people can’t get tested?!?” I appreciate his protective frustration and can’t say I disagree. I tell hubby to let me go by myself but he refuses, and insists on driving me as I have zero energy and can barely sit up. We decide I will wear a mask in the car to minimize contamination. Then he points out to me, “I sleep right next to you so whatever you have, I will probably get and we will get through together.” I love him to pieces but really wish he would sleep in the living room, even though the air mattress is definitely not ideal for his 6 foot 7 frame.
I text my boss that I would be getting tested today and to inform her that since I feel so shitty I am not going to be responding to emails for a while, obviously I didn’t explain it with those words. I think she gets it and she wishes me well and has been supportive, but there are others in my office who still expect me to work even though I feel like I’ve been hit by a ton of bricks, and they just don’t get it. I have EXTREME FATIGUE, I can barely even sit up and sometimes am too tired to even watch TV. THIS IS THE SICKEST I HAVE BEEN IN MY LIFE. My guess is that the inability to empathize with my current health situation must come from the privilege of being able bodied, having good health, and a touch of workaholism. Maybe pretending that everyone can just carry on as usual and keeping busy helps to keep fear and anxiety at bay, which I also suspect to be the case. I decide to turn off my email notifications because honestly it is annoying that my cell phone is buzzing at least10 times in an hour, and it interrupts my rest. Well if anything, this situation is making it clearer to me what is important in life. My body suddenly takes me away from my pondering with a sudden urge to run, yes run to the toilet. All this constant Tylenol, cough medicine, antihistamine, and NyQuil aren’t agreeing with my stomach, and I think the upset tummy is related to the virus anyway. I’ve read that some people report having nausea or diarrhea. At least I can’t smell anything, so there’s that. But my body is betraying me right now, everything that can go bad, is. Oh, and my body alternates between chills when my fever goes high, where I feel like I am shivering, can’t get warm and my teeth are almost chattering, to intense periods of sweating where I am literally drenched in sweat, with my pajamas being stuck to my skin, so that’s a ton of fun! I feel like Sigourney Weaver when she dreams in Aliens that the monster is inside her and she can’t control it from coming out.
Later I get up and with my husband’s help because I feel so weak, I dress in a onesie pajama and we leave to go do my Covid testing. It turns out to be quick and easy, we are in and out in five minutes. When we arrive it looks like a full on movie scene where the medical people are in full riot-looking gear and splash guards, like the ones the people in the movie Outbreak wore when fighting the Ebola-like virus. I imagine Dustin Hoffman or Rene Russo underneath one of those masks. The medical personnel are surrounded by Metro police cruisers and the officers look on suspiciously at everyone. They ask me to put my ID up to the window and to not roll the window down, as they only accept people with appointments. They check the list and then they ask me to roll down the window an inch and put my finger out so they can check my oxygen level. They then ask me to put my ear up to the crack of the window so they can take my temperature and they read out the results out loud to a person writing down info. “Oxygen 93!! Temperature 101 degrees!” says the lady. I feel like I am at a live auction and wonder what comes next. Then they ask me to roll the window down completely and they take a q-tip as long as a pen (or longer, it appears to me) and they put it up my nostril. I am not going to lie, it hurts and I feel like they are scraping my brain like a mummy. They pull it out and I am done, but it still hurts and I burst into tears as we leave. My hubby is alarmed but my tears come from my fears and frustration at being in this situation in the first place. I advocated for myself to be allowed to do remote work from home because of my membership in the “vulnerable category” and I was the first one at my job allowed to do this. But how is it that I am the only person I know who is sick? Trying to figure out how I was exposed is a game of worthless futility, like playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Maybe it was one of my therapy clients. Maybe it was one of my students in the classes I teach. Maybe it happened on one of my many trips to the grocery store to obtain what we needed for our household for the apocalypse stash of food and supplies. In any case, I know there is no way to tell. I go home and watch a Spanish movie on Netflix about a prison where people have to fight each other for food to survive depending on what level of the vertical prison they are. I know, cheery as ever. I have come to the conclusion that I like watching movies where the characters’ lives are so much more fucked up than mine is right now so that I can comparatively feel better. Hubby doesn’t agree with this logic and thinks I am just weird. President Trump announces he wants everyone back to business as usual by Easter, despite what doctors, the CDC, and the World Health Organization is saying. Is he that delusional? I can’t believe his supporters spoon feed his shit to themselves. It’s astonishing to me.
I take my nightly shower. What began as an annoying symptom (lack of sense of smell and taste) suddenly hits me hard. I can’t smell my cucumber lily hand soap from Bath and Body works. I can’t smell my sandalwood bar soap that I love, or my apple scented shampoo. What do I do with all my perfumes? I can’t breathe in the warm goodness of a hot cup of tea and enjoy the taste or smell, it’s now just hot liquid with a slight taste. Even my favorite Chilled Sugar cookie from Crumbl didn’t taste as delicious as I remember. But I do notice that sweet tastes are easier to detect than salty tastes. I do an experiment with my toothpaste since it has a strong minty flavor. I can still taste the minty flavor with the tip of my tongue but nothing at the back of my tongue. NOTHING. I cry quietly in the shower as my mind takes all of this in.
Day 5. Should I even really be counting anymore? I don’t even know if my day 1 is truly day 1 or if I should have counted from last week. Who knows. I awaken and for the first time in what seems like forever I don’t have fever. My joint pain is gone. I still have a cough but my throat and back are not killing me as they were the day before, they still hurt, but the pain has decreased. My head still hurts and I am still fatigued by I feel like I am possibly turning a corner. All my rest and repose must be paying off. I decide I need to keep resting until I fully recover. Another coworker sends me an instant message saying that one of the administrators for our unit wants to know when I logged into a system and downloaded something that we are now apparently using for remote work. I tell her to let the administrator know that I am out sick and will be reviewing emails once I return to work. Honestly, my health comes first, but I can already imagine this person furrowing their brow as the coworker passes along the message. Some people don’t like it when others set boundaries with them. But I wouldn’t dream of bothering this other person at home if they were out sick so why can’t they have the same courtesy with me?
I decide to watch World War Z. Again, the fucked up clause. My hubby just rolls his eyes as he sees what I am watching when he brings me something to eat. I am still coughing but now the cough sounds a little more phlegmy and not as dry, and I have a tiny bit more voice. All good signs. I don’t want this to be a false recovery so I am determined to continue growing stronger. I’m still having cycles of sweating and then getting cold, but the fever doesn’t go higher than 99.8. A good sign. However, apparently my stomach didn’t get the memo as it still has me running back and forth to the restroom. At least I am getting some steps in. I take some peppermint oil pills which helps to calm my stomach. Thank goodness for little favors. My husband brings me a tube of Desitin, which I haven’t used since my son was in diapers. He also tries to keep my spirits up by doing a strip tease and making me laugh at his exaggerated dance moves. Could this mean I am getting better?
Day 6. My reprieve was deceptive. I awaken feeling very cold and with 100 degree fever again. Who has six straight days of fever? What the hell? Going to sleep at night is now a chore, not restful, as the constant coughing doesn’t allow me to sleep well. I feel more mucous in the back of my throat now and more tired than yesterday. My body is still fighting. My body aches and chest pain have diminished but I still have a headache. I put on fleece pants, socks, and a thermal pajama top and cuddle into my favorite kitty-themed blanket. Within an hour, I am sweating again and have to throw off the blanket. What to watch? Between choices like The Bobby Brown Story, and Let’s Make a Deal, where there is a man speaking to Wayne Brady that is dressed like a pizza, I decide instead to rent a movie. I watch a movie about aliens taking over the world and turning people into slaves in a police state where they are watched, monitored, tagged and how a small group of people create an insurgency but just fail in the end. Super cheerful, I know.
After trying to sleep for a bit, I hear my dog pacing outside my door, as he does not leave his guard post at my door, and is such a good dog. THEY KNOW. It’s uncanny how pets always know when something is wrong, and I miss cuddling with my fluffy dog. I miss him. My cat, who is in quarantine with me, has been alternating between moments of social distancing when she looks at me like, how dare you disturb my slumber? and other moments where she insists on being rubbed and meows her protests if I stop, as if to say who told you to stop petting me, peasant?!? She is a senior kitty and was in rare form today, as I awakened to see her chewing on and clawing at my N95 mask which had fallen to the floor. I retrieved it from her and then she proceeded to run around the room in a circle several times, in rare form of playfulness. The playfulness was short lived though, and then she settled back into her hourly nap. Hubby also had become annoyed with her earlier in the morning as he caught her drinking water from his cup on the nightstand, where she repeatedly dips her paws in to reach the water line, and then proceeded to knock the cup over and run away. Damn cat! he says. I am amused by all of this, as she only drinks from his cup and never mine. I tell hubby that the cup is hers and she allows him to drink from it occasionally.
I miss my son whom I haven’t seen in 5 days. He is the light of my life — I call him the child of my loins, much to his chagrin. I keep asking hubby if everyone is okay and he constantly reassures me that yes, everyone is okay. I wonder how my being confined to the back bedroom has affected them. My niece lives with us too, having escaped a less than pleasant situation. Even though she is 20 and legally an adult, both she and my son act like teenagers and need to be told to help because it surprisingly never occurs to them to offer to do chores proactively. Although I must say my niece is definitely better at keeping her room clean than my son is. Sometimes they both still need to be reminded to shower on a regular basis though, so there’s that. Ah millennials… My niece gets very anxious and works part time at a grocery store, so I definitely worry about her being exposed and how she is managing things. Hubby has had to make all of the meals, instead of us splitting the tasks. My niece made dinner last night which was helpful, but she had to be reminded to start because “she forgot.” She is stronger than she thinks, being a survivor of several bad things, being parentified at such a young age, and many times going without the basics, but I worry that she doesn’t recognize her own strength or self worth. She is her own worst enemy, and I feel I can’t be there for her right now. I feel badly that all I can manage is simply to lay in bed and go back and forth to the bathroom and not contribute to the household or be the emotional caretaker I am used to being, but I know I need to rest to recover. Hubby tells me that my son asked him, “when is mommy going to join us for dinner again, and is she going to keep eating alone in the bedroom?” My heart twists a little to hear that. My son is a youngster of few words, age 16 and having spectrum special powers. I am constantly amazed by him though, teenager complaints aside, as he is so imaginative, so good with animals, and such a good computer nerd. He doesn’t do physical affection or “I love yous” but I guess he misses me just a little. Right now he is at the age where his peers are more important than good ol’ Mom and Dad, which I understand, but I miss our small interactions nonetheless. Interestingly enough, in public he is usually the shy, quiet type that is nervous about talking to other people (especially girls), but he connects well with a core group of friends virtually through online video game parties, and I used to have to nag him to make plans to do face-to-face activities with his friends. Thankfully his social life has been minimally affected by this quarantine, which is definitely a generational difference, and a plus in my opinion. All this thinking, and I instead decide to focus on the grand list of what I can do right now, which would be writing here, checking in on other people, and keeping up on the news. And when I am feeling badly, I just turn everything off and try to rest. Hopefully I will get my singing voice (or just any voice) back soon so that I can least carry on a conversation telephonically. Hubby interrupts my thinking to announce that my son has lost his sense of smell. I cry when I hear this. He has no other symptoms and has been separated from me for a week. Dammit! I have to get better soon so I can take care of my son! I take a long, 40 minute, extremely hot shower and tell the virus to go away. I imagine it going down the drain with the soap that I can’t smell. Hubby thinks I am overreacting and says our son is fine. I go to bed worried but decide I need to sleep more and fast track my healing. I start using Tylenol PM at night to help me sleep better and get some cough pearls that my niece has sent in a baggy to me. They help. I also start to speak to my Dad in heaven and ask him to please watch over us.
Day 7. I still awaken with fever but decide to try and sleep more during the day. I am not successful and realize I need to lay off the coffee and soda first. The chest pain is back, but only slightly. I also notice a pattern with my fevers — when I am feverish I am shivering and cold, and my joints and back ache. When I take Tylenol, the fever breaks and the pains subside, and I spend the next two hours drenched in sweat and super hot, feeling like I am experiencing a power surge. My body is still fighting. My clothing routine now includes jammies when I am feverish and cold, then I peel these off when I am drenched in sweat and put on shorts and a tank top. I haven’t worn a bra in a week! This must be some kind of mile stone for not wearing a bra for son long, and I wonder if my boobs will ever be able to wear one again. Hubby assures me that my son is fine, that there are no other symptoms. I FaceTime my son and he says he is fine. We laugh about a funny video. I love his smile. He makes fun of my hair, which is sticking straight up. I am getting very sick of my hair as it is bothering me and ask my hubby if he will help me shave my head. He adamantly refuses and just thinks this is a crazy whim and “the fever talking.” I second guess this option, because I am no Amber Rose and because I am afraid my head would look like a big, fat, bald pear if I shave it as my double chin is unforgiving. My cousin from Mexico sends me messages from WhatsApp and we communicate. I also check in with other friends too, which is nice. I am still coughing all day long, but my sleep appears to be getting better at night with my regiment of medication. I am feeling more rested during the day which is good.
Day 8. I awaken with higher fever than before, as usually it is 99.5 and today it is 101.5. My energy level is worse than before. I lay in bed and sleep for several hours. My boss asks to have a phone call and we chat, she informs me that someone in the adjoining offices in our building on the 2nd floor has tested positive (I am on the 3rd floor) and says they are instituting quarantine in the building and everyone must work from home. She hears my voice and says, “You don’t sound good at all.” I tell her it is not likely I will be back to work on Monday with how I have been feeling and she verbalizes her understanding. I tell her I will need to be out sick another WHOLE WEEK. She is supportive and asks what she can do to help with my clients. I ask her to give me some time and I will check on my list and email her and she says okay. I feel crappy the rest of the day and just lay in bed with intermittent sleeping. At one point hubby asks me what I want to eat and I tell him to order the wonderful bowl of goodness from the little Jewish deli up the street (chicken and matzoh ball soup). It is the best and I love it when I am ill, I am also craving one of their freshly made bagels with scallion cream cheese. He brings me these yummies and my cat helps herself to my soup as if it were brought for her. After I eat, he helps me organize my little “sick station” by the bed where I have a TV tray with kleenex, medicines, thermometers, a big fat Costco size bottle of Tylenol, my water bottle, and two cookies in a plastic baggy in case of emergency only. My brother decides to sing me a silly song, record video and send it to me. My son laughs and laughs as I send it to him. I notice myself breathing very shallow throughout the day as this prevents me from being wracked with coughing. I speak on the phone with my mom and brother as we had just been texting before but my voice is slightly better and I no longer sound like I swallowed a bunch of scorpions. My mother insists that I need Vitamin D and says she will bring it to me. I tell her I don’t want her nor my brother anywhere near our house due to my sickness and that she needs to stay home. She proceeds to call my husband later when I am napping and tell him the same thing. He politely declines even though she continues insisting. My mother is not one to respect boundaries, even though she means well. That night, hubby comes to the room early to watch some TV with me. I ask him what he is doing here as I am contagious and he argues that he has already been exposed and wants to spend some time with me. After a while he looks at me and says, “how can you be back in this room all day?” to which I respond, “do I have a choice?” I am surprised by his question, as he acts as if I am back here eating bonbons by choice. I worry more about him as he reports feeling more tired than before, but when I ask if he’s okay, he says, “I am fine!”
Day 9. I sleep a lot. I guess my body needs it. My mother calls me while I am napping to tell my husband about the wonders of Vitamin D again. He declines her offers. I speak with my cousin in Mexico again who insists on a Mexican remedy and tells me to take a white onion and cut it open and then place it on a plate by my bed to absorb germs, I guess. At this point I am desperate so I do it, despite my husband’s sideways glances. I cut the onion and put it on my nightstand. At least I can’t smell it. That night I watch the Walking Dead on TV and then take my nightly shower. The high fever starts while I am watching television and the shower doesn’t help. It’s time to take Tylenol again. I check my fever an hour later and it’s 102. I also get some coughing fits that are very scary. Suddenly, I can’t breathe. I try to catch my breath and calm my cough but I feel like I can’t get the air into my lungs. I gasp for air and burst into tears as I can’t breathe and the fever is not going down. Two hours after taking Tylenol my fever has gone up to 102.5. Hubby says, “that’s it, I am taking you to the hospital.” I blame the onion.
We arrive at the hospital and are stopped by security and medical personnel that are screening people outside. I am wheezing and coughing and you can hear that it is hard for me to breathe. I sound like I have asthma although I never have been diagnosed with this. Hubby explains my symptoms. They ask me to put on a mask and tell him he has to leave me there alone as there are no visitors allowed and I am the only one that will be allowed inside. We say goodbye and I feel like I am going away to war or something. It pains me to let go of him, but I face my fear and I walk inside and they’ve set up a triage station in the lobby. All I have is my blanket and my purse with me, and I am wearing my pajamas. They ask me a series of questions and I answer with a stilted and shaky voice, as I still cannot catch a full breath of air and have difficulty speaking. They ask me to wait in the lobby before going to the second triage area. I cannot stop coughing. An older couple comes in and say they are there to pick up someone being discharged from the hospital and are told to wait in the same lobby area where I am sitting and coughing. The wife looks at me and yells to her husband loudly, “Don’t touch anything, and don’t sit next to HER!” I feel like I have the plague but am too weak to protest. They ask me to go to the second triage area and direct me to sit next to a lady, where we have little fake curtains to give the illusion of privacy between “stations” but I can hear everything that is going on with everyone else. She is on her cell phone talking to a friend about being at the hospital because she doesn’t “feel normal and has had a little cough for the past two days.” The staff ask if she has fever and she says no. Then it is my turn and and I explain that I have been sick, coughing severely for 9 days with fever for 9 days straight and now feel like I can’t breathe. I am so out of breath talking that I feel lightheaded. The triage person looks at me incredulously and says, “9 days? Why didn’t you come sooner?” They get a wheelchair for me and wheel me away, as the lady looks at me, pauses her cell phone conversation, and says, “I hope you get better.”
They take me to the ER, where I am in a bay next to someone else who they are getting ready to discharge. I speak to a nurse, I’ll call her Nurse Ratchett, and the doctor on duty. They say that my heartbeat is irregular and they need to set up an IV to give me fluids and that they need blood samples too to run some tests. Nurse Ratchet comes to poke me and has difficulty finding my veins. She puts the tourniquet so tight on my right arm that I yelp and squeak to tell her, “that REALLY hurts” and she replies, “yes.” She then then pokes me on my right arm and retrieves some blood samples, and I scream, “that hurts!” as I can feel the needle poking into my skin unnaturally like something is wrong and I have never had someone hurt me so much by taking blood before. She blames me and says, “any little movement you make causes pain.” “I wasn’t moving” I say and she repeats herself again. She walks away in a huff that she could not retrieve the right vein to insert an IV. The young man who wheeled me back to this area comes up and says, “let me try.” I ask him if he is the ninja nurse that is going to find my vein for the IV, and he looks at me straight in the face and says to me, “I am not a nurse, I am a paramedic, but that means I won’t miss like she did.” This comforts me, and somehow he finds the vein right away and it is practically painless as he inserts the IV into my left arm. I look at my right arm which is instantly purple where the nurse left her damage. Later, they try to put the blood pressure cuff on my right arm and I scream, “that’s where the nurse hurt me with the tourniquet that was too tight!” My arm is sore and my blood pressure has to be continually taken from the same arm as the IV, very carefully, so as to not disturb the needle embedded in my left arm. I ask for the paramedic’s name and say, “thank you for taking care of me.” He also says, “even though you already got tested for Covid with the health district, since you haven’t received those results, we will do our own test here, and our own lab will come back more quickly than the health district’s test.” I brace for the q-tip that will scrape my brain, but instead he gently inserts it lightly in each nostril and I even compliment him on the taking the Covid test so gently. They also take a chest X-ray and the doctor on duty informs me that there is some fluid in my lungs, like the beginnings of pneumonia. I tell him I think it is Covid because I don’t have a sense of smell but he doesn’t respond to this.
Nurse Ratchet returns and announces that they will give me Ibuprofen and a bag of IV antibiotics. I tell her, “isn’t Ibuprofen contraindicated for Covid?” to which she replies, “don’t believe stupid people on the internet.” At this point, though, my fever is so high I figure I should try anything to get it down. I lay there for a few hours and try to sleep, as it is now 2 or 3 in the morning. I do ask myself, why would they give me Ibuprofen and antibiotics? Is this Covid fear all in my head? Is this just a bad case of bronchitis or something? My fever finally starts to break and I become drenched in sweat, but none of my other symptoms improve. Later, Nurse Ratchet returns and announces she will be leaving for the evening and I breathe a sigh of relief. During this whole ordeal I hadn’t noticed that the person next to me is gone now and I am the only person left in this ER wing. The paramedic comes back and announces that he is going to take me to the special Covid wing of the ER so I am not alone and there are other nurses to take care of me. I thank him again, as he has retrieved a gown for me and some fresh blankets. He also helps me put some socks on and I am ever grateful. It is amazing how difficult simple tasks become when you are feeling so sick. The doctor tells me they are keeping me overnight for observation and I text my boss to let her know I am in the hospital.
I arrive in the new “Covid ER wing” and notice that I am the youngest one there out of 8 different bay-type rooms. A new nurse and doctor come and speak to me and I repeat all of my reporting of symptoms again. They have me connected to an IV, a finger type thing that measures my oxygen level, a heart monitor, and a blood pressure cuff. Every time I have to go to the bathroom I have to ask someone to unhook me from everything. They ask me if I am able to walk by myself to the bathroom and I decide that I will not be wheeled back and forth to the bathroom as I can do this myself. Also, since my fever has broken, my breathing has calmed a little and I feel a little steadier on my feet. I notice that the bathroom is literally at the opposite end of my “room” and in order to use the bathroom, I must walk by everyone else’s bay back and forth. What I see is heartbreaking. Mostly older people and some look like they are on death’s door. There is one person that yells, “Help me please!” every time I walk by. I see fear in this person’s eyes. So sad. One man is ghostly white, with his jaw slacked and open as a nurse speaks to him and says, “can you open your eyes and look at me please?” The yeller gets me every time, “Help me, help me please!” and I just avert my eyes because I don’t know what to say. I go back to my bed but sleep eludes me, as the lights are blaring and there is so much noise and conversation that only the deaf and blind would be able to sleep in this place. My cycles of hot and cold sweats with fevers continue.
Day 10. It is morning, and after a sleepless night, I receive a phone call from the health district. “we regret to inform you that your Covid test came back positive, and that you and the people you live with must quarantine for two whole weeks.” I explain that I am in the hospital. I guess I am not surprised but I start to cry again. The morning nurse sees me and I tell her that I am positive, I feel like I have the Black Plague and she asks if I have told my family yet and says, “I will give you a moment of privacy.” I tell my husband and relay the information given to me by the health district. He tries to calm me, and says, “we already suspected this, so it is nothing new.” He is right but the label and the reality of it still grip me emotionally. I decide to shake it off and make my way to the bathroom as usual for my morning pee. I am making my way to the bathroom and feel like I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I say a little prayer in my mind on the walk over. When I am done, I open the door to the bathroom and there is a dead body on the floor in my path back to my bay room. It is the old man that was white as a cadaver the day before and two staff people place him in a body bag and zip him up. I flinch as the staff look at me, not realizing I was in the bathroom, and scurry to arrange him into a body bag and zip up the zipper over his head. I stand there stunned, frozen, not knowing what to do or say. They then lift his body in the bag onto some type of gurney and wheel him out, all in silence as if they had just dusted the furniture or had done something normal. I guess this is normal for them, but for some reason, the reminder of the reality of this virus KILLING PEOPLE hits me hard. My tears come again as I make my way back to my area. Oh my God, someone just died. Am I next? It’s different when you watch the numbers on TV compared to when you see it happening around you. This is surreal and horrible. I spend the next 18 hours in and out of sleep and fever, with bad coughing, and alternates of shivering cold and sweating heat. My tears also come and go. It’s so hard to be alone, to be in a room with suffering people, to watch others die around me. This feels traumatic. I have always thought of myself as very empathic, and the despair and feelings in this room are all too much for me. I also question whether I will get better at all. Will I die here too? Will I ever see my family again?
The nurse comes and announces that they are admitting me and transferring me to a room upstairs. I am grateful as I welcome a quiet, private space and want to take a shower, but am also afraid this means I am super sick. I want to wash the sweat off my body, and the death in the air off of me as if I am afraid that the death itself is catching. I also want to sleep finally in the dark for a change.
They transfer me to a quiet room on the “Covid floor” where all the patients are admitted due to the same virus. I learn that there is a medical assistant and nurse assigned to the floor every 12 hours and that the doctor makes his rounds in the morning. I also notice that all the personnel I come into contact with are wearing astronaut-type equipment when they enter my room, full with a helmet and their own air unit. I imagine Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar entering my room each time. I tell them I would like to take a shower as there is a private bathroom in the room. The medical assistant who doesn’t look a day past 12 years old, asks me if I am able to stand by myself. Just how old do they think I am? I tell her that yes, I am able to stand on my own, that I am not 100 years old. She quietly brings me towels and a clean gown but tells me to wait for someone to come help me cover up my IV on my arms and disconnect my heart monitor. She never returns. I decide to do my first act of rebellion, and disconnect the heart monitor myself, keeping my IV arm out of the shower by holding onto the shower pole at the top. I feel like I am riding the metro or something by grabbing onto the pole above me, while I wash my hair and the rest of my body expertly with my one good hand that’s not connected to anything. I feel triumphant as I step out of the shower and dress myself. When another medical assistant comes in later to give me meds for fever, I inform him he needs to reconnect my heart monitor since I took it off when I showered. He does not seem alarmed that I did not sit and wait for help and says okay. I’ve figured out that there are little things I must still do for myself to at least feel like I have some dignity, and showering and going to the bathroom by myself are two of those things. And of course, there is still the diarrhea. I also don’t have a brush or a comb, and my hair looks like part brillo pad, and part fright wig. I don’t have a toothbrush either but the cleansing waters of the shower are enough for me to bring a little comfort. I decide to post on Facebook my predicament of being in the hospital, as I figure I could use all the positive vibes and prayers I can right now. I am literally overwhelmed with all the positive messages that people leave me, and am touched that so many people take the time to send me messages and texts of well wishes. There are people I haven’t spoken to in years that offer to bring me things and many friends that do the same. I am filled with warm and fuzziness.
Day 11. In the morning I am informed that I need to order all my meals. I order fruit for breakfast and an omelette arrives, followed by my fruit later. Hubby drops off my phone charger, some clean clothing but did not read the part in the text where I asked for a comb and tooth brush and says, “well I am supposed to be on quarantine and am not supposed to leave the house, so just make do with those things for now.” I ask a good friend to bring me a comb and toothbrush, as security is accepting things for patients in rooms, and she comes through with flying colors, bringing me dark chocolate, lotion, dry shampoo, and all sorts of goodies. It warms my heart. Another friend drops off some books for me to read, as there is pretty much nothing to do but watch TV in the room, and I am getting sick of watching the Bar Rescue and Law and Order marathons on TV. I spend the next two days in a constant cycle of fever, chills, sweats, and diarrhea and I start to feel despair and ask my husband, “how long are these fevers going to last? How long am I going to be sick for?” I also have awakened with horrible pains in my stomach muscles from all the coughing. In other words, I have coughed so much that I hurt my own stomach muscles and now they are sore from the strain! The doctor adds opiate medication to my cocktail of medications for the pains in my stomach, which helps. That night I get another coughing attack, and I don’t know what was scarier, the fact that I couldn’t breathe or the fact that I was alone and thought maybe I could just pass out and no one would notice. A medical assistant comes in when I press the alert button and sees I am agitated and in distress. She holds my hand and takes my blood pressure, it is 195/140 and she yells, “I need a nurse in here now!” I am squeaking out, “I can’t breathe!” and the nurse comes in and places me on oxygen which helps. The coughing subsides eventually, and I muster all the meditation and breathing exercises I can to help control my breathing. Come on chica, you teach other people how to do this for PTSD, you can do this for yourself for coronavirus! I am finally able to calm down and my blood pressure goes down but my oxygen levels aren’t good so they order some breathing treatments for me. Later they increase my oxygen levels to 4 Liters. I figure it is not a good thing that my oxygen gets increased.
Day 12. I order fruit again for breakfast as it tastes so good to eat fresh fruit, and again some sort of egg dish arrives. What is the point of telling patients to order their own meals if they always get it wrong? I tell my husband about my coughing fit the night before and tearfully tell him I have fever again. I also tell him the doctor has informed me that he doesn’t want me to go home until my oxygen levels are stabilized and I can breathe on my own without the supplemental oxygen. “Oh, by the way, my test from the hospital lab came positive for coronavirus too,” I share with him. My fever is lower during the day, only about 100 degrees now, which is an improvement from when I arrived at the hospital. The staff tell me that there is basically no treatment for coronavirus, that all they can do is treat my symptoms (i.e. fever, diarrhea, breathing issues, pain, etc.) but that antibiotics won’t help. I also notice I feel more fluid in my lungs when I cough and they decide to stop the IV fluids and tell me that my heart rate has stabilized, which is good news. I lay in bed and rest all day. That night I get a coughing fit again, but not nearly as scary as the night before. I look out the window and wonder when I am going to get to go home. I also decide to cancel an Air BnB that I had rented in California for my upcoming Disneyland trip that isn’t going to happen. I submit my request and amazingly, the host denies my refund. This upsets me, and part of me thinks, if you don’t refund my money, I will drive my ass to your house and lick all your doorknobs! But instead I ask my husband to handle this matter as I don’t need more aggravation or stress.
Day 13. My stomach is starting to settle, thankfully, and I awaken WITHOUT FEVER for the first time in almost two weeks. Amazingly, I almost forget what it feels like to NOT have fever. My phone rings early in the morning and it is the food people calling ME to ask, “what would you like for breakfast this morning?” Thank goodness someone is paying attention as they have continually gotten it wrong. I thank them. I am still on oxygen though, and even though I appear to be improving, the doctor tells me he recommends I stay another night. Hubby is crushed as it is his 50th birthday and his birthday wish was for me to come home and spend it with him. I am glad that I ordered a cake from Freed’s (an awesome bakery) a week prior so at least he will receive something. It is the first time in 15 years together that I won’t be with him, and my heart aches for him. I make a plea on Facebook for people to wish him a happy birthday as he is stuck at home in quarantine and we are apart. He calls me later on FaceTime as they light the candles and my son and niece sing happy birthday to him, and he blows the candles out. I am included from afar, and for that I am grateful. The fever also does not return, which is great, and even though I am not getting chills anymore, I am still getting periods of intense sweating, which must be my body’s reminder that it is still fighting the Covid monster. At night I lay with my thoughts and wonder if I am truly getting better or if this is just another deception on the part of coronavirus. Am I truly getting better, or is this going to be like one of those cases where the people suddenly croak in the middle of the night?
Day 14. The doctor comes in an announces that I am well enough to go home and continue my recovery there. I am happy to be with my family on one hand, but worried about what to do if the fevers come back. I don’t trust my own body anymore. The hospital gives me instructions on how to recover from pneumonia and Covid. They give me an inhaler to help my breathing and advise me to take an alternate blood pressure medication as apparently mine does not mix well with Covid, however, they only give me a week’s refill of the medication. Hubby is ecstatic and comes to pick me up. My mother is happy for me and asks if I am taking Vitamin D. She asks if I want her to bring me some homemade soup. Again, I remind her that we are under quarantine, and due to her vulnerable status and older age, she is not to come anywhere near me right now.
I am glad to be home with my family, my pets, and my bed. However, I am still not well. I let my boss know that I still need another week as my coughing is still bad. My energy level is also still in the dumpster and I get winded easily. My lungs still don’t feel normal and I can tell I still have fluid in them. My cat meows continually at me, as if to say, where did you go? How dare you leave me for so long? My dog is super excited to see me and I wash my hands and then give him some affection. He wags his tail like it has a motor. It is nice to sleep in my bed again, but when my husband flops around in the middle of the night I awaken, almost unused to feeling him in bed next to me compared to the solitary hospital bed. I get reacquainted with the feeling of him next to me fast, and feel comforted.
Days 15-21. I still am very tired. When I take deep breaths I still get coughing fits, but nowhere near the way it was in the hospital. The fevers do not return but I still get periods of intense sweating. The body aches and pains are gone but when I cough hard, my chest still hurts, but less than before. All in all, my symptoms have improved vastly. I attempt to walk up the block to exercise my lungs, and it sends me into an asthma-like episode where I am wheezing and need my inhaler. When I place my hands on behind my head and attempt to take deep breaths, it hurts and causes coughing. But I am going to keep fighting, to keep trying to strengthen my lungs. I am still taking medications every day. I run out of my blood pressure meds that the hospital gave me and my blood pressure instantly decides to increase to celebrate. Luckily my primary doctor is an angel and calls in a refill for me. When the quarantine from the health district ends, I decide to go to the store for the first time in weeks and wear a mask and gloves. I get winded from walking in the aisles and have to go sit down after a half hour. My energy level starts to get better little by little every day, but I am still not 100%. I ask my boss if I can come back to work half time as I still don’t feel up to working full time and she agrees (the work is still remote, but as a psychotherapist, I need to be able to talk all day long). We also receive good news that Air Bnb is going to issue our full refund which I am grateful for.
Days 22-28. I go back to work part time. My hubby notices I am stressed out by the second day from dealing with someone else’s bullshit. Some people who have power over others and just because they can do something, doesn’t mean they should. One of my weaknesses is that I tend to stand up for things when I think it is unjust or wrong. My words are my power, I had a psychic lady tell me this one time, that when I speak truth to bullshit it makes others uncomfortable but is often powerful. But my body still betrays me. I am exhausted every day after working only 4 hours and have to take a nap every day. I reflect on this compared to the number of hours I used to work previously — I used to work 40 hours at my main job, teach two classes, and do 5-10 hours of contract work somewhere else. How did I do that all, when today I can barely work 4 hours? The Coronavirus is still with me. My stomach is still upset and I continue taking anti-diarrhea medicine. My doctor advises me to take the alternate blood pressure medication for another month. I wonder if my lungs have sustained any permanent damage? All of these are good questions, but my primary care provider’s office is still closed and I have to wait for a follow up check up.
I wonder if I am still contagious? The CDC says people can discontinue self-isolation when they have not had fever without taking any meds for a period of 3 days, it’s been over 7 days since symptoms first appeared, and respiratory symptoms have improved. Check on all three. But I still don’t feel right and have no clue if I am still contagious to others or not. Luckily my son and hubby’s senses of smell returned and neither they nor my niece ever developed any other symptoms. Thank goodness! I still limit my exposure outside and when I do leave the house, I wear gloves and a mask. But I am still on this road to recovery. People have still continued reaching out to me and I also have noticed those that haven’t, especially those that claimed they were my “close friends.” People show you with their actions who they truly are. Listen to this, I remind myself.
This journey with the Coronavirus is still ongoing and it has felt traumatic. There is collective trauma in what we are all going through as a society and in our world. And there is individual trauma for the fear of being so close to death like I was. Of seeing and hearing death. Of fearing it could happen to me and fearing I would go into the hospital and never come out. Of not being able to breathe. And the doctors told me I had a mild case and was lucky because I wasn’t on a ventilator. It was intense and horrible, even recovering from two surgeries were easier for me than this was. But I am still around. I am still here when many others are not. My heart hurts for others who do not have access to quality health care or who are uninsured. I worry about those that are out of work, some of them my friends, and worry if everyone has enough to eat. I hurt for the caregivers, the health workers and first responders that are at risk of exposure. And the sight and sound of Donald Trump still makes my stomach churn. A lot of things have been canceled, but kindness has not been canceled. I will continue to prioritize my health and use my voice to stand up for others. I love the world, but there is still much pain and healing to be done. Be kind to yourself and each other.