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Scraped from Imgur
My Covid recovery story, by request. (Sorry it's long)
(Picture of an IV bag)
Didn't know what pic to use; this was from the hospital bed.
I’ve recovered from Covid. I was asked by a fellow Imurgian to detail my experience. This is going to be LONG. I apologize in advance.
Tldr; I had non-traditional symptoms at first. (leg pain, body aches) Things happen fast. Seek out medical care promptly.
For context, I’m a 37 year old woman living in DC. Never-smoker, no major health issues, though a little on the heavy side. Good blood pressure, no blood sugar issues. Was in voluntary self-isolation at my apartment for seven days before I had any symptoms. I still have no idea when/where I contracted the virus.
My last day at work was Saturday March 14th. I had not left my apartment for a solid week when my first symptoms occurred on Saturday March 21st, in the form of leg pain. I shrugged it off as maybe restless leg syndrome. After all, I hadn’t left home in seven days, so I was pretty sedentary. Leg pain became full body aches by Sunday. Again, I thought, I’m just stiff. I need to exercise more. At this point, I had no fever, sore throat, cough, respiratory issues—any of the symptoms to indicate Covid. The body aches made it hard to sleep, so I soaked in a hot bath and took Ibuprofen. (I come from an Ibuprofen family, so did not have Tylenol on hand).
By Monday, I began to experience chills and full body sweats (like, completely soaked). I knew now that something was wrong. I quarantined to my room (as I have roommates), just to be safe and researched how to get a test. In DC, the requirements to get tested (at this time; they may have changed) were you had to have either traveled out of the country in the past 14 days, been to a nursing home, or had contact with someone that tested positive. I did not qualify for a test. I called a Nursing Medical Hotline and described my symptoms, seeking a referral for testing. I was told just to quarantine, keep hydrated, and watch my temperature.
On Tuesday, I developed a low grade (101-102) fever and a headache. Because I had heard on the news that Ibuprofen was not recommended, I checked my temp every hour or so, and managed it with lukewarm showers. I called on again for a referral, but was denied. On Wednesday, my fever reached 104. My eyeballs felt extreme pressure behind them. I again called seeking testing, but was denied. I was told to go ahead and take the Ibuprofen to battle the fever.
The fever broke by Thursday morning, and I felt much better. The aches and sweats had stopped. Still no cough, runny nose, sore throat, but I noticed I couldn’t take a full deep breath. It didn’t hurt, I just couldn’t get my lungs to full expansion. I thought I was over the worst.
On Friday, I developed a mild cough, and noticed that my breathing was becoming shallow. I called again, described my symptoms, and was asked to walk across the room to see if I had any trouble with that level of physical exertion. I could still walk to the door without a problem. I was denied (fourth time now) a referral for testing. I was feeling extremely fatigues. All I wanted to do was sleep.
On Saturday March 28th (one week from my first symptom), I found I could no longer speak without struggling to breathe. I slept almost all day. That evening, I called again for a referral, but could barely get out the words. I was finally approved for the referral and was told to call 911, to explain I had Covid symptoms.
The ambulance arrived at my building within 10 minutes, but it was nearly half an hour before the EMT, in complete head-to-toe PPE, came up. He testing my oxygenation level, which was at a 90. (From what he explained, anything under 95 is not good, and under 89 is really bad. Again, I’m not a doctor, so medical professionals, feel free to correct me).
The EMT place me on oxygen with a nasal cannula, and I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. In DC, there was a rotation on accepting Covid patients, but I lucked out and was taken to a very fancy hospital. In the ER, I received an impressive amount of tests very rapidly. They listened to my lungs, took chest x-rays, ran an EKG, did the nasal swab (in my opinion, really not that bad). They told me my lungs looks and sounded good, but I insisted I could tell something was wrong with them. My heart was racing. I was told I was tachycardic, even thoug I had been receiving oxygen. It took three nurses a total of seven attempts to get a blood stick on me, because the blood kept clotting off. Finally, once they were able to get my blood drawn, they placed an IV and they sent it for panels and cultures. I now had a bunch of blown veins from all the attempts. The one that finally succeeded was at an awkward place in my right elbow, so I could not bend my elbow without interrupting the IV. (This will matter later)
A short time later, they came back and said one of the results was elevated (a D-Dimer is what the nurse called it), and she said this could indicate a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). I was then taken for a CT scan. Despite the clean x-rays, the CT scan revealed I had pneumonia in both lungs. I was placed on saline and antibiotics (vancomycin and zosyn) and was admitted to the special Covid unit, though still awaiting the official test results. (My positive test results took about 24 hours, but I think we all knew at this point).
The Covid unit looked like something out of a movie. Floor to ceiling plastic sheeting with large red warning signs. Every employee was suited in full PPE. The wing used in this hospital was very nice- large spacious rooms, I suspect designed for luxury, but being utilized because it allows for lots of distancing. The staff wore multiple pairs of gloves, had to scrub in and out, and had to remove their outermost PPE gear (it looked like a full body bib) everytime they had to exit the room. No visitors allowed.
Sunday, March 29. It was now about 7:00 am on Sunday morning. Even with the medications and oxygen, I was still have the rapid heart rate. The doctor explained this was worrisome, as I was not improving on the oxygen. The doctor explained to me the protocol- that they would keep me on oxygen (I’m still just using the nasal cannula), but if I did not improve, they would transfer me to the ICU for intubation. I watched enough Scrubs to know that I did not want to be intubated, so I was happy to stay on the regular oxygen for now.
I felt completely exhausted and stressed, and now had well-meaning friends and family blowing up my phone with the same questions. (I have a large social circle- 4 adult kids, 10 siblings, parents, friends, colleagues, and students). My breathing was still labored, so talking was tiring. And I couldn’t bend my right elbow to hold the phone up because of the IV. So I’m texting left-handed, exhausted, and freaking out. I asked my closest family and friends to tell everyone to just not contact me, but of course, people don’t listen. They can’t- they’re worried. But it was frustrating. The phone kept going off and all I wanted to do was sleep.
I know what you’re thinking- just turn off the phone or the ringer. But here’s the thing, because it’s dangerous to be around a Covid patient, the doctors would contact me by calling my phone. So I couldn’t turn it off. Plus my family would freak out if they could not reach me.
Monday, March 30th. Here’s where it gets heavy.
On Monday morning, my status had not improved. Still on antibiotics and oxygen, and now on blood thinner Lovenox. My new attending physician (who would oversee my care for the duration of the week) explained that she wanted to try the hydroxychloroquine. She admitted that it was experimental, and could have potentially dangerous side-effects on my heart, but that it was the only additional medication being tried at the time. It was scary, but I thought, well, at least the know how to treat a heart attack. So, I agreed to try the medication. I honestly wish I had not- I’ll get to that later.
Now the really scary part. She explained that it was likely she was going to send me to the ICU so I could be more closely monitored. There, they sedate me and intubate me. If things did not go well, I would be transferred to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and put on a ventilator. She said that 80% of patients don’t come off the ventilator. She said that if things go south, it happens rapidly, and I would not be able to talk. Therefore I should get my affairs in order. Right now.
This hit me like a stone. Suddenly I couldn’t feel anything. Barely a week ago, I just had sore legs. I told her thank you for her candor. I meant it. I sat in shock for a few moments. I am lucky in that I attended law school and had taken a class on Wills only a few years ago, so I had a clear understanding of what I needed to do. I began an email, listing all my account info for my assets- bank accounts, savings, life insurance, etc. I logged into each and made sure my beneficiaries listed were up-to-date.
I then began a series of very difficult phone calls. This next part contains no medical info, so feel free to skip. I’m just finding writing this very therapeutic, so if you could indulge me.
I called my best friend to ask him to be my emergency contact and proxy for medical decisions. I knew I could trust him to best understand and follow my wishes. You can only name one person, and I couldn’t put that on my parents. They would fight over any decision that result in a bad outcome. And they had enough to deal with. I still have three younger siblings back home with them. So I asked by bestie (who is also my roommate). He later told me he followed the ambulance to the hospital. Good man.
I explained to him the situation, my medical directives, and my wishes for the disposition of my body. I sent him the email with the accounts and we carefully had him log into each one to assure he had access. Then I had him pay my immediate necessary bills- rent, phone, etc. It was a somber conversation, and I never felt greater love for him in how he handled that moment. He was so strong and supportive.
Next, I called my parents. I told them it was tiring to talk, so they needed to just listen. I explained everything, and asked that they keep the rest of the family at bay. I did not have the energy to keep repeating everything. My mother was breaking down the entire call. My dad simply said he understood. I later learned that after this conversation, my father went outside and shaved his head. I told them I loved them.
Now with the personal matters handled, I moved on to the professional ones. I called my boss, and asked her to permit my friend access to anything he needed. She quickly agreed and said she would handle all the HR reporting matters. Next, I began to call my creditors- law school put me in significant debt, so I have quite a few credit cards and loans. I called my first credit card company to ask for a waiver for the month. As soon as I got the words out that I was in the hospital for Covid and I might not make it, I broke down. This was the first time I cried. The poor customer service rep- Allen- I doubt I’ll ever forget his name, was so compassionate, and distraught. His voice cracked as he assured me he would take care of it. I made similar calls to each and every debt account, all of whom mercifully were extremely quick to agree to waive payments, and all wished me well.
Back to medical stuff
That evening (Monday), the first of many EKGs was taken. Mind you, I’m still on oxygen, blood thinner, antibiotics, an albuterol inhaler, and saline IV. The constant oxygen has dried out my sinuses completely, my lips are swollen and cracked. I wish I had chapstick. The skin on the roof of my mouth begins to slough off. It isn’t painful, but it is worrisome. I take my first dose of the hydroxychloroquine, given in tablet form, twice daily for five days. While I was warned it could affect my heart, I was not told (but now know) that it can also cause hallucinations and nightmares.
At 2:00 am, I wake up feeling a strange wave rolling slowly up my body, starting at my feet. It feels as though I am losing gravity; like I am being pulled upward. It. Is. Terrifying. Beyond. Words. As the feeling rises upward and reaches my chest, my heart slams HARD. I feel like a drop. The wave cease.
Logically, I know that I’m not starting to levitate, but it damn sure feels that way. Then after a few moments, the wave starts again. Is this my soul leaving my body? Is this what dying feels like? I’m not a religious person (much to respect to whatever each of you believe). But I can’t understand what is happening to me. I feel dizzy and light and scare and it hurts everytime the wave reaches my heart. I call my best friend and leave what has to be the saddest message on his voicemail. I thank him for his role in my life, and then start leaving a message for my kids, to talk to them about death. I don’t want them to be scare, and I want them to know I love them. There is a beautiful speech on the final episode of The Good Place that I try to paraphrase, to help them have a reference for their grief. A few minutes into this message, my friend calls me back.
I tell him I feel something strange, and it might be the end. We cry together and stay on the phone for the next two hours. The wave continues regularly, but I’m still here. I find that if I concentrate, I can ‘shut’ the wave down before it reaches my chest (akin to how you can make your blood pressure rush behind your eardrums, then stop it, if that makes sense). It still cause my heart to jump, but it’s not as bad. Finally, exhausted, I tell my friend goodbye and go to sleep. I have vivid, terrifying nightmares about extremely specific events in my early life.
Tuesday, March 31st.
I wake up. A nurse is hooking me up to an EKG. I’m very grateful and surprised to be awake. This will be the routine for the next week. Early morning EKG (4:00am), blood draws (still very complicated because of the thick blood- they have to use hot packs and a vein finder- nifty little tool), blood thinner shot, rotations of IV antibiotics, a call or visit with the physician.
I explain to the physician the wave feeling, and this new sensation like my heart is swirling, or being stirred. (I’ve been electroshocked twice in my life, and it’s a very similar sensation. Like your heart is a goldfish bowl that is sloshing around for a while). She thinks it is from the hydroxychloroquine. She says we will keep an eye on my heart. I feel nauseous, and extremely fatigued. I sleep most of the day. Each time they give me the vancomycin, I feel a little better. All the antibiotics have decimated any bacteria my system, so bowel movement are liquid. It’s been days without a shower or brushing of teeth, but nothing can survive the antibiotics, so I feel oddly clean. Teeth feel smooth like just after a dentist.
I am given a spirometer to do inhalation exercises. I can even wiggle the ball on the lowest setting.
Wednesday. Repeat. EKG. Blood draws. Shot. More meds. Sleep. That’s my week. Each day, feeling a little less fatigues. I get a call from my insurance, reassuring me they will be covering the hospital stay. This is a relief. I get a call from an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins. She finds my case fascinating, because I have no prior lung issues and have never smoked anything (I was repeatedly asked this during my stay), so she is interested to see the scarring on my lungs in a few months. I am happy to help the medical community learn about this virus, so I readily agree to be in her study.
Thursday. Repeat. Heart swirling still there, still having nightmares, but breathing is improving. I can now fully control the “wave” feeling, and anti-nausea medication makes it go away for a few hours. I can move the spirometer ball a little (but not to the top yet). My oxygen levels are doing better. I start short rotations off the oxygen (one hour off, back on for four hours).
Friday. Repeat. EKGs now twice a day. They are worried about the prolonged QT issues (I don’t fully understand this, I just know it has to do with my cardiac circuit). They take me off the vancomycin. I can be off oxygen for a few hours at a time now. Feeling much better. Just before my last dose of hydroxychloroquine, the doctor orders it stopped and comes to talk to me. She is worried about my heart, but can’t know if the medication is helping or hurting me. We discuss the options and decide to finish out the medication. (Completely the protocol will make my case useful in studies; ending early could impact its usefulness, so I agreed to finish it).
Saturday. They take me off oxygen completely (they want 24 hours free of oxygen to discharge me). I take my last dose of the hydroxychloroquine. I am told it has a long half-life, so to expect the residual effects for a while. I am able to breathe on my own successfully for the full day. They will discharge me tomorrow. I am scared to go home; I am a danger to my family. I explain this to one nurse (my favorite, whom I shall not name) because he sneaks me three additional masks for my family members. Awesome guy. Even though all the medical staff is instructed not to have any unnecessary contact with Covid patients, before he leaves, he offers me a gloved fist bump. That one simple act of human contact was so meaningful. It will be months before I can touch another person.
Sunday, April 5th. They prescribe me another albuterol inhaler, a week’s worth of oral antibiotics, advise me not to drink alcohol or caffeine, and to do my spirometer exercises. I am told I must quarantine for two additional weeks with no contact, then social distance for six more weeks after that. They honestly don’t know when I won’t be contagious. I’ve read many articles on the viral shedding rates and timelines and the medical community just doesn’t know yet. I am told in three weeks I can donate plasma to help them study antibodies to the virus. I have marked my calendar for that date.
I am discharged. I am taken home by ambulance, because I still can’t be around people. I have to notify the DC Health agency and my building manager. I will received inquiries from both regarding status updates. I spend the next two weeks in my room, with food being left outside the door for me.
This past Monday Apr 20th was my two week mark for quarantine. I put on my mask, wash my hands thoroughly, and walk into the living room to see my roommates. I wave to them from the far end of the room. Life is getting back to normal. I can breathe easily now. The fatigue, nightmares, and heart issues waned slowly, but seem to be over now.
I am extremely grateful to the entire community that worked hard and risked their health to keep me alive- from medical staff to custodians to grocery store workers to truck drivers. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
I know this was ridiculously long. Thank you if you made it this far. Feel free to ask any questions. Be safe and be well.
O_O most viral? I am humbled and in awe of this response. Thank you for all the kind words and compassion!
Edit 2:. FP?? Shout-out to Brownsugga for encouraging me to post the story. I had no idea the impact it would have.
Thank you to this amazing community! Treat each other with kindness and compassion. We're all in this together.
I love everyone of you.
This is unbelievable. I am overwhelmed. I left out many details as I thought it was already too long, but to answer some of the more common questions:
1. While I can't know for certain, my gut instinct is that the hydrochloroquine did not help me medically. But that is a subjective layman's viewpoint.
2. Yes I am 37 with four children ages 25 through 18. I know the math seems off. They're not my biological children. They're my best friend's children, I helped him raise them. They are mine in every other way. I help them learn to read. Taught every one of them to drive. They're my heart.
Based on numerous suggestions, I think I will work on a more detailed account and maybe submit it to be published for broader circulation. I was surprised to see how many medical personnel wanted to hear this story, to hear about a good outcome.
I can't thank you all enough.