Let’s take a quick break from our normal everyday and just breathe. Appreciate the fact that you woke up this morning and can breathe without coughing. That you can move without pain, or if you do have pain, that at least you have breath in your lungs.
I say “I Lost April” not to be dramatic, but to highlight how awful COVID infection can be. I feel like I lost an entire month.
I got my first vaccine dose (Pfizer if you must know) on March 28th and said to myself, “you’re going to make it! You’re going to survive a global pandemic without anyone in the family getting sick.” NOT.
You see, exposure can happen before you even realize the person you’re talking to without a mask (because they live in your household and who wears masks at home?) has themselves been exposed and will develop symptoms in the next twelve hours. It can happen that fast. No warning. No premonition of impending doom. NOTHING.
So, my 23-year old semi-adopted son (meaning he lives with us and we see him like one of our kids), showed his first symptoms of COVID on April Fools’ Day. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me. I was the fool for thinking I had survived anything on my own. Silly me. Three of us in the house were exposed. Within seven days, two of us had symptoms and had ourselves unwittingly exposed yet another household member before we were symptomatic (yes, we were wearing masks). We still aren’t sure how that happened, but we’ll blame the sixteen-year old boy who most days is a walking hygiene nightmare.
What followed for me was one of the worst experiences of my life. I’ve had malaria as an adult and thought I was going to die. I’ve been under the knife twice with acute injuries. I’ve had migraines my entire adult life and asthma since I was a kid. I’ve had flu a few times, strep more times than I can count and a sinus infection that lasted over eighteen months that I couldn’t get rid of despite procedures, steroids and antibiotics.
Never in my life have I been so sick.
We hear these symptoms on the news or read about them on a website and I don’t think I realized what they would FEEL like. Body aches, night sweats, shaking chills, headache, shortness of breath, coughing. All at the same time. Thankfully I never had a fever, though losing my sense of smell and taste was very strange.
I almost landed in the hospital on day three. The shortness of breath was acute and every time I coughed or ate or walked to the bathroom, my oxygen saturation dropped from 94% to 91%. One more point lower and I would’ve gone to the ER.
I felt like I was trying to breathe through a straw.
It almost made me panic and I spent day three talking my mind and body down from the ledge of fear and anxiety. I listened to music. I tried to distract myself with reading. And I reached out to friends to pray. Even when I was deaf from the malaria treatment in 1999, I wasn’t as scared as I was on day three of COVID. Malaria changed me forever. That was when I encountered God for the first time in my life, heard His audible voice (remember I was deaf!) and was healed instantly. God called me into ministry that day.
Would COVID change me the same way? I was terrified by that concept. I wondered why my soul needed COVID. What was God going to do with me through this? Or was this about something else?
For six days straight I didn’t leave my bedroom. My husband, bless him, brought my two sick kids and I food in bed, medicine in little bowls, Gatorade and water. For six days, I got winded just sitting up or walking to the restroom. During this time, my middle child recovered far faster than I could’ve imagined. He was back to gaming with his friends before his quarantine was up. Sure sign of health in a sixteen year old boy. My youngest got sick, didn’t even listen to music in bed, then recovered after five days. And during this time, all I could do was stay in bed, eat a little, try to stay hydrated and medicated and ride out the aches and shaking chills.
Things were always worse at night and I would spend hours shaking in bed, waiting for the medicine to quiet the shakes and relieve the body aches. I took the maximum daily doses and still had aches, chills and a headache that made me completely cover my head and block out all light. My sweet puppy kept me company. The cat poked his nose at my face, wondering what was wrong. Animals always know.
Thankfully Steve slept on the couch through all this. Having had both of his vaccinations, his immunity held strong. Thank God. The last thing we needed was the one who was taking care of the rest of us and keeping things moving in the house to get sick. Who in the world would’ve fed the pets?
The kids bounced back quickly, but my upward trajectory was much slower. If I tried to do too much - like take Sadie the puppy outside on day eight, for instance - I would come back into bed and sleep like the dead for hours. The slightest exertion exhausted me. Work piled up. Meals were brought in by caring friends and family, thank God. We survived.
As I write this on May 15, thirty-five days after the onset of COVID-19, I still am not full-strength. Before COVID I swam for an hour three times a week, 1.5 miles each session. Not bad. Not level one masters’ swimming let alone Olympic level, but good cardiac fitness.
Now? Thankfully I’m not so bad that I need to haul around an oxygen tank - I’ve seen people who have to - but this isn’t “like the flu.” I’m recovering function, back to work, back in the pool, sucking serious wind most days. The road back is slow.
As of mid May, my taste was still wonky. And I still had days when the headache wants to come back. My cognitive processing can be odd at times, too. There are some people and events that happened immediately pre-COVID, like maybe a month beforehand, that I have an absolute blank on. Faces and names that aren’t in the database of my brain at all. I’m constantly apologizing. Constantly needing more time to do the simplest tasks that I pounded through before. Writing this blog took more than twice the normal time for me, just for comparison’s sake.
I’m now fully vaccinated. Bit the bullet and got the second vaccine right after I was recovered from infection on April 28th. That was a doozy. Three days of cycling through COVID symptoms and, finally, on May 2nd I was mostly rid of COVID.
And now I start the slow process of reclaiming my life, my health and my fitness from COVID. And I pray others don’t get this. I’m horrified by what I see in India. My heart breaks for those people. And I pray for the vaccine to get out as quickly as possible in that nation.
Even though I lost April, I’ve learned a few things through this. Pride comes before the fall. Friends, family and community are essential and such a blessing. Don’t take life for granted; it can change in the span of a ten minute conversation. Listen to your body and take care of it. Appreciate your pets. And for crying out loud, wash your hands!