The Face of COVID

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You really don’t want to catch this.

You don’t want your loved ones to catch this.

You especially don’t want anyone with serious health problems to catch it, especially not from you.

I know the odds of getting desperately sick are something like one in 20 and the odds of dying are even less, and I also know that a lot of people catch it but don’t get sick at all.

You still don’t want it. Trust me – I know firsthand.

My family and I spent much of last year like everyone else: trying to keep abreast of the latest health news, keeping our pantry stocked in the face of persistent shortages of everything from toilet paper to Tylenol and ensuring that we were taking the right measures to keep from catching the illness.

My wife, Jenna, who teaches special education students in the Knox County Schools, made a point of immediately stripping out of her work clothes and scrubbing herself clean immediately upon coming home. Our daughter, a sophomore in high school, chose to take online classes despite really disliking the curriculum compared to in-person learning.

We dodged the bullet for months.

But then on a Friday afternoon in mid-December Jenna came home with a headache and sniffles. By the next day she was feverish, her sense of taste was off and she was having chills and body aches. Then she got a phone call from the school system informing her that she’d been exposed to the coronavirus and needed to quarantine.

We never saw it coming.

We were all sick within a couple of days.

The days became weeks. 

I won’t say that COVID was the sickest I’ve ever been, but it was bad.

The fever, coughing, and stomach problems were tough to bear, but the worst part — by far — was the pain. For some reason, this disease caused violent body aches that were absolutely miserable, worse even then most broken bones (and I’ve had more than my share of broken bones to compare them to).

On top of the body aches came a vicious headache that waxed and waned with the fever, which climbed to more than 102 degrees but was thankfully controllable with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 

The respiratory symptoms weren’t all that severe for any of us. After hearing months of terrifying stories about plummeting blood oxygen levels and victims dying despite the use of ventilators to maintain their breathing, I had expected more of a cough. Thankfully, no matter how awful we felt, our lungs never felt worse than they do in a typical bout with bronchitis.

Two other symptoms worth noting were the severe fatigue and what is being referred to in medical circles as “brain fog.” 

Pretty much any infection is going to take away some of the spring in your step, but COVID hit us like some kind of jacked up sleep medication.

We each slept for nearly 16 hours a day, and for the remaining eight hours it seemed impossible to even walk as far as the bathroom.

Going from our bedrooms to the kitchen for a drink? Even thinking of such a journey was too exhausting for words, and by the time we managed to climb back into our respective beds we felt as though we’d just taken a hike up the slope of Mount Everest.

The brain fog was a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it means that we don’t remember large parts of an experience that none of us ever wants to go through again.

On the other hand, it’s disconcerting to find that basic cognitive skills like reading, writing, doing basic arithmetic or even following the plot of an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have slipped away from you.

Even when you tell yourself that it’s probably only temporary, it’s terrifying to realize that so much of what makes you an individual and functioning person can be erased by a microscopic blob of protein.

All the above symptoms continued for about two weeks before fading for Jenna and our daughter.

Jenna is now back to work and our daughter is taking classes again. We’re all thankful and feel like our family missed a bullet, especially as I have health problems that put me in the “high risk” category.

The problem is, it’s been more than a month since I got sick and I’m still not well yet. 

The fatigue and “brain fog” are still very much here.

It’s not possible for me to stay awake and alert for more than eight hours at a time, even when pumped with caffeine and adrenaline.  More frightening than that is my inability to do anything that requires concentration.

I can usually write 2,000 to 3,000 words in a single shift without breaking a sweat, but it’s taken me no less than four days (and countless corrections and rewrites) to finish the essay you’re reading right now.

The doctors haven’t made up their minds just yet on what’s wrong with me. It turns out that quite a few people with COVID are in the same boat.

It turns out that some people continue to have symptoms for months. In some cases it’s because the coronavirus caused permanent damage to organs such as the kidneys, heart or lungs; in other cases the symptoms eventually resolve on their own as the body eventually manages to overcome the invader. 

I’m remaining optimistic and assume that I’ll be back on my feet in a few days or weeks. I have good doctors, and it’s my hope that the next time you hear from me will be when I’m bringing you the local news in the first edition of Hard Knox Wire. 

Once again, you don’t want to catch this.