The doomsday reports in print and on air left little to the imagination of what could happen if someone was infected with Covid-19 and so when I tested positive, like any normal rational person, I panicked.
Curiously, my first symptom was a series of hot flashes which was unusual because I hadn’t had hot flashes in a number of years. But then over the next few days I developed a fever along with body aches and chills. And then, I experienced an intense sinus cold. It clamped down on my nose and some of the heavy congestion traveled deep into my chest. I was at my sickest from November 2020 thru February 2021, and during this time the cold air compromised my inflamed lungs making it more difficult to breathe. Sleeping was extremely difficult as I couldn’t find a comfortable position without my sinuses becoming completely stuffed up. I kept having to breathe into a washcloth smothered with eucalyptus oil. Any physical effort elevated my heart rate and just to prepare a meal sent me back to bed. I noticed especially in the mornings that my entire body felt as if I had had a caffeine shot – a shaky feeling or some kind of internal vibration. Little did I know at the time that my autonomic nervous system was completely misfiring and keeping me in a state of fight or flight.
Living alone and trying to heal, I was also alone with my thoughts and that part might have been the roughest for me. Not able to have proper perspective around my illness caused tremendous anxiety. With all of my Pilates and other fitness training I knew when lungs had to work harder so did the heart. I was afraid to move too quickly or do too many tasks for fear of my airways closing. I kept saying to myself, why isn’t my body healing? What am I not doing that I should be doing? I mean, isn’t this just a bad flu? But then about a week into my illness while resting in bed, I felt this intense pressure on my chest as if someone was literally standing on top of me – it was at this point that I fully comprehended I was now part of the Covid Club.
I had never experienced this amount of stress. The continual shortness of breath coupled with severe anxiety brought on a number of panic attacks. If fact, one of those attacks was so severe I ended up in the emergency hospital. The first visit to the ER, the nurses dressed in what looked like hazmat suits, wheeled me into a room and left me – instead of comforting me, the medical staff stayed clear of me. Eventually they took bloodwork and a lung x-ray. Six very long hours later I was released and given a finger oximeter to check my oxygen and heart rate at home. For those who never heard of a finger oximeter – it’s a small clip-on device that reads your oxygen saturation level and your heart rate. For a healthy person the O2 reading is usually 99 or 100 – 100 being the highest. Anything under 94 is cause for concern. I kept staring at the oximeter as it hugged tightly around my middle finger, willing it to move up from the 92 level. I’d take 95, just to keep me from feeling like I needed to go to the ER again. My fear was having to be admitted into the ICU because everyone knew that might mean being put on a ventilator and possibly never going home.
Because I was so spent emotionally and mentally, it wasn’t until I got home that I became aware of something in my arm – turns out one of the ER nurse’s forgot to remove the IV. And what ensued I suppose is funny now, but certainly not then. As soon as walked in my door I got on the phone with two of my sisters who each offered advice as what to do. One sister said go to YouTube, the other Google. It was close to 1am and I was so exhausted I couldn’t think. Then it was suggested to call 911 again, and because I live in such a small town, it was the same guy who answered the first time when I breathlessly asked to be taken to the emergency hospital. Luckily, he knew of a mobile urgent care person on call who literally dropped what she was doing, drove up the unlit winding road to my cottage at 1am to help me. Quickly and professionally she removed the IV, placed a bandage on my arm and was back in her car in less than five minutes.
The one thing I really appreciated about my time at the emergency hospital was that the ER nurses saw me right away — a far different experience from trying to contact my primary doctor. There was no direct line to her office, so I had to go through the automated phone system and many times it was a 2-4 hour wait. I’d even call very late at night to the Nurses Advice Call line only to speak with someone who had no clue how to advise me. During the first couple of weeks when I was the most scared and ill, I had no luck speaking with my doctor, only her office staff was available. They were of little help either so I quietly suffered at home, not knowing how to help myself other than rest, hot soups and teas and vitamins. I truly believe many of us Long Covid sufferers are long covid because our doctors didn’t get to us fast enough if at all or didn’t really know how to treat us so we had to figure it out on our own.
I continued teaching online which in hindsight wasn’t very smart because my voice tired easily leaving my vocal chords irritated and scratchy. Consequently, I wasn’t able to give many corrections or cues to my students but they continued to show up every week even though I was just a shadow of myself. My students were all very understanding and kind as they saw me struggle to hold myself and the class together. Whenever I took a workshop from Romana Kryzanowska in New York or elsewhere, she inevitably would say, “Pilates could be summed up in 3 words. Stretch, strength and control.” I pretty much lost control over my body and also my mind. My life long devotion to health and fitness couldn’t save me this time and I fell into a very dark hole.
There is so much more to this saga. For instance, the term, “Brain fog” is sometimes carelessly tossed around to describe brain disfunction – is nothing like being in fog. For me, it felt as if someone shoved a stick into my ear and scrambled my brain. I had no ability to track a thought. I found myself just staring at the television not able to take in the scene in front of me. Then there were weird symptoms that appeared months after the acute stage – my right nostril leaked blood, I heard ringing in my ears, my neck swelled, my throat hurt continually and I had trouble swallowing. The CT lung scan revealed “scattered ground glass opacities” which may have explained my inability to take full breaths. The fight/flight response never shut off. Even now seven months later I have no sense of smell.
However, light did filter down into that dark hole of mine – there were the life saving covid support groups, the incredible kindnesses my sisters and mom showed me, my friends and neighbors bringing me soup and shopping for me, and even the softening of my own heart. Although this recovery has been extremely slow and beyond frustrating, I am on the mend. One thing I did learn throughout this ordeal was that the kindness I easily give to others, I had to learn to give to myself.