Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Here is a real story about COVID in a young, healthy female. COVID is real; it is scary; it can be deceiving; it should be respected. As we get into the holiday season and the colder months, please be diligent. Together we can make this thing manageable.
Thank you, Whitney, for sharing your story; thank you for letting me be a part of your team; thank you for letting me cry with you when we finally figured this thing out.
...until next time
What a year 2020 has been. I don’t need to recap it, as we are all essentially living through the same nightmare. Like everyone else, I have had my share of problems, and I was recently asked if I would be willing to share a bit about my experience with having Covid-19. I am happy to do so, as my case was an unusual one, and I really hope to help others by doing so. First, I want to mention that I am not part of any high risk group. I am a 44 year old female, with a normal BMI and zero pre-existing conditions. I am active, eat reasonably well, and do not smoke or have unhealthy habits. Though I never took Covid lightly, I generally thought the odds of me getting truly sick from it were minimal, but I was wrong. I first noticed symptoms of my illness at the beginning of October. I developed chills, terrible muscle aches, a low grade fever, headache, mild GI upset, and a dry hacking cough. I immediately went to urgent care for a Covid swab and isolated from my family. Thankfully, the test came back quickly and the result was negative. With that news, I assumed I was likely sick with some other virus that would run it’s course and that I would recover in no time, but that is far from what happened. About four days into the illness, I felt like I was getting worse instead of better. No over the counter remedies such as cough syrup or expectorant were helping at all, and my cough became worse. I still had a low grade fever despite the use of Tylenol. I went back to urgent care and was told that they wanted to re-swab me for covid because the first test may have been performed too early in relation to symptom onset. I was more than a bit irritated by this, as I felt all anyone wanted to consider was covid, but I got re-swabbed and again, it was negative. Urgent care confirmed that they suspected it was likely a viral illness that would get better soon. Little did I know then that I would remain sick and without a diagnosis for a very long time. Oddly, around this time, I did begin to temporarily improve. By day 10-12 most symptoms had resolved except for the dry hacking cough and some mild chest tightness/constriction. I even had a telemedicine appointment with Dr. Brackman in which I reported to her that although I wasn’t 100 percent, I really felt like I was finally on the mend. She was reassuring and told me to come to the office if I had further issues. After that, things took a drastic downhill turn. By late October, I noticed that not only had some of my original issues never resolved (cough, chest tightness), I also had the onset of some frightening new symptoms. I became increasingly short of breath. I had frequent episodes of tachycardia in which my heart rate would shoot up to the 140s with minimal activity. I started to feel like my lungs were being housed in an ever tightening vice-like grip. I had chest pain, heart palpitations, and frequent dizziness. Very quickly I went from being able to jog a 5k, to barely being able to walk from my living room to my kitchen without having to catch my breath. At this time I also noticed that anytime I got up to go walk anywhere, my fingers, toes, nailbeds, and lips would turn blue. As a former nurse, I recognized these as signs of hypoxia, or low oxygen, and became very alarmed. I began using an oximeter to periodically check my oxygen levels and realized that they were dropping to very low levels (from 99% at rest to between 78-85%) with literally any activity. I urgently went back to Dr. Brackman, who ran many tests at this time, including a Covid antibody screen, which also mysteriously came back negative. When no testing was abnormal, Dr Brackman referred me to a local pulmonologist. I was prescribed inhalers and steroids, but unfortunately neither of those really improved my symptoms. My pulmonologist was also unable to determine a diagnosis. I became sicker and ended up needing oxygen at home just to do basic daily activities. My lungs and chest continued to feel like they were in an ever-tightening corset and I could not catch my breath. Breathing became all-consuming and I truly worried that I might not survive this illness, whatever it was. My brain went to the worst possible places and at one point, I was writing goodbye letters to my husband and children. I still didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew this was the absolute sickest I’d ever been in my life, hands down. On November 9th, I woke up with my heart racing, feeling extremely short of breath, and I noticed that my hands and feet were cold, clammy, mottled and blue. I ended up going to the ER, and spent 3 days in the hospital having supportive care and more diagnostic testing performed. I was seen by internal medicine, pulmonology, cardiology and ENT. All testing was negative, including yet ANOTHER covid swab, and revealed no clues as to what was wrong with me. Fortunately my heart and lungs were showing no damage, though my breathing and oxygenation were only slightly improved. I was discharged home with some follow up appointments. Over the course of the next week, my symptoms were essentially the same. Dr Brackman facilitated a consult with pulmonologists at UNC-Chapel Hill. Again, they reassured me that all my testing was negative, which was good, buy they were also unable to diagnose me. However, something one of the residents said in passing stuck with me. She said, “These symptoms are just so classically Covid.” I asked her if it was even possible to have so many negative tests and still be infected with it, and she replied that although it was unlikely, it was not impossible and that they had seen it before. As I left there, I just couldn’t get that out of my mind. On November 17th, approximately 7 weeks into my illness, I began to feel like I could breathe a bit easier. I was not requiring oxygen anymore, but I still felt far from recovered. At an appointment with Dr. Brackman, we discussed the possibility that I could have had Covid all along. She agreed it would be worth it to repeat the antibody test, if just to put the covid issue to rest once and for all. Lo and behold, Dr. Brackman called me the next morning to tell me the test was positive. Despite MULTIPLE negative tests-- my body had been battling Covid 19 this whole time. The relief of simply having a diagnosis was indescribable. I remember crying on the phone with Dr. Brackman and just feeling the relief of knowing I wasn’t crazy. The symptoms I was having had a real and measurable cause. I was happy to finally know exactly what I’m dealing with. I do not know what the future will hold for me as I recover from this. It is slow and frustrating. Clearly, if my experience is any indication, there is much about this virus that remains unknown. Apparently there are not only a lot of asymptomatic positive cases out there, there are also some symptomatic negative ones, like me, as well. I feel modest improvement every day, and hope that I have no long lasting or permanent issues from having this virus. I pray everyone out there is staying safe and healthy as well.