It’s taken me almost 20 weeks to post this blog.
I tested positive for COVID-19 in Fall 2020. As I sit here and type this, it still feels surreal to even read it back to myself. It seems like it was forever ago, but it wasn’t; it was almost 6 months ago.
I won’t go into the details of how I believe I contracted the virus as I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy. I will say I know how I contracted it, or at least I can assume how I was exposed, to the best of my knowledge. I say this because COVID is a funny, sneaky thing you can’t see. Because you can’t see it, you also can’t assume to know who carries the virus…you also can’t assume people think the way you do or will reveal if they are potentially exposing you to the illness. Lesson learned. But, I digress.
I have made a promise to myself to not be resentful or angry regarding the circumstances in which I contracted COVID, although I know it could have been avoided. What I can’t wipe away is the fact that there are emotional and physical effects that linger now. And, in case you are wondering, it took me eleven weeks to recover from the virus and be cleared by a physician to run again.
Below you will read an abbreviated timeline of my illness. Keep in mind, I an an avid runner. I am in my mid-40’s, have no underlying conditions and am generally healthy. I have not had any heart or organ issues to this point. I have a high tolerance for pain (no pain meds during labor and delivery for this lady and I am an ultrarunner) and discomfort. Yet, here I was with COVID-19. (Feel free to skip past all of these details and get to the recovery part if you would like; I placed them here as many people have asked what it was like.)
Timeline of Symptoms
Day 1: I wake up with sinus pressure/pain. I have light sensitivity and cannot get rid of my headache. I have ear pain and could tell there was fluid on my ears. I wanted to believe I had a sinus or ear infection. I found out I was exposed. I make my husband move out of the master bedroom.
Day 2: Here comes the fever; Tylenol doesn’t take it away. I am irritable and in pain with that headache most of the day. When I brush my teeth, the toothpaste tastes like metal. YUK. I sleep most all day in a fever-induced haze.
Day 3: Went in for my COVID test. My vitals were normal. No fever but that headache was still there. The NP stated although I had fluid on my ears I did not have an infection of any type and it was most likely “something viral”. I purchased Allegra-D and that took care of the headache. I can smell but noticed my lemonade tasted weird. Now I wait for test results. I am tired. I sleep most of the day.
Day 4: No fever or headache today! I can barely taste coffee or food unless it is salty. I am very, very tired. I make my family stay away from me; no one is allowed in my room or bathroom. My husband comes in to check on me from time to time and we both mask up. He stays a good 10 feet from me even when he checks on me. At some point this day, my sense of smell and taste evaporate into thin air. It’s like someone waved a wand over my face and made it disappear. It scares me. I wonder if I will continue to get worse at this point.
Day 5-7: I woke up on Day 5 feeling positive. The NP office calls to say my test is positive. They give me instructions and tell me a contact tracer will contact me soon. I am tired and want to sleep right away but get up and take a shower and try to stay positive. All I want to do is sleep. I also want to hug my children. I am struggling with not being able to go check on them, help them with school work or just in general be a mom. I want to hug them. They come to the outside of my door and whisper, “Mom, are you okay?” and they tell me they love me. I miss them. I thought I was better Day 5, but the setbacks on Day 6 and 7 really put me in a bad emotional place. My heart rate spikes while doing nothing. I can’t sleep. I lay awake at night thinking about all of the things I won’t tell anyone about. I won’t write about it here, but let’s just say my anxiety was at an all-time high.
Day 8: I wake up and feel human. I go into the bathroom and spray air freshener; I can smell it faintly. I still can’t taste things. I sneak out the back door with my mask to take a walk. It was a mistake. My heart rate is high and now I am exhausted. I can’t rest. This sleeping all day has my days and nights mixed up. I binge listen to podcasts until I can’t stay awake anymore.
Day 9: I light a match and I can smell the sulfur and the candle. I scream upstairs to the boys “I can smell this candle!” while I am in tears and I am pretty sure at this point they think I’ve completely lost it. I go back to bed. At this point, the CDC recommendations are that I stay in self-isolation for 10 days. One more day to go. I wake up the next morning tired, but jump into the shower and then out to hug my children, who I still wear a mask around because I don’t trust this virus at all.
Let’s just say, I took daily notes on my symptoms and the above is just a “Cliff Notes” version. I figured after Day 14 I would start to improve quickly. Four weeks into the experience and most of my smell and taste had returned. However, I was still congested and my heart rate was erratic. One night, I wake up to a squeezing feeling in my left bicep down my arm and into my leg; I have pins and needles in my left side and I am light-headed. Am I having a heart-attack? I don’t know. I cry in the dark until it goes away.
A week later, I have so much chest tightness when I breathe out! I can’t even walk around the block without feeling tired. What is happening? Will I ever be able to run again? I cannot even go up and down the stairs without my heart rate getting higher than I’ve ever seen it. I decided to make an appointment to see a physician after reading about several runners having cardiac episodes when they returned to running post-COVID.
Six weeks after my positive test, I see my doctor. After telling her everything I’ve mentioned above, she explains she has tried to read up on COVID and endurance athletes/runners, but there “just isn’t a lot out there”. She also tells me one goal she has is to rule out that I am a “long-hauler”. It isn’t until then I realize how serious this really could be for me. She runs several blood panels and does an EKG in the office. She states my EKG doesn’t show any signs of a heart attack or cardiomyopathy. She wants me to go home and wait for the lab results to come back. They do come back abnormal; in particular my liver and kidney enzymes are not normal and she is hoping this is only due to inflammation still in the body. She explains that COVID-19 has an impact on the hard organs that she is still learning about and wants me to take it easy and come back for more panels in a month.
I return in one month (10 weeks post-COVID diagnosis) reporting that I am completing interval (walk/run) segments. I am tired but I a hopeful. My labs are drawn again. My physician tells me if my labs return to normal she will clear me for running and weight lifting, albeit gradually. I receive the phone call the next day my labs read normal. I am “free” to run again. I don’t feel free. I feel exhausted and abnormal carrying around the weight of it all.
I feel behind on work (I ended up taking off about 50 hours from work time); I feel like I have missed some of the boys’ schoolwork and of course, I have been absent as a wife, sister, etc. I feel like I will never catch up. I feel like I am a shell of what I was in terms of physical fitness. I am sad. I am angry. I am trying my best to be grateful. It’s all difficult.
Almost twenty weeks after my positive test, I am writing this to report I am running again. It is slow-going. It is like starting from scratch; I had forgotten what it was like to be a new runner. I am (sort of) caught up with work and life. I do not feel like my former self. I am still tired easily. My brain is foggy-I think of a word but it doesn’t come out of my mouth correctly (for example, I mean to say car, but say bus instead, knowing full well I mean car.) For the most part, my sense of smell and taste is back but for whatever reason I cannot drink milk. Milk tastes sour; I can’t smell milk or cheese, which is weird. Did I mention I am tired most days?
I am also happy to report I am also fully vaccinated. Oddly enough, having COVID put me in a higher risk category and I was able to get vaccinated right after my 90-days was up. I still mask up in public or in spaces where non-vaccinated people may be; I want to do my part to prevent the spread.
The wild thing about COVID-19 is the variance in how it impacts people; I do not want people I know and love to have to experience what I did and no one really knows how it’s going to impact them until they have it. I’ve heard so many people say “It’s just the flu*” and for people that haven’t had COVID (or had a mild case), I can see why they would say this. However, I can’t see why they don’t see other people who have had the experience of struggling (or worse yet, dying) from this disease and not understand the damage they are causing with their dismissive words and actions. COVID has really opened my eyes to people; I find actions speak louder than words, but some people’s words are still ringing in my ears.
I had much time to reflect in my recovery period. During self-isolation, I read about and chatted with others who experienced COVID-19. I barely knew of anyone who tested positive before my own test. Once I felt good enough to let people outside of my family and work know I was sick, I found out there were many people who had went through what I went through, but they weren’t really talking about it. There is definitely a stigma attached to this virus. Once I started talking to other people who had symptoms, I started to feel like I wasn’t alone and that some of my fears and anger were typical. I also felt relieved to know others had experienced what I had; crazy, right?
As I type this, I know of two otherwise healthy runners who are now in the long-hauler category. I think to myself: that could be me, or you, or people we care about. I also try to focus on the positive-I am still here with my family. I didn’t have to be hospitalized. I still get to run. I am at the point where I have decided I may be a different runner than I was before COVID. I may not ever be as fast or be able to run as far as I did, but I am still healthy enough to do this thing that I love and for that, I am forever grateful.
Of note: It is hard to understand how COVID-19 effects your body and your mind unless you experience it. If you have COVID-19 or are recovering and experience feelings of sadness or despair, please reach out to me or any of your friends/family to talk. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
*Since December 2019, COVID-19 has killed more people in the U.S. than influenza has in the last five years.