“I just want to get it over with.”
I admit this thought had crossed my mind many times in 2020, ever since first watching the SARS-CoV-2 virus rapidly spreading in China. Before cases were even reported in the United States, I remember telling my husband that people weren’t paying attention. He may have thought I was being a little paranoid, but as someone with a chronic illness — who at the time was debating whether to start taking immunosuppressants — it felt important to keep an eye on it.
That was over a year ago, and though a part of me had wanted to contract the coronavirus so I could hopefully get past it and treat my rheumatoid arthritis (which is not on the federal list of high-risk co-morbidities) without so much fear— nothing could have prepared me for the reality of experiencing “moderate” COVID-19 symptoms for myself.
Some people may think that getting this virus is inevitable, and we’re all experiencing some major COVID-19 fatigue. In my rural community, I still regularly hear people proclaim that COVID-19 is a hoax or that it is “just the flu.”
Many argue that they don’t need to follow safety protocols because this coronavirus “only affects those with preexisting conditions and the elderly” (as if they’re somehow expendable?). I hear people around me express more fear over the vaccine than of getting COVID-19.
These attitudes are pervasive in Utah, where we’ve made headlines over conspiracy theorists storming hospitals, demanding access to ICUs; moms who follow a code not to test their children for COVID-19 in an effort to keep schools open; and anti-mask protests.
Unsurprisingly, cases in Utah have soared, and our hospitals have been at or near capacity since November.
Though some people are blessed to have mild symptoms (or even be asymptomatic), so-called moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can still be terrifying and traumatic, and severe symptoms are an emergency. I have never thought that COVID-19 was like the flu and have done enough research for health articles I have written to know of the damage it can do to the body, including the incidents of organ damage, the risk of experiencing “long-hauler” symptoms and the growing body of evidence that the virus may cause psychosis in some individuals.
I’ve also had a lot of disease progression with my RA this past year without treatment, and my body has begun to show signs of permanent joint damage, which cannot be reversed. This is why a part of me has wanted to just “get it over with” in hope that it wouldn’t be severe for me.
Ultimately, I hoped that were I to contract it, that COVID-19 would feel flu-like for me because I am in my 30s and not considered high risk.
I was wrong.
Although I was careful and doing my best to follow safety guidelines, I contracted the coronavirus in mid-December.
Battling COVID-19 was completely different than I had imagined because the symptoms were unlike anything I have ever experienced. Yes, there was a fever, a cough that felt deep and ominous, and extreme muscle aches and fatigue, but it was so much more than that... and it was nothing like the flu.
“Sometimes I worried that my body was losing the battle. I feared going to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping for breath or I didn’t wake up at all?”
What I didn’t expect, and nothing could have prepared me for, was the chest pain and pressure and the unrelenting feeling that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. It made me feel like crawling out of my skin, like I was going mad. I could tell that my body was running on all cylinders, fighting an invader that was foreign and relentless.
Sometimes I worried that my body was losing the battle. I feared going to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping for breath or I didn’t wake up at all? COVID-19 isn’t just a physical disease, it can also cause a lot of anxiety.
I was given a pamphlet when I got tested. It had a list of warning signs to watch out for, listing symptoms such as bluish lips or face, an inability to wake or stay awake. My lips weren’t blue, and I could take a deep breath, but I still felt like my body wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I couldn’t take more than a few steps without becoming extremely weak and dizzy, the world spinning around me.
I was in that strange place of being very ill but maybe not quite sick enough to go to the hospital. I also didn’t know it at the time, but your body can be dangerously low on oxygen without experiencing classic signs, such as gasping for breath.
Although a steroid I had on hand for rheumatoid arthritis helped ease my symptoms temporarily, the chest pressure and struggle for oxygen just kept coming back, and it made me wonder what kind of damage this constant onslaught of inflammation could be causing me internally.
My body was fighting an all-out war, and although I could tell I was getting a little better each day, the stress of the battle on my immune system caused me to develop shingles about two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. Shingles was miserable, but not nearly as scary as the coronavirus.
We often hear about death rates pertaining to this virus, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are no guarantees with this virus, and there’s no way to know for sure how your body will react to it. This doesn’t mean that we should live in fear but rather that we should live with consideration of others, doing our best to protect the most vulnerable and ourselves from contracting this virus. COVID-19 should never be brushed off as being the flu or like any other illness that humans are familiar with.
I am so very grateful to be alive, but I don’t feel completely “recovered.” To this day, eight weeks after receiving a positive test, I still can’t last on an elliptical machine more than 10 to 15 minutes without getting chest pain. My endurance has dropped dramatically. I struggle with lingering chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and other strange symptoms, such as dry mouth and insomnia. Unfortunately, with COVID, “recovered” does not always mean “returned to good health.”
While our family was in quarantine, a child in our neighbourhood wanted to play with our son, and she banged on the door relentlessly until my husband yelled through the other side that we have COVID-19.
“COVID is bogus!” she yelled back.
“No, it’s not!” my husband replied. It’s real, and for many people, it feels nothing like the flu. I learned this the hard way.
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