Everyone I have talked to says that COVID-19 feels like a different kind of sick. We can’t exactly put our finger on why…it just feels weird in a very bad way. The first time I had it, I woke up with a scratchy sore throat and felt like I had been hit by a bus. Everything hurt and keeping my eyes open took the same amount of energy as hiking a mountain. At this point, I had been vaccinated twice and felt pretty secure about going into public, despite the news warning about this new delta variant. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and it felt right to go out with my bestie and have some fun! After all, I was maintaining the appropriate safety precautions: masks, hand sanitizer and a comfortable six-foot bubble of personal space was surely going to keep me in the “uninfected club.” About two days later it hit me hard. Immediately, I scheduled a COVID-19 test. The symptoms started progressing while I was waiting for the results. My partner was out of town, and I knew this was probably for the best. No sense in having us both flopped on the couch and miserable. It felt like a special kind of awful that I would not wish on anyone. I received the dreaded text message somewhere around 10:00 p.m. the following night stating I in fact had COVID-19. I felt panicked, scared and alone. How was I going to do this on my own? Two days later, my bestie texted me to say that she was also infected. Not that it made it any better to know she was also sick, but I at least had someone to commiserate with me.
The headaches, lethargy, sore throat, and congestion started. Then it was the dizzy spells and loss of taste and smell. The muscle cramps in my legs felt as if my calves were stuck in a vice grip. The distinct absence of respiratory symptoms was noted. I remember crying on the phone with my best friend about how grateful I was to have received the vaccination. What I was feeling was horrible. I knew it could have been much worse. After all, this was the cause of a global pandemic. The guilt and fear also hung heavy in my heart. I was so afraid I had passed it on to others before I felt symptoms. That this monster virus could be hurting someone else so much more than what I was feeling because I wanted to be with people for the first time in a year. The anger set in too. Anger aimed at whoever I caught this virus from and at myself for all the ways I could have prevented this from happening. Nonetheless, I woke up every single day and was able to breathe and for that I was grateful.
I did get through it on my own and with the help of a few friends and family members who were kind enough to drop things at my door. Basic needs were met with the luxury of food and grocery delivery also. One night, after I had taken a shower with Vicks vaporizer steamers, realized I couldn’t taste or smell anything. It was such a bizarre sensation because it felt like my brain was working overtime trying to trick me into remembering what soup smelled like or freshly washed sheets. After eating various foods, for the sake of making sure I couldn’t actually taste anything, I developed a craving for biscuits. If I couldn’t taste anything and food felt completely unsatisfying, why not eat things for texture? My bestie made homemade biscuits for me and dropped them on my door within the hour. Texture of food was the only satisfying part of eating, at this point. Somehow in my delirium, I decided to put raw spinach in everything including my oatmeal. Because why not?
Two weeks of napping and binge-watching random reality TV shows felt like a foggy nightmare. I walked my dog at weird hours to avoid people, when I could. The whole two weeks felt like a fever dream. A hazy blur of Netflix, fruit snacks, Tylenol, and naps.
Immediately after I was cleared to do so by my doctor, I went and got my COVID-19 booster. The pharmacist told me that after having COVID-19 and getting the booster, “You should basically be bulletproof.” Those words hit my ears in an uncomfortable way. It felt wildly irresponsible to plant the seed that this third booster was going to be the ticket to a worry-free existence from COVID-19. Especially knowing that new variants were spreading like wildfire.
Fast forward six months. I haven’t traveled and was still on pretty high alert with news of more contagious variants still spreading around. I had been putting off going to see my 93-year-old grandfather because he was not vaccinated. He had no intention to do so either. We talked about how there was no longer a shortage of vaccines. He was not taking the dose away from someone else who needed it more, which was his primary excuse. I kept holding off visiting him in Las Vegas because I had this somewhat rational fear that I would be putting him at risk if I were to go see him. I kept hoping we would be able to get to a place where it would feel safer to be able to visit. Unfortunately, at the beginning of May he passed away unexpectedly, due to dementia and other health conditions. We would talk every week on Sunday evenings while I would cook dinner and often he would bring up “that disease” that was killing millions of people. He had isolated himself completely since 2020, which had its own set of problems, like depression, agoraphobia and limited contact with his primary care doctor for preventative health care. So, while it killed me to not be able to see him one more time since 2018, I feel like I made the responsible choice even though it comes with a deep regret.
I went out to Las Vegas with my parents to help tie up my grandfather’s affairs at the end of May. We drove out to Vegas and took all of the necessary precautions with masks and social distancing even though the rest of the world seemed to be a little more relaxed about these things. Once we arrived in Vegas, it seemed like COVID-19 didn’t exist. People were walking around in very crowded streets without masks, playing slot machines without using hand sanitizer, and definitely not concerned with transmission of germs. My parents thought it was a little odd that I refused to get into an elevator with anyone else besides them. This was purely instinctual and not deliberate. I honestly hadn’t noticed until they said something about it. With Vegas weather being very hot, it was easy to let go of some of the safety measures that have been drilled into our brains over the past two and a half years.
After being in Vegas for a day, I got the call from my partner. He was complaining of sore throat, cough, and feeling tired. He works in retail and is exposed to probably hundreds of people per day, so our initial thought was that he needed to get tested. Sure enough, he took a home test that showed a positive result. His job required a PCR test and that also came back positive several days later. He was going to have to suffer through this alone, just like I had my first time around. I, just like he did, hated knowing he was going through this alone but figured it might be for the best. To get home sooner to get back to work, I decided to fly home while my parents drove back a few days later. I went through the airport, sat on a plane (with a mask) and navigated two airports before I got home. As soon as I got home, I took a home COVID-19 test, even though my partner disinfected our apartment and was starting to feel better. His home tests were showing he was negative. We figured I was in the clear too! “Not today COVID-19!,” we would say jokingly to each other.
Not so fast… after about three days of being home, my throat started to hurt. My headaches were excruciating, and I could hardly hold my head up. I took another test. Negative. I work in a hospital two days per week, which requires me to report physical symptoms before I present for work and their occupational health department required that I go in for a PCR test. Sure enough a day later, I got that positive test result. I sat down and cried. I wasn’t going to be alone this time, which was nice to know. I was hoping this time around would be a little easier, and it was for the most part. This time I had respiratory symptoms including a tightening in my chest and a deep chesty cough that hurt. The headaches were blinding. Sore throat felt as if I had swallowed a cup of dry sand. But I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell. I fell off the planet for a solid five days. My days consisted of naps, binge watching documentaries and just hoping to get through the worst of it. I am told these are mild symptoms but nothing about this felt ok.
Once I started feeling better and my quarantine time was up, I thought that was the end of it. I was ready to count my victory and dive back into life. However, longer symptoms were still presenting. I was still extremely fatigued, and the headaches would sneak up at the worst possible moments to render me useless, at least until the Tylenol kicked in. It’s been a few months later and I still feel like my body isn’t the same. I worry about the lasting effects, and there are enough horror stories featured on the news about people who don’t ever fully recover. The other day I was gifted the wise words from a friend, “Read everything until you are scared, then keep reading until you are no longer.”
Even though I have experienced this virus twice and have been vaccinated three times, I am very lucky to have made it through the way I did. Do I feel having three vaccinations made a difference? Absolutely.