I wasn’t sure if I was going to post this. I wasn’t sure if it was still relevant because so many people in the U.S. have COVID-19. But, one day last week I stood outside and talked to an older black UPS delivery man (at a generous social distance and with masks) who had just left a package. I asked how he was doing and he told me how bad his feet hurt. That he works 6 days a week 12-15 hours a day. But he said he was hanging in. The front line workers truly have the hardest and most thankless jobs during this time.
As Ellington ran out the front door, he asked how we were doing cooped up in the house. I paused for a second and then told him, – “We all had/have COVID-19. It has been tough, but we are hanging in.” This was at the end of my fifth week of having COVID-19. He responded, “Oh, wow, I’ve never met anyone who had it. Can I ask you a question? What is it like to have it? Is it just like the flu?”
I responded, glad he asked, “Honestly, it’s nothing like the flu. It is ten times worse. My husband describes it as the flu if you are IN HELL. The symptoms are severe. And that’s why I told you I have it and I tell others. I want people to understand how bad it is and how vigilant they should be.” This conversation and the multitude of messages saying that people better understood Coronavirus and how to think about your actions after reading my recent post convinced me to finish telling our full story.
The day that I started getting sick was a Saturday in early March after my kids had been sick for a week and Lateef for a few days. I remember feeling like I just had a sinus infection. “Remember, I got my first sinus infection last year, hon?” I said to my husband as he handed me an Alka Seltzer tablet. I had just finished making strawberry oatmeal muffins with the kids and was going to take them to the park. They needed to get out and I wanted to give him a break because they were all over him and he was very sick. Again, at this time we had no idea we had COVID-19 or that there was any way we could have it. We were exposed to the virus in early March and information regarding Coronavirus was being actively suppressed by the U.S. federal government.
Then the next day we received a call that someone we had come into contact with tested positive for COVID-19. At first we freaked out. Then we tried to calm down. There was nothing we could do. Although we had not been tested, it was immediately clear based on our symptoms that our entire family had COVID-19. The kids’ symptoms were thankfully not severe by COVID standards. We tried to think of everyone we had come into contact with and reached out to tell them that we likely had the virus.
As my children were starting to get better, I got sick. The first few days are a blur. We were all sick. At this point I was experiencing most of the common Coronavirus symptoms – alternating fever and extreme chills, body aches, cough (mine was mild, most, like Lateef’s, are bad), mucus, extreme lethargy, headache, difficulty breathing, severe night sweats, loss of appetite and nausea. It feels like your body has completely lost the ability to self-regulate – I was either soaking wet, constantly changing my clothes with fever or I had multiple blankets and a space heater and directly on me.
While my internist was doing all she could, with no vaccine or a treatment recognized by the hospital she was associated with, all she could do was treat the symptoms over the phone and tell me to go to the hospital if it got worse. She was very frustrated – she told me that she wished she could do more. But all she could recommend was that I keep taking Tylenol or DayQuil and Nyquil around the clock. I remember asking her on the phone, as I was out of breath with each sentence or two, “So how bad does my breathing have to be to go to the hospital?”
On the fourth day of being sick, while my husband was also still ill, my breathing got really bad. I increasingly could not breathe. Walking to the bathroom felt difficult and taking a sip of water was impossible.
After struggling for breath all day, I knew it was time to go to the emergency room. I called Lateef on his cell phone and said, very slowly, “Come. Hurry. I can’t breathe.” He frantically ran to load the kids into the car – crying and wanting to play. To calm them down we put their children’s songs on and tried to pretend like everything was OK. I was shaking uncontrollably. They left me in a wheelchair at the ER door and returned home. I was scared, not able to breathe and not able to be with my family.
There were no beds available. I was freezing cold and shaking hoping to be able to lay down again soon. When the ER was finally able to see me, they did an x-ray of my lungs and checked my vitals and oxygen levels. By then my breathing had improved some. My x-ray was clear and my oxygen levels were normal. They gave me a COVID-19 test by swabbing my nose, but I knew it would be a long time before we had the results. Because I didn’t have critical respiratory failure, they sent me home – just a few hours later. This was Day 3 of self-isolating in LA and they needed the beds.
So I went home very sick. I honestly didn’t know what we were going to do. My husband was still sick and couldn’t leave the house. How would we get Sienna’s night diapers that were running out? How would we get the nebulizer I needed hours ago? How would Lateef handle all this? He had to take care of all of us, alone. And we never knew when it would end.
The next few weeks are a blur. But each week I was a bit stronger than the last. Being sick with COVID-19 is a very dark place. It is like a tsunami. On top of the severe symptoms, because so little is known about the virus and a person can go from having mild symptoms to severe symptoms to even death in just a few days, the stress and anxiety of having it is extreme. To overcome the mental health aspects of COVID-19, I refocused my energies on healing. I prayed a lot, meditated, focused on gratefulness and sought guidance from a therapist. I also reminded myself that I had to put my life mask on before I helped others. And it worked.
WE SURVIVED. All of us. I am still healing, but we are so very grateful.