I Wanted To Get COVID-19 Over With, Thinking It Would Feel Like A Bad Flu. I Was So Wrong.
(Photo: Arman Zhenikeyev via Getty Images)
"I just want to get it over with."
I admit that this thought had crossed my mind many times in 2020 since I first observed the SARS-CoV-2 virus in China. Before cases were even reported in the US, I remember telling my husband that people weren't paying attention. He may have thought I was a little paranoid, but as someone with a chronic illness - who was considering at the time whether to start taking immunosuppressants - it felt important to keep an eye on it.
That was over a year ago, and although part of me wanted to get the coronavirus so that I could hopefully overcome it and treat my rheumatoid arthritis (which isn't on the federal list of high-risk comorbidities) without so much fear - nothing would get me up prepare the reality that I myself have “moderate” COVID-19 symptoms.
Some people may think that getting this virus is inevitable and we all suffer from severe COVID-19 fatigue. In my rural community, I still regularly hear people claim COVID-19 is a joke or "just the flu".
Many argue that they don't need to follow safety protocols as this coronavirus "only affects people with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly" (as if they were somehow dispensable?). I hear people around me express more fear of the vaccine than of COVID-19.
These attitudes are ubiquitous in Utah, where we've made headlines about conspiracy theorists storming hospitals and demanding access to intensive care units. Mothers following a code not to test their children for COVID-19 to keep schools open; and anti-mask protests.
Unsurprisingly, cases in Utah have skyrocketed and our hospitals have been at full or almost at full capacity since November.
Although some people are blessed to have mild symptoms (or even to be asymptomatic), so-called moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can still be terrifying and traumatic, and severe symptoms are an emergency. Never thought COVID-19 was like the flu, and I've searched enough for health articles I've written to know the damage it can do to the body, including incidents of organ damage and the risk of being "long distance drivers" to suffer symptoms and the growing body of evidence that the virus can cause psychosis in some people.
I've also had a lot of disease progressions with my RA in the past year without treatment and my body is showing the first signs of permanent joint damage that cannot be reversed. Because of this, part of me just wanted to "get it over with," hoping it wouldn't be difficult for me.
Ultimately, I was hoping that COVID-19 would feel similar to the flu to me if I contracted it because I'm in my 30s and not classified as high risk.
I was wrong.
Although I was careful and did my best to follow the safety guidelines, I contracted the coronavirus in mid-December.
The fight against COVID-19 was completely different from what I had imagined because the symptoms were different from anything I have ever experienced. Yes there was a fever, a cough that felt deep and threatening, and extreme muscle pain and fatigue, but it was so much more than that ... and it was nothing like the flu.
Sometimes I worried that my body was going to lose the fight. I was afraid to go to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping or didn't wake up at all?
What I didn't expect and nothing could have prepared me for it was the pain and pressure in my chest and the relentless feeling that I wasn't getting enough oxygen. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin like I was going crazy. I could see that my body was walking on all cylinders, fighting an intruder who was strange and relentless.
Sometimes I worried that my body was going to lose the fight. I was afraid to go to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping or didn't wake up at all? Not only is COVID-19 a physical illness, it can also cause a lot of anxiety.
I received a brochure when I was tested. There was a list of warning signs to look out for with symptoms like bluish lips or face, inability to wake up or stay awake. My lips weren't blue and I could breathe deeply, 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 spun around me.
I've been to this weird place where I was very sick but maybe not sick enough to go to the hospital. I didn't know then either, but your body can be dangerously low in oxygen without noticing classic signs such as shortness of breath.
Although a steroid I had on hand for rheumatoid arthritis temporarily relieved my symptoms, the chest pressure and struggle for oxygen kept coming back, and I wondered what kind of damage this constant inflammatory rush could be causing me internally.
My body was waging an all-out war, and while I found myself feeling a little better every day, the stress of fighting on my immune system caused me to develop shingles about two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. Shingles was miserable, but nowhere near as scary as the coronavirus.
We often hear of death rates related to this virus, but that doesn't tell the full story. There are no guarantees about this virus and there is no way of knowing for sure how your body will react to it. This does not mean that we should live in fear, but that we should live with consideration for others and do our best to protect the most vulnerable and ourselves from contracting this virus. COVID-19 should never be wiped off as the flu or any other illness people are familiar with.
I am so grateful that I am alive, but I do not feel fully "recovered". To this day, eight weeks after getting a positive test, I can't go on an elliptical for more than 10 to 15 minutes without chest pain. My stamina has dropped dramatically. I struggle with persistent chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and other strange symptoms like dry mouth and insomnia. Unfortunately, with COVID, "recovered" does not always mean "healthy again".
While our family was in quarantine, a kid in our neighborhood wanted to play with our son and she knocked relentlessly on the door until my husband yelled through the other side that we have COVID-19.
"COVID is a hoax!" she yelled back.
"No it is not!" my husband replied. It's real, and it doesn't feel like the flu to many people. I learned this the hard way.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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