With obvious disappointment, I am now sharing part two of a story I started in March, the first time I exposed my husband to coronavirus shaming from strangers with an article in which I explained I was certain he was going to bring the pandemic home to me.
That, indeed, is what has happened. Part two of our story is not a dramatic one as COVID tales go. For that, I am beyond grateful. But as of this writing, I’m on day 24 and still struggling to get back to full strength. Like many people, nagging fatigue is the main takeaway from my coronavirus journey.
I do not share our story to make my husband feel any worse than he already does. Actually, he’s been more cautious than a lot of people, though not nearly as strict as I’ve been. (The point of my first story was that if a couple or family members have different coronavirus strategies, one is likely to affect the other.)
Since March 16, the day my company sent us home from the newsroom — where most of us still have not returned — I’ve been inside only four restaurants. I have an ever-present mask and sanitize religiously.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered being so careful. It was inevitable that one of Joe’s jack-of-all-trades jobs would lead to this. Not surprisingly, it was playing in a band with someone who didn’t know he was sick. “It’s just a cold,” Joe tried to convince me when I noticed his fever.
I pleaded with him to get tested. He refused, insisting it was a mild cold.
Let’s stop the story here for a moment for my first rant. Two days later when I started feeling sick, I really thought — was hoping and perhaps trying to will my body — that it was allergies. How many people are out there thinking they, too, have just a cold or allergies? How many people do they infect before discovering that, whoops, no, I’ve got COVID?
It was only when his band mate texted that he tested positive that Joe consented to be tested, too. I scurried to find someplace that we could get quick results.
Rant two: I found only one. (Xpress Wellness Urgent Care in Andover, though I’m worried it now will be slammed and not available the next time I need it.) Joe wasn’t able to be seen until the next day, but the results were there within the hour. I can’t understand why we don’t, more than half a year into this, have more places with rapid testing. Why don’t we have easy home tests yet? I know people who have been unlucky enough to be stuck in quarantines for weeks multiple times while awaiting results. I think there are a lot of people who will do the right thing and stay home if they’re certain they have the virus but will continue to be out and about if they don’t have that proof. Ask me how I know.
After learning the results of Joe’s test, we were in a funk. It was just a surreal feeling, like waiting for an impending doom. My test wasn’t scheduled until the next day, but Joe was worried — not about himself, but about me. I realized it when I saw him, unprovoked, washing our sheets.
Some quick background: I’m married to possibly one of the healthiest people on the planet. Joe works out so much, every month or two he has to remind himself to take a day off. (Yes, highly irritating). I, however, should be the Girl in the Plastic Bubble. Severe allergies that lead to months-long sinus infections have plagued my adulthood. Many years, I get sick in August and don’t feel better again until April. Through decades of trial and error, I feel like I have it under control now. In fact, I’d been unprecedentedly healthy since March, and I was almost euphoric in the days before I became ill. I not only felt great, but the weather was turning cooler, and I had all kinds of amazing plans — almost all outdoors with friends I hadn’t seen in some time — and two relatively safe vacations scheduled.
Of course, I had to cancel everything anyway due to being quarantined with Joe. Then came my positive diagnosis. Ironically it shaved off a couple days of my 14-day quarantine. I was told to quarantine for 12 days from the date of my first symptoms.
Each day seemed to bring something a little different. Joe had a fever a couple of times, but I had none. Neither of us lost our sense of taste or smell, which for others has sometimes been their only indication that they’re sick. We both coughed some and had headaches and a few stomach issues. I also had one or two odd skin reactions. My entire body seemed to crave soup. And, not surprisingly for anyone who knows me, I cried even easier than usual at anything sad, sweet or moving, such as a Jim Croce song Joe innocently strummed on his guitar, and I’m sure, instantly regretted.
Mostly, though, I had relentless fatigue and achiness. I heard a news report where Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz said his coronavirus fatigue was like nothing he’s experienced in his entire life. He must not suffer from sinus problems, because for me, feeling like this is almost second nature. It’s still a serious drag, though my coronavirus reaction was not even as bad as a sinus infection and certainly nothing like the frightening two-week ICU stay a friend went through while I was lucky enough to be home.
My top recommendation for anyone who gets the virus is to buy a pulse oximeter (even though I initially scoffed when my sweet, sometimes overzealous brother suggested it) to test your blood oxygen levels regularly. There’s something called happy hypoxia or silent hypoxemia in which a person feels fine but has oxygen levels that are dangerously dropping. Ranges in the mid-to-high 90s, which mine were, are good levels. That took away a lot of the fear for me. If levels are dipping to the low 90s, it could be an indication of trouble. My plan was to call my doctor at that point to hopefully head off anything more serious, but it was never necessary. Many times, Joe tested a perfect 100 and reacted like Michael Jordan used to when he’d land another 3-pointer: a shrug and somewhat sheepish smile like, yeah, I just can’t help it. (Yes, highly irritating.)
In the days before I realized I was sick, I had an enlightening interview with Donna Sweet, the longtime KU School of Medicine-Wichita physician and professor. She said there’s a stigma about coronavirus victims. People are quick to wonder if they were not being cautious. Dr. Sweet said the victims don’t deserve the blame — the virus does. She’s right, but it’s probably still tempting to judge or admonish. The victims don’t need to hear it. They’re going to do everything they can to not be in this position again.
Speaking of which, everything I’ve read about the virus has said that people who have already had it can reasonably expect to not get it again for at least three months. Joe and I began dreaming of the overdue vacation we would take. Then a friend of a friend who had the virus and tested negative a few weeks later got sick again — less than two months after first getting sick. Sigh. Just like almost everything else you’ve read or heard about this virus, remember that it very well could change.
While I try to keep up with the latest coronavirus news, sometimes I wish I didn’t. One of the last stories I read said there can be later heart problems for people who have had even mild COVID bouts.
I feel helpless. Helpless and a bit alone — save for the wonderful family and friends who continue to check on me. There’s no doctor who oversees your care unless you have to go to the hospital. There’s no one doing contact tracing anymore, at least not here. And there’s nothing I can do about getting it again when my out-and-about husband brings it back to me once more.
Will my body handle it better the second time around? Is it going to be worse? The answer, like everything else with this, is, “Who knows?” But I’ll be sure and let you know, because like it or not, I fear this story is going to be a trilogy.
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