My COVID Experience, The Second Time Around

Second time’s the charm, right?

My first bout with COVID was in January of 2020 before it had dominated the world’s stage as the Carlotta of viruses (that there is a Phantom of the Opera reference). I was sick for six weeks and kept going to work the whole time, save for the first week when I felt like I’d swallowed a bucket of sand after getting hit by a train. During that first bout, I was coughing up half a cup of mucous per day and I probably should have been hospitalized for complex pneumonia. I suppose now, looking back, that I’m lucky I survived. At the time, nobody in the US seemed to be worried about this deadly virus, and the doctor was so nonchalant about the pneumonia that she handed me a Z-pack and said, “This’ll help. You probably won’t even have to check back in with us.” It didn’t work, but I didn’t feel validated enough to go back. While I knew my symptoms were severe and unusual for a simple wintertime cold, it didn’t click until months later that I had COVID. At the time, I worked at one of the most public places in the world – Disneyland. It’s not a surprise that I got sick. So did many of my colleagues. I recall a day when only five people on a 14-person team showed up for work, and three of those five were still getting over their “really bad colds.”

It is now April of 2022 and I thought I was in the clear. COVID cases are declining, I thought, the lax masking regulations aren’t a problem. Ah, but I was wrong. I contracted COVID from the ripples of a potential super-spreader event. I won’t go into details, because I know it’s a politically complicated topic, but I will say it involved too many teenagers doing school-related activities, who were not required to mask up in small spaces. I wasn’t in the crowd full of germs or even near it, and the person I got it from was only crowd-adjacent. Oh, and by the way, I’m triple vaxed, and the other person is double vaxed. We both still got it and it was still an intense disease. How I got COVID proves that this bug is still out there and circulating rapidly. But I’m not here to harp. I’m here to share my experience because COVID affects everyone’s body differently.

So how did I fare with variant number who-knows-which of coronavirus/COVID-19/Omicron? Some days were okay, some were trash. I developed symptoms two days after known exposure, which is relatively quick, but I also had a compromised immune system from a separate health issue that hadn’t quite resolved before contracting the virus. On Day 1 of symptoms, I woke up feeling off. That’s the best way to put it. My throat hurt in an “Oops, I swallowed piping hot coffee” kind of way, and my chest was tight. It was that “you know you’re about to come down with something hard” feeling. So, I called out of work and got some things done around the house before the fever set in around noon. And, oh boy, did it really hit hard. My temperature was between 101 and 103 for two straight days. I was sweating buckets and my appetite was gone, but the worst symptoms were the chills and muscle aches. My joints would flare up all over my body with sharp, stabbing pricks intermittently while I shivered in a 70-degree room under a 15-pound weighted blanket and two cats. I woke up from naps with my pajamas dripping in sweat and yet, somehow, I was still cold.

Day 2 was worse. The fever continued, and I started taking painkillers/fever reducers to drop my temperature. That worked, but I was so fatigued that I could barely walk to the bathroom without feeling like I would fall asleep standing up. I woke up from an afternoon nap and began to choke as thick goop collected in my windpipe. As I tried to cough out the phlegm, it just got stuck and I was red-faced and struggling to breathe. It felt like a wet asthma attack (with which I am quite familiar), or what I imagine drowning feels like. As I tried not to panic, I reminded myself that I had to exhale to get the stuck stuff out, and it took a minute, but I succeeded – and survived. Only two days into this virus, I decided to go to the ER. The doctor said that all my vitals looked good and oxygen levels were normal. She recommended more fluids, as it was true that I hadn’t been drinking enough of anything, having been asleep for the majority of the past two days, and lots of rest. As scary as it was, my choking episode was a transient one and, based off of my symptoms and stats, should not continue. When I got home, I went back into vegetable mode. My first meal of the day was at 3:00pm, a hearty late lunch. I could feel my stomach balking at the food intake, but I still had my sense of smell and taste so I could at least enjoy the food as a sensory experience.

I actually slept well that night, I think my fever broke at some point because when I awoke, I was not soggy and felt well-rested. I still had sinus congestion and a gnarly cough, and simple movements were tiring, but I did feel better. I ate enough on Days 3 and 4 to make up for the previous two days, but my digestive system was still on the fritz. Another odd symptom appeared as I developed itchy, blistering hives across my body. They were few and far between, but the little buggers were potent and massively uncomfortable.

On Day 5, I felt great. Okay, maybe not “spontaneous bell kick” great, but definitely good enough to leave the house. I went for a mile walk along my favorite stretch of creek and got some nice close-up views of two dark-morph Swainson’s hawks hunting in the adjacent field. (If you thought you were getting through this essay without a bird reference, I’m sorry to disappoint.) It was a refreshing sense of normalcy, despite the ever-present congestion and cough. I didn’t bring my heavy camera with me on the trek but after the walk, I was unusually tired, and my neck and shoulders were sore from the weight of my binoculars alone. Since it was Day 5 and my symptoms seemed to be improving, I could retest and hope for a negative. No dice, still positive. Which meant that I was still contagious and had to keep isolating.

The forced decision to stay at home was a good one because on Day 6, I woke up feeling the exact opposite as the day prior. Apparently, my body was rebelling again the exercise, because I had severe brain fog and nausea, more symptoms that had waited until today to appear. My neck still hurt and was tender to the touch. No fever, though. Two bites into my breakfast, I felt my entire digestive system scream in rebellion. Thankfully, I could breathe easy again. The congestion had nearly run its course! It was a long, and unproductive day of rest. Resting is not something I’m very good at or enjoy, so I was grumpy all day.

Today is Friday, Day 8, and exactly one week since my initial positive COVID test. The end of isolation is near, and I’m hoping I’m not jumping the gun by publishing this now. Call it wishful thinking, but it looks like smooth sailing from here. I’ll still be masking until this annoying cough is gone, but it’s my understanding that I am likely no longer contagious, especially having been fever-free for several days. Normal activities resume at the end of this weekend, although I will likely be fighting the residual fatigue, neck pain, hives, and cough for a while. Compared to my first wrestle with COVID, the symptoms came and went much more quickly and intensely. I was only truly out of commission for about four days. The fever only lasted two days, and I was chomping at the bit to be out and about by Day 5. It took a lot out of me and getting back to 100% is going to take much longer than the duration of the illness, but I’m thankful that it was brief and wasn’t more severe, since it easily could have been.

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