Updated: Aug 3, 2020
I am hearing from people how helpful it is to hear a first hand account of what coronavirus (COVID-19) feels like, so, I am going to share my experience. What I feel in my body day to day. I hope this is helpful in some way. I realize that I am only one data point, but it feels like we need all the information we can get right now.
I am 47 and in otherwise very good health with no known underlying conditions. Currently, I am taking acetaminophen, vitamins, resting, staying hydrated, and eating well.
This feels vastly different than any other illness I have experienced and very different from the flu. I have a low-grade fever, a general tiredness, body aches mostly in my upper torso, neck and shoulders, and I feel like my 6 ½ pound cat has burrowed into my chest and is curled up directly on my lungs. I have never felt anything like it. I haven’t have trouble breathing, but feel a tightness and a weight on my lungs. It felt very different than bronchitis or an anxiety attack, both of which I have experienced.
Now, it feels like my 20 pound cat has curled up on my lungs instead. More pressure and tightness, but still no trouble breathing. I have developed a dry, unproductive cough. So far, sore throat lozenges have helped some with this. I feel more tired today and like my brain is a little bit on pause. Same fever (99 degrees), and the body aches are slightly more pronounced and uncomfortable.
The 20 pound cat has moved on and the 6 ½ pounder has taken his place again. So, less tightness in my chest today, but I now have the sensation of there being a bit of something tar-like in the bottom of my lungs. I am quite sure that is not medically what is happening, I am just giving what it feels like in my body. I am having to take the stairs (I live in a three story townhome) a little slower than my normal sprinting up them. I also have a headache that feels like a cap is on my entire head and gently squeezing all of my head at once. I have never felt a headache like this, and I have had my fair share of them, including a particularly nasty bout with daily migraines for a while. Same fever, same aches, same cough, same slightly fuzzy brain. Strangely enough, my appetite is not effected at all. Everything still sounds good and tastes good.
Except for the cough and headache, my symptoms are a little milder today. My chest is less tight and my aches are slightly less. However, from talking to other people who have already been down this road, it is not time to celebrate yet. Apparently, in many people, the symptoms subside for hours or a day only to roar back the same or worse. The best thing is my brain feels less fuzzy today, so I plan to work some. Any complex reading or figures (I do a lot in finance) have addled my brain the last few days. I have been re-reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time to have something simple and known to read; you can only watch so many movies. I am having trouble sleeping and am very thirsty most of the time, which is, I suppose, my body’s way of reminding me to hydrate.
I am very glad I had mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the possibility of my symptoms worsening again, because that is what has happened. Last night, the feeling of my 6 ½ pound cat laying directly on my lungs came roaring back. It returned very quickly, with no notice, as well as the feeling that there is a tar-like substance deep in my lungs. Also, after climbing my stairs, I had a little trouble breathing for a few minutes. I sat dawn and meditated and, thankfully, it went away. If it hadn’t, I would have called the doctor and taken myself to the hospital. I have a new appreciation for what people with asthma feel and I am deeply sorry you feel that on a regular basis. It is terrifying. The cough is still there, but my fever is slightly down this morning at 98.7 degrees and my brain feels less foggy.
Also, I ask for prayers for my dear friend, Jeannie. She is on day 10 of coronavirus symptoms in the UK and has had far worse complications than I have. Last night, she could hardly breathe, so they called an ambulance. They said that the virus had more than likely triggered her childhood asthma, gave her steroids and pain medications, and she stabilized. However, this is something to be aware of for people with underlying health conditions, even if they are no longer present in your daily life.
This morning, I am coughing more and my fever is slightly higher at 99.5 degrees. I still feel weight and heaviness on my chest, a headache and an inability to think quite clearly. Yes, this is physically uncomfortable, however, having mild symptoms, at this point one of the most difficult things is frustration and boredom. I do not feel bad enough to sleep all day like you would with the flu or a bad cold, but I also can’t read or focus on anything very interesting, due to my brain feeling fuzzy. In fact, yesterday afternoon, I decided I wanted to do something creative, so I went to get out some paints and chalks. To get to them, I needed to move a small box; not something I would ever think twice about doing normally. As soon as I lifted it, I felt my lungs constrict my breathing. I had to drop the box and rest on the floor for a few minutes as my breathing returned to normal. For the rest of the evening, I had pain in my lungs and it felt like my 20 pound cat was back lounging directly on them. So, pro tip if you get this: stay still and be bored. Also, today, my eyes are itchy, but I think that is just because everything is blooming from the rain and sun the last two weeks.
A friend’s daughter commented to her yesterday: “We are all living like we will die in a week”, and I suppose, rightfully so, we are in many ways. We are slowing down and seeing the beauty and connection mixed with the anxiety and fear. In the last 10 days, I have spoken to over two dozen old friends that I have not connected with in years. And, we have had wonderful, heartfelt, deep, meaningful conversations. We have talked about ways we can connect deeper, support each other and support our larger communities. These re-connections, this slowing down, the generous sharing of gifts, and love for one another; this is the real medicine amidst the terror.
Yesterday afternoon was the worst day so far. I was exhausted, my chest hurt, I felt pressure on my lungs, I was coughing more, my temperature was slightly higher (99.5), my brain felt like complete mush, and my headache was worse. This morning, I feel the same, but my temperature is back down to 99 degrees. Also, I have not been sleeping well for the last two nights, even with the acetaminophen. This is one way this virus is very different than a cold or flu, where you feel bad for a while, then you get better. With coronavirus, it seems you feel bad, then you feel a little better, or a lot better, then you feel terrible, and repeat. It adds an emotionally challenging element. We are used to hope and impending wellness when we start to feel better, not the worst day yet.
In the US, and with many other countries, we are accustomed to receiving medical care when, and mostly where, we want it. Especially those of us with the privilege of having health insurance and some discretionary income. With this pandemic, that has changed. Only severe and critical patients will receive care during this time, with the majority of us caring for ourselves, at home. During this extraordinary time, in my opinion, it is immoral and unethical to use our privilege (money, connections, status, etc.) to obtain care that should be reserved for the most ill patients. That being said, (and I am in no place to give medical advice, this is from my physician friends) if you do experience a high fever, are in a high risk category, or you have rapidly increasing symptoms, you should contact your medical professional immediately and heed their advise.
Currently, in the US, we are seeing an overloaded medical system in only a few cities, however, when we look to our neighbors around the world, we can see into the future. We can see how all of our medical facilities will be stretched beyond their capacity with only the most critical patients receiving care. For now, gone are the times you can go to the doctor or hospital for an infected finger or an elective surgery. We desperately need these medical workers on the front line, treating the patients most in need, as this gets much worse before it gets better.
This is much bigger than any one of us. In the last few days, I have experienced and see such deep kindness, compassion and love in our communities and from my friends. It gives me deep hope, and I am so grateful.
I finally slept 9 ½ hours last night!! Granted, it was interrupted to get up and feed the cats, but I was able to go back to sleep on the sofa. And, last night, I had one glorious hour without the headache that feels like a skull cap is too tight over my entire head. It came back, but man, was that hour good! And, I have not mentioned that the acetaminophen I am taking is not having any effect on this headache. It is a persistent, low level ache that is always there. This morning, my chest feels a little less like my 20 pound cat is laying directly on my lungs and a little more like asthma, which I have experienced once in my life. I do still feel like there is a tar-like substance deep in my lungs. Also, the cough, thirst, fever and foggy brain are still there. In fact, yesterday, I forgot to list foggy brain, so a friend wrote me and said “Great!! You can think better today!”. Nope. My brain is foggy enough I just forgot to document it.
As we all adjust to our new reality, there is grief. This is natural and normal. For most of us, in some way large or small, this really sucks. And, as a society, we have never really experienced collective grief. We can all feel it in the air, hear it in one another’s voices. And, there is an ongoing anticipatory grief for what may come that can cause deep anxiety and fear. Name it and allow it to be, for a time. It is not weakness to feel fearful and anxious, it is not incompetence to not be as productive as usual right now. It is normal, natural, and very human. Love yourself. Give yourself space to breathe and be.
This is link to a fantastic interview with David Kessler, who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, on the grief we are all experiencing during this time of COVID-19.
Well, unfortunately, I did not sleep again last night. Someone asked why I am not sleeping; it is a combination of the pressure in my lungs, aches, and that my brain, while foggy beyond being of much use during the day, doesn’t seem to want to shut down and sleep at night. Very unusual for me. And, after feeling better yesterday morning, I started feeling worse quite suddenly yesterday afternoon, and still feel worse this morning. I feel pressure on my chest again, headache, totally exhausted, and feel winded when I go up stairs. My fever is a little lower at 98.5 (my normal temperature is 97 degrees). The symptoms are a little like a two-stroke engine (lawnmower, leaf blower, etc.) that has a bit of moisture in the fuel/oil mix. It starts, sputters out some, maybe quits on you, roars to life again, sputters, etc. Each individual symptom is like this, with no rhyme or reason from day to day, or even throughout the day.
I had a friend who just traveled abroad and, thankfully, made it back home ask me for advise on what they should have on hand to prepare for this, since they are sure they were exposed during travels. So, later today, I am going to put out a post on what I wish I knew to have on hand to prepare for this. I hope it is helpful!
I think I have turned the corner!! Other than the headache, which is still very much there and saying “howdy!” every moment, every other symptom feels at least a little better this morning. When I woke up this morning, I realized I could breathe! We humans are so incredibly good at adapting to our current realities that I had fully accepted the lack of being able to take a real breath as normal. We do this in order to be able to cope with unchangeable circumstances, but it is fascinating to experience it in such a physically real way. So, I still feel pressure in my chest, but my lungs are expanding and contracting, which is a glorious feeling. Now, I need to keep reminding myself that I am still healing and I need to take it slow. This is not one of my strong suits, so it is a great time for me to learn to self-moderate. I went up the stairs too quickly earlier and had to rest for a few minutes because I was very out of breath. Baby steps!
Health and love to all of you.
Day 11 I still have a this squeezing cap of a headache that without the other symptoms being as prominent, feels even worse. And, I am still surprisingly exhausted. Yesterday morning, feeling better, I excitedly caught up on emails, other correspondence, and phone calls. Then, I had to rest the remainder of the day, feeling like someone had siphoned off all of my energy and brain power, and I still feel deeply exhausted this morning. So, again, this is not a linear healing process like a cold or flu, it is bumpy and it takes time. However, my 20 pound house panther, Bagheera, started to be a total jerk today, which is actually a good thing. He is usually a jerk, unless I am sick. When I am sick, he is loving and kind, staying by my side and purring. Yesterday afternoon, he was a total pain in the ass and bit me multiple times, so I guess the cat decrees me to be on the mend! And, now a little science surrounding this virus and why it is different from the flu or a cold. First of all, it’s a tricky little bugger. While most other viruses make themselves known quickly through symptoms (1-3 days), coronavirus waits 2-14 days. During that incubation time, the virus is in your lungs, altering the RNA of your lung cells and then replicating to do again in a new cell. So, by the time you feel it, it is present in your body on a cellular level. This is also why many ideas that circulating on how to keep yourself from being infected, or to treat the infection, are not useful and not based in medical science. I implore you to seek out medically responsible and accurate information during this potentially scary time. We all want a cure, we all want this to go away, but touting cures that are not medically sound can lead to false senses of security, an ill-informed populous, and in some cases, danger to the user. When in this uncertain time, what we actually need to feel more secure is more facts based on science and research.
Yesterday was hell. Around 11am, ALL of my symptoms can barreling back. The fever, headache, cough, tightness in my chest, trouble breathing and exhaustion. Then, as suddenly as they all appeared, around 7pm, they left. Like a gang of thugs giving me a final parting kick in the shins to remember them, and their misery, by. Thankfully, I slept well last night and feel better this morning. I am still coughing and exhausted, but the other symptoms are gone. Even my headache is now merely a stress headache, pounding at my temples. Strangely, when I came down to the kitchen this morning, I smelled something really terrible. The first day when I started feeling bad, I had a batch of sauerkraut I was making go bad. No big deal, it happens. But, due to the weight of the crock, I could not take it out to the garbage (I wish I had a compost!). I am sure it has been smelling the entire time, and I was blissfully unaware. And, I tried a bite of the lentils I made and have been eating on all week, and they are very, very spicy. I was worried my red pepper flakes had gone off, but nope! Apparently my taste and smell were effected and now they are back!
I have had over 24 hours without a fever and the majority of my symptoms are gone! I still have a cough, fatigue, a little pressure in my chest and the need to walk slower than normal. I will continue to isolate until I have been fever free for 72 hours (3 days). Conveniently, that will put me over the 14 day quarantine period.
I thank each and every one of you for your prayers and support during this harrowing time. Writing this daily journal and knowing that I am helping other people by going through this hell and documenting it, has kept me sane and moving forward. There were days that I was incredibly depressed and in pain, but I never felt alone. All of you kept me going and gave me hope. Community and love are the healing forces we need in this time of trial and pain, and I thank you deeply for being a part of my community.
I want to publish this journal on a larger scale in order to help more people. If you know an editor at a major publication (NYT, Washington Post, etc.), and you have found this journal useful, I would deeply appreciate a contact or introduction. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you have or have had coronavirus, please consider documenting your symptoms and zip code at www.covidnearyou.org through Harvard Medical School. With the current lack of testing, this will give epidemiologists a much better idea as to the spread of the virus. Day14
Physically, I feel healed except for still being tired and the occasional cough (which might be allergies, I have phlegm now). However, yesterday was the most difficult day mentally and emotionally.
The CDC guidelines say to quarantine for 72 hours after your fever subsides without the use of analgesics. However, a new peer reviewed study came out two days ago from the American Thoracic Society's Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. It highlights a very small study, 16 patients, in which half of the positive patients were still shedding the virus up to 8 days after the end of symptoms. Which means, I have 5 more days in quarantine than I thought in order to protect those around me.
For a type A extrovert to whom the dream of going to the grocery store for myself has been keeping my spirits up, this was devastating. And, it is also very important information to get out to the public. Unfortunately, with so much new information on the coronavirus coming out on a daily basis, the important information does not always get discriminated. So, please do share this link and get the word out. It can help save lives.
April Fools Day!! Wow, irony wins the day. How I wish we could all stick our heads out of our respective little burrows and realize this is all an April Fools joke, but of course, it is not. Not even close.
Thankfully, other than being tired and still being breathless when I climb the stairs too quickly, I am healed. There are some reports of long term lung damage from this virus. For all of us, I deeply hope that is not the case.
I am going to discontinue this daily coronavirus journal, since I am healed, but I will continue to write and post every morning. I am finding that having that goal every morning; to help people and be of service through my writing. And, in a time when we can’t be physically together, this daily connection is helping me to cope with all of this. So, starting tomorrow, I will post daily. Some posts will be researched posts about what is happening in medical discoveries and our new financial and business world. Some will be more op-ed, with a large dose of humor, because God knows we need to laugh. I truly hope this will continue to be a helpful avenue to bring us together and inform all of us, because I know you are all helping me with your physically distanced love and engagement.
Day 144 (Yes, you read that right)
I have continued to have symptoms (though no active virus) for the last 4.5 months. Yes, that is a long time. Yes, it has been painful and scary. They estimate as many as 1 in 3 Covid patients can have long-term symptoms. If you would like to read more about my long-term experience with Covid, you can visit my blog at www.kimberlihudson.com/blog.
And, please share this! The intent is to help people!
In addition to this daily coronavirus journal, I send a once a week musing about leadership, business, finance and life. You can subscribe at www.kimberlihudson.com/blog.