False Negatives: Covid19

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person who does not sit still. I am tenacious. I am busy. I walk or hike every single day. I find things to keep me moving. I think that is why I love to clean. In fact, Dave and I have a joke about what will be written on my tombstone:

“Before she left this world, she had to wipe down the countertop one last time.”

On July 22, all that stopped. Since then, I have been in the throes of what I can only describe as the worst and weirdest flu I have ever experienced. I have been completely bedridden, in pain and unable to speak. At times I felt like I was possessed by demons. At other times, I thought I was experiencing an exorcism. Thanks to the tender mercies a fever can bring, much of it feels like a dream.

My story is one of many.

It started with a comically runny nose, not mine, but Dave’s. I remember looking at him and thinking, “he has Covid. I am next.” A few days later, I was painfully exhausted. My bones ached like I had done a very steep mountain climb. The next day my body ached even more. My head throbbed. I thought it was just PMS. I was wrong. Anyone who knows me, knows how neurotic I am about washing hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask in public. So is Dave. We have not let visitors in our house for some time. As a result, I have only been around a few people, outside and socially distant. (Listen when people tell you how contagious this virus is.) Ultimately, I feel very grateful they did not get sick. Thankfully the boys were also spared.

Eli & I before the hell began

The runny nose came. Then the sore throat.

A few days in, I experienced excruciatingly painful chills, where my only relief was texting Dave, pleading with him to put socks on my feet and a hoodie over my head. I would manage to get myself under a few blankets. As he entered the room, and as I huddled under the blankets, I would beg him to cover me in another blanket, then urge him not to lift the blanket as he put my socks and hoodie on. 

“The air on my back hurts. I am so cold. Please please be careful.”

Here I am in the quarantine room we set up, somewhere under all the blankets.

(Keep in mind, it is July and our AC is doing over time to keep up with the 100 degree outside temperatures.) Those painful chills were always followed by clothes-soaking fevers. Up to five times a night I would have to change my sopping wet pajamas. My pajamas were soaked. My underwear was soaked. My hair was soaked. My sheets were soaked. I wept. Eventually and just to keep up, Dave bought me more pajamas. As far as the chills, I still cannot comprehend that chills can cause so much pain. I cannot process that uber-self-sufficient-me needed Dave to put my socks on. I remember days of laying in bed. My bladder would be full. I would be in the throes of crazy chills and terrified to get out of bed. I would lay there until an hour or so later, they would pass. I would ask Dave for help to get up or will myself out of bed just so I could pee.

Quickly, we learned to keep a dose of cough medicine and Advil within my reach by my bedside. (It was often too painful for me to get out of bed.). On the floor for when the chills came, I kept at least one extra blanket, a hoodie and a pair of socks. We also littered the nightstand with Gatorade, Coke, water, cough drops, an inhaler and tissues. After being drenched in sweat, I would be so dehydrated that I found Coke, even flat day-old Coke, offered me some immediate comfort. 

During this time, I often slept until the early afternoon, only to fall back to sleep a few short hours later. It was painful to speak and holding a conversation took too much energy. My mom, who had been in the hospital for something unrelated (twice) right before became ill, began texting me a few times a day.

On July 25th I texted her:

“Oh Mom. I feel awful. I am so frustrated with all of this. Thanks for thinking of me. I am not telling people what I am going through. I also know so many people have it so much worse. I can’t imagine and I hope I don’t get worse because this just sucks. I love you. I’m so glad I didn’t drive you to the doctor last week.” (My mom is 79 and has asthma. We dodged a bullet. I could not imagine how she would pull through this.)

Consequently on July 25, I also decided to get a Covid test. It was negative.

On July 26, I responded to another of my mom’s texts:

“I’m not good. These chills/sweat cycles are driving me crazy. I soak my clothes all day and all night. My ear hurts. I’m congested. My head aches. I’m crabby. I’m really tired of feeling this way. I bet you are sorry you asked.”

I seemed to sort of rally over the next few days.

On July 28, under the assumption that I was on the road to recovery, I wrote the following:

“In all seriousness, I have been super-duper beyond sick. I think it is possible I’m finally coming up for air. I am heartbroken that false claims are being peddled instead of pushing leaders to unify a pandemic-ridden country.

As far as me being sick goes… what I do know is I have tested negative for Covid, but if my symptoms persist, then I test again.

Whatever I am sick with seems an awful lot like Covid and an awful lot like a non sexual, painful demon possession. Really. The all night every night cycles of excruciating chills followed by clothes-drenching sweat feels like an exorcism. The headaches. The sore throat. The dry cough. Ay-yi-yi. FYI,  hydroxyWhatverYouCalliIt will NOT fix it. Honestly, it sucks so much that I felt compelled to tell people and their disinformation spreading to also suck it. And please please wear a mask.

Stop fighting what we as a society need to do to get this pandemic under control. It isn’t supposed to be fun. And instead of going crazy conspiracy, or selfishly politicizing a virus that is killing people and making millions sick, wash your hands for two rounds of happy birthday (20 seconds) and stop gathering in large groups. You can’t pray this away or throw snake oil at it. What you can do is work as a community to slow the spread so our hospitals do not become overrun, so we can eventually safely open things like schools and until there is a vaccine.”

[exit soapbox]
A good moment through all of this.

I must have used all my energy on preaching because about thinking I had turned a corner, I WAS WRONG! The virus was only getting started. I heard it came in waves. I really could not comprehend how my “mild” case could get any worse. By July 29, my dry cough and my breathing became persistent and labored.

I was afraid.

On July 30,  I went on oral Prednisone for wretched cough & shortness of breath, (which I am sure saved me from pneumonia). I really believe my experience with asthma is what led me to act & seek medical attention before things were more dire/critical. (*Please do the same.) I have also learned that when given before things spiral out of control that steroids are really effective in treating Covid. I feel totally blessed that I acted on my instinct. Of course, the demon-chills and sweats persisted.

During this time my best friend Marianne’s brother, Jay, was in a terrible accident and is now paralyzed from the armpits down and struggling to breathe on his own. I cannot imagine what he and his family are going through. I am blown away by their courage and their strength❤️ . At this same time, I was also learning about friends of friends dying of Covid and others being put on a ventilator.

I felt so sad for everyone.

I also kept thinking: “Even a mild case of Coronavirus, which seemed to be the lane I landed in, is terrible and terrifying. I would not wish this experience on anyone.”

Marianne & I before the word, “pandemic,” entered our radar & when my eyebrows were much darker

On July 30 here is what I texted my mom:

“I’m so sick. My doctor prescribed steroids this evening. My cough is worse and I am wiped.”

For the next few days I felt some relief and once again assumed I was getting better. Then again, I was still experiencing round-the-clock fever/chills, which caused me some anxiety. 

Maybe the steroids were wearing off. Maybe it was just another wave of this miserable illness. 

When I started feeling better (Dinner courtesy of Kristina — a godsend)

On August 3 things took a dark turn.

Here is what I texted my mom. (Thank God for her.)

“I’m so sick. 
I’m very worried.
I have a fever.
I can’t take a deep breath without coughing. 
Yes on the chills.”

Dave found me in our dark room passed out in a pool of sweat. He quietly brushed his hand across my forehead and took my temperature. I was burning up. I was also experiencing numbness in my left hand. Because I did not have an absolute Covid confirmation, we were worried something else could be going on. Dave took me to the hospital. They immediately whisked Dave away and ushered me into the special Covid unit. (Hmmm.) Covered in his safety protection, the doctor did not take a Covid test and said I could take one if I really really wanted confirmation. (He already knew I was very sick.) He also said the only reason to take one was to add me to the Covid stats. He listened to my lungs and heard a rattle-y wheeze and asked if I wanted a breathing treatment. They confirmed with an x-ray that I did not have pneumonia. They prescribed more cough medicine, urged me to continue taking Advil and cough medicine 24/7 and urged me to use my inhaler around the clock. Then he said the prednisone most likely protected my lungs from a worse outcome. He said I could take another round. He also said to watch out for my lungs getting worse. They also confirmed that this virus needed to work its course. Because I could breathe on my own, the safest place for me was at home. He said I am very lucky to be in good health. He was like, “Even though you are terribly ill, your  body is doing an excellent job of fighting this thing, (another tender mercy).” I immediately felt grateful for the advice my friend MB gave me all those years ago: “take 10 deep breaths every hour, or as often as you can, even if they make you cough.

I felt really crappy for the next few days.

Then, by some miracle, on August 6, my brain fog seemed to be lifting. My energy was still non-existent. (It is still low.) I still had a cough and was still spiking fevers. My throat was still sore (still is). My voice was hoarse (still is.) Somehow I actually felt like I might be finally coming out on the other side of this. It is kind of interesting. Because I have asthma, I have a little pulse oximeter at home. Between July 22 – August 3, my oxygen saturation hovered between 94 – 95%, which is in the normal range for sure. That being said, since August 7, my O2 saturation has been consistently 98 – 99%. Anyway, it might be nothing, but then again…

On Saturday, August 8, I followed up with another doctor. (I had been seeing them or speaking with doctors all along the way.) As we spoke, he heard the rasp in my voice. I reviewed with him all of my symptoms I have experienced:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Initial runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dulled senses

Here is what he said:

“Beth, if you came in to see me or one of my colleagues, we would confirm you with Covid-19. And because we are consulting now, I actually confirm your with Covid. Stop second guessing. Other flus going around in July are extremely rare. New research suggests that there is up to a 30 – 40% false negative test rate.”

You tell me. Maybe I had some rarest of rare virus or… I will take a Covid antibody test. Since July 21, I have remained actively isolated at home. I am grateful that Dave only experienced a runny nose. I am grateful that Kyle and Eli did not get sick. They have both passed  the incubation period. I plead with you to wear a mask and wash your hands. The doctor also told me the other day that for some Covid’s long term effects and impacts can be devastating: (kidney damage, lung damage, heart damage for starters). I am grateful I am feeling better. 

Us masked up before it all began

Ironically at this point, after the cleaning, the quarantining, the isolation, I recognize as my symptoms dissipate, it is my understanding (which is supported by science) is that our house is probably one of the safest places to be.

What a strange world this is.

Roll credits.

OH WAIT: I keep forgetting to mention my sense of taste and smell. I was totally convinced my senses were not being impacted. I think the sensory disconnect was the fever distorting my view. I did not think twice that the only way I could smell my strong-smelling perfume was if I held my wrist close to my nose. And then there was food. I did not blink when the cheese I was eating tasted like rubber. In fact, the other day we were eating bacon when Kyle said, 

“I don’t like this bacon because it has jalapeno in it.” 

I am not a fan of jalapenos or spicy food. I was surprised to hear him announce that the bacon was spicy. To me, the bacon seemed super mild. Nor did I know there were jalapenos in it. I will leave you with that. 

Best soup ever from Jane & David

Finally (for real), I want to thank Dave, my mom, my friends, Beth, Marianne, Kristina, Emily, Nate, Jane, David, Dr. Bitner (my allergy/asthma doctor) and his staff for caring and checking to make sure I was ok. I love you people!❤️