I imagine it would be easy at this point to get tired and frustrated with all the restrictions related to COVID-19. We would be — if we hadn’t been through the throes of this nasty virus for months on end. Believe us, you don’t want it. And the longer you can put off getting it, the more help may be available to you when you are desperately looking for answers.
In early March, when several of our family of five started getting definitive coronavirus symptoms, there were no COVID-19 tests to be had. I was told to call back if my shortness of breath got so bad I couldn’t speak a full sentence. By the time there were swabs available and I “qualified” to be tested, the urgent care doctor said it was likely too long since the onset of symptoms to get an accurate result. My test mid-April came back negative. Our 15-year-old son and I were tested later in April (both negative). We read that there was a significant chance of getting a false negative even if you are tested closer to when symptoms start. Our regular doctor told us we would have to wait for a reliable antibody test. We are still waiting.
Because our three kids have been sick on and off since Christmas, our doc thought there might be something else at play — some other reason we just couldn’t seem to get healthy. We had the house tested for mold and radon (negative). We each did a visual contrast sensitivity test (for mold exposure — all five were negative). We had our water tested (just fine). Desperate to improve our health, we pulled older carpets and pads anyway, washed the walls and floors with vinegar, moved compost farther away from the house and spent some time in a tent on the lawn. We aired out the house almost daily and washed common contact points in the house with antiseptic. We had numerous doctor and specialist appointments, chest X-rays, blood tests. Every day we would brainstorm what else could be making us sick, all the while knowing it might just be a virus that no one could verify.
Our symptoms come in waves. We get sick for about five to seven days, then start to feel better. That lasts for two to three days — long enough to start hoping it’s over. Then we start to get sick again. My husband has gotten through it all mostly unscathed (some exhaustion and night sweats). Our older kids (ages 15 and 13) have had bouts of exhaustion, sore throat, cough and fever. I have had most of the typical symptoms — fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, raw windpipe, cough, stabbing headaches, racing heart rate, dizziness, dysentery, body aches, loss of smell and complete loss of taste. In short, it has been flat-out miserable.
Our youngest (age 11) has had some pretty bad sore throats, coughs, fever, dysentery. She recently got a rash that got us thinking about an inflammatory complication of COVID-19 similar to Kawasaki disease that is plaguing and even killing some children. Then we remembered the bad rash she had just after Christmas. At the time, we thought it was strep throat and scarlet fever, but strep didn’t come back on the swab test we had done. And after taking antibiotics, she didn’t really recover. She was exhausted most of the time. All the doc could figure was “post-viral fatigue." Now I wonder if our youngest may have had the disease back then and I worry if permanent heart damage was done.
Have we had COVID-19 since Christmas? When our youngest first got sick, my husband warned me — several of the people he works with (who live out of state) had been really sick and no one could figure out what was wrong with them. These normally healthy people were sick for several months and never received a definitive diagnosis. Most of the winter, all of our kids didn’t have energy for school, let alone sports. I started pulling them from activities in February because they didn’t ever have enough energy to go. These are kids who usually drive me crazy with their energy. As a family, we try to put a lot of effort into being healthy. We are normally active and spend more money on organic food and natural supplements than anyone I know. What was going on?
Although I have a couple autoimmune diseases, I have never had any trouble breathing. My last workout on March 7 was a 12-mile run. For two months afterward, I couldn’t walk up the stairs without bending over, gasping for breath. Most days, I felt like someone had poured acid down my windpipe. I couldn’t even drive the car through the car wash without feeling like my windpipe was closing. Some days, I felt like my heart was having spasms. A specialist warned me that heart complications from COVID-19 were a real thing and not to hesitate to go to the emergency room with chest pains.
We are now having more good days than bad. No one had a sore throat this morning. We tried a 20-minute run, the first since early March, and survived. Are we finally out of the woods? Or will we feel sick again in a couple days? Will this thing ever fully go away? If so, can we get it again? Will we ever have the satisfaction of someone telling us exactly what we are fighting? And how do we beat it?
The worst part of this whole thing has been the not knowing. How do you know how to react when you don’t know what you are reacting to? What is causing this rash? How much chest pain is dangerous? What am I overlooking? Am I going crazy?
Our advice to everyone is to buy yourselves time, the more the better. The answers are not known yet. Many of the right questions haven’t even been asked. Yes, you will likely get it. But the lack of help and answers right now will make your mind feel as chaotic as your body. When you do get it, I hope your symptoms are mild and the tests are accurate and plentiful.
Carolyn Barry has worked as an engineer and is an outdoor enthusiast and triathlete. She is a mother of three and lives in Palmer.
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