I caught COVID. It was not fun. But I was not hospitalised, ventilated, tickled, or spanked, so it could have been much worse (or much better?). Here’s an overly play-by-play account of all that went down.
Since I’m a kidney transplant recipient and take immunosuppressants (to prevent rejection of the amazing gift from my cousin Diane), it also means COVID-19 was a more serious threat to me than to the hordes and the masses.
So I have been quite careful, and Leigh has been even more so.
My mother’s 90th birthday was on July 4, 2022, and we started the morning with a 5 mile local “Fallen Heroes” race in Virginia, including my sister, brother-in-law, and niece. Everyone did well and both Leigh and I ran much faster than we’d expected. The marathon training was paying off!
The next morning Leigh tested positive to COVID-19. She quickly isolated to a hotel — her concern throughout the pandemic has been entirely about my health; not worrying about herself. I isolated (separately) as well. We took distanced walks together outside in downtown Fredericksburg as she faced down the symptoms.
Day 0: A slow emergency
Three days later, on Thursday, July 7th, a day that shall live in lethargy, I tested positive around 8 PM. Staring at the pink line, I took a deep breath and said, “Here we go!”
Thanks to Leigh’s sister, I had talked to my nephrologist and come up with a COVID plan: a clear list of steps — where meds or other essentials are so you or your partner can collect them, where you’re going to go, who you need to inform, etc. My first step was to pack a small bag and head to the Emergency Room for an intravenous dose of monoclonal antibodies, which can really help immune suppressed patients in the early stages of the virus.
The Mary Washington Hospital ER made a great first impression — put me into a separate waiting room, and then the first nurse who talked to me, after I explained my immune suppressed status, moved quickly to get me into a room away from other people.
After that, the impression from all the staff is that they really could care less about COVID and treating COVID patients. I can empathise — after lots of ER cases from unvaccinated people, after working extra hours of short staffing, after two years of this, I get it. But that doesn’t mean that the next 10 hours was fun:
- 8:30 PM 👩⚕️ Arrive E.R, put in waiting room, triaged, moved into room for care. I figure out how to move the furniture around to suit my style.
- 10:30 PM 🧟♀️ Orderly comes in to give me COVID, flu, and strep tests. With the COVID test, she barely brushes my nose with the swab, and then says “Oops I did that wrong” and then when I ask if she needs to redo it she says “No that’s okay” and leaves.
- 12:30 AM 🙈 My test has come back negative.
- They propose to release me, because they need a positive test to administer monoclonal antibodies. I explain the “Oops” and the poor test swab. They propose a PCR test with 48 hour results. I refuse and ask to be given a RAT test again. They explain the errant approach of doing the same test again and again until you get a positive result. I explain the highly unlikely scenario of my positive test at home being a false positive (this is very true, RAT tests have ~5% false negatives from what I’ve read, but very very very few false positives). I re-explain the poor testing procedure and the “Oops” from the orderly. I play my trump card, and ask to talk to the doctor directly. I figured that it was a 50/50 call — either the doctor would show up and potentially hold their ground, or they would be too busy and cave in to my superior logic / petulance. They cave (as they should have) and order a second RAT test. 💪
- 2:30 AM 🐽 Rapid Test given a second time — on this occasion they dared to venture into my nose (yes it’s quite cavernous) instead of just fluffing the outside.
- 4:30 AM 😬 Positive test result returned. I do not say it, though of course I am thinking it. My ear to ear smirk does not increase my popularity with the medical team. Monoclonal antibodies ordered.
- 6:30 AM 🤷 Monoclonal antibodies arrive (bebtelovimab), and are injected. It’s not an IV drip, it’s just pushed through the cannula already in my arm. The little antibodies cry “Freedom!” before they charge into the vein. I ask about a Paxlovid prescription and they say they don’t do that here. I remind them that it is the recommended 1–2 punch for immune suppressed patients. They nod and leave. If a patient says something but no one actually cares, does it make a sound?
- 7:00 AM 😷 I am released into the wild. Over 10 hours in the ER, for a total of 15 minutes of testing and treatment. While I’m not ecstatic about the care I’ve been given, I understand.
Leigh and I reunite ! I acquired a Paxlovid prescription from the Primary and Urgent care practice, where I learned that I could have come to them instead of the ER for the monoclonal antibodies and saved the night in the non-Emergency Emergency Room…
Week 1: BJR vs. the virus! Winner: virus
The next several days a horribly designed acid trip ensued. While I did not have any major lung congestion or breathing issues, my entire nervous system seemed to re-wire itself with cables chewed through by rapid squirrels.
On top of knockout fatigue, constant headache, and polar chills, I had a ringing in my ears that made it near impossible to sleep except from exhaustion. My digestive system went into full revolt: pressure, pain in the stomach that felt like something was trying to tunnel out my navel, and the toilet and I spent far too much quality time together.
My senses went berserk:
- The amuse bouche of the metallic taste in my mouth from the Paxlovid combined with the amplification of flavours to chalkboard scratching extremes meant that there were no comfort foods.
- Nonsensical tingling of random regions of my body. Normally, I’m a big fan of tingling. Just not this kind.
- Vampiric light sensitivity and Goldilocks sound distortion; This sound is too loud! This sound I can’t hear at all!
- Smell seemed okay. I didn’t smell great but that’s not COVID’s fault.
I am sure being dopesick is 100x worse than this. I knew I’d take just about anything to feel better. The sensations are uncomfortable: swelling in the periocardial sac felt like someone was gently squeezing your heart; more threat than hug.
Articles were appearing discussing new symptoms like mine: “Typical meningitis symptoms include neck stiffness or pain, numbness, tingling, and sensitivity to light.” But this was not proven: “At this time, however, there is no concrete evidence that Omicron BA.5 is causing meningitis-like symptoms.” Count me in as one more data point.
Week 2: The Long Rebound
My symptoms improved day after day and my RAT test came back negative. Yay! There were still moments in each day where a small symptom would re-introduce itself; “Remember me? I’m nausea!” But they were brief and getting smaller and smaller. I could hear normally again. There was no feeling of having my heart squeezed.
But on Wednesday night July 20th, day 12, I tested positive again. WTF?
Thursday morning another small squeeze on my heart — perhaps a psychosomatic symptom of loss rather than COVID? I retested and was still positive.
I read a lot online about the “rebound” — some believed it was associated with taking Paxlovid, while one study showed that there was no difference in rebound with a placebo. So maybe I’m just part of the lucky 1% (or since the study was done on people with normal immune systems, maybe my chances were much higher for a rebound).
Of course I’m a trendsetter. All this was before the Biden rebound.
Week 3: Mild symptoms, mild frustration
Day 15 began a no man’s land — still testing positive on RAT tests, so I could still be shedding virus:
“People who continue to have symptoms or are immunocompromised, for instance, may continue to shed viral particles for longer periods of time and should continue to isolate, the Times reported. Generally, healthy people who have recovered can end their isolation after 10 days but should continue to wear a well-fitting mask in public.”
Generally, it means all guidance doesn’t apply to me and it’s all up to Odin and Freya. Or maybe Cagney and Lacey.
The main reason I had extended our trip was to help Mom move into a new apartment. And yet it was looking like this risk was too high — the last thing any of us wanted was to put Mom at risk.
We trialed a company that Leigh had invested in called Teladoc. After a 25 minute wait, I was connected to a GP who walked me through the standard CDC recommendations. I reiterated that I was not a standard case, that I was immunocompromised, and that 1) ⚠️ immunocompromised people are often the source of new variants and 2) generally if you’re RAT positive, you are still likely shedding virus and are contagious if you are immunocompromised.
She argued heavily that 20 days of isolation was enough. That additional testing was not recommended. Of course, if I wanted to test, I could, but it would not provide any additional information. Her biggest push was that my symptoms at this point were none of the concerning ones, and very minor — i.e. no fever (biggest signal that the virus is active), none of the swelling and pain and heart-squeezing of the past — so highly likely I was no longer contagious.
It made me realise how difficult a GP’s life must be to keep track of all the emerging research and know which to trust. I am sure some left-handed double-jointed pole vaulter has shaken their head at their doctor because they haven’t read Discussions Vol 3217: COVID-19 implications on pole-enhanced vaulting amongst the joint hypermobile and sinistromanual.
So, we had new advice and new data. However, it still lacked any real insight into my condition. I weighed my options and decided that I would help with the move, stay fully masked indoors, and keep distance where possible.
The RATS of NIMH
August 4th, I woke up at 4 AM to head to the airport, and my morning RAT test was negative! Huzzah! August 6th, on the way back to Sydney, another negative test. Huzzah Huzzah! the penultimate RAT, before my flight to Sydney…. Negative! Smooth sailing from here, right?
Week 5: The Virus Strikes Back
August 8th, 4 days into “Week 5” of COVID, ust 4 hours after I landed in Sydney I felt a wave of exhaustion hitting me. Jet lag, right? Then I barfed. Followed by bouts of gastro. I could safely conclude this wasn’t jetlag. The next 36 hours I was wiped out, dead to the world, then slowly re-emerged on Wednesday. Still testing negative on RATs, my GP’s theory matched mine: COVID was still lurking in my system, and anytime my immune system got weak, COVID attacked again.
I took blood tests and a PCR test, and the PCR and all flu tests were negative! Best surprise ever. At first I thought this meant that I would avoid long COVID — but apparently you don’t need to test positive to have long COVID. However, I’m optimistic that I can fully recover, though if you’ve read this far, you might never be the same.
Doing the right thing: Statistics, hunches, and outright guesses
Throughout my entire engagement with the esteemed Sars-Covi-2, my paranoia of becoming infected was replaced with the paranoia of infecting others. Not just your loved ones, not just those with comorbidities, but everyone. Looking back at the last month, I took some chances with friends and family — outdoor engagements where social distancing wasn’t distant enough, etc. I actually regret those. If just one contact had been infected after I had tested positive, none of it would have been the right decision — but somehow we get away with it, our role of the infection dice never craps out, and we feel justified by our decisions instead of realising we were gambling with those around us. For people like me, the standard guidelines aren’t enough — otherwise on Day 5, I could have been running around (with a mask) instead of isolating.
There’s also the post-COVID false liberation, where you think you must be immune, despite all the cases where people are catching COVID a second and a third time.
Whew. Hang in there, people of the Earth.