Thoughts From Six Feet Away: I've Gone Viral!
Sorry for the long hiatus since my last post; I assure you, that had not been my intention. Originally, the idea had been to have a whimsical debate on my favorite Christmas tunes, a topic that my family debates every year as November turns to December. Okay, that’s a lie – we start the debate long before it would be comfortable for most of you. And I have to admit, by the time the calendar eases up on December 1st, I am worn out by the advice, if not downright criticism, I get from what I hope are well-meaning family and friends. You’ve heard them all, I’m sure (“It’s not even Thanksgiving!” is a tune I can sing in about five different languages). I had even started my list, and come up with a couple of different ideas on how I would make the blog post.
And then December 21st happened.
Having a cough and low grade fever, I went to my clinic and confirmed everyone’s biggest fear for the year 2020 – I tested positive for COVID. My world immediately shut down, and I was confined to my basement for the next two days. Once everyone else in my home started getting symptoms, we decided to all suffer together. Everyone was so helpful, and more than a few friends and family members asked a litany of questions. How do you feel? Is there anything we can do? But my favorite has to be “Do you know how you got it?” I understand the spirit behind the question, but after thinking about it (that’s really all I could do, sitting on my couch where even going to the bathroom required motivation), I asked myself, “Does it really matter how I got it?” I mean, it’s not like it mitigates my sentence at all – it is what it is. I did decide to keep a log of my thoughts, and that’s what I submit for my blog post today. I only submitted the first ten days I was sick, partly to not bore the reader, and partly because after ten days, it became hard to keep up with everything.
Before I do, I have gained some insights on this thing. I had about the worst case you could have without going to the hospital, and those of you who are cavalier about precautions, stating that you’d survive it, get your head right. This thing attacks you mentally as well as physically. It’s the first time I’ve ever been sick where peeing my pants was considered a viable option to getting up to go. In the first 12 days I was sick, I drank 25 bottles of Gatorade – the big ones. And at times, that wasn’t even enough. Despite a steady diet of cookies, chips, and sugary beverages, I lost seven pounds. The cough is incredible. And I’m not even going to talk about the bathroom issues. Yes, I know some people are asymptomatic, but do you really want to take a chance on a more severe case. And finally, get your vaccine. If you’re hearing scary things, there’s a good chance they’re not based in reality. I intend to be fully vaccinated before my antibodies wear off, and I’m willing to have a bigger reaction than most because I’ve had it. This thing plays for keeps, and I don’t ever want to have it again.
Okay, enough soapbox…here’s my play-by-play:
12/22/20 – 10:00 am: COVID-19 positive. The words I’ve been waiting to hear for the past nine months are now here. Can’t say I’m surprised – fever up to 101.7 last night, but the real kicker was the taste. I’ve heard about the loss of taste and smell, but I didn’t expect the foul taste of the coating on the Nyquil tablets to stay on my tongue for the past twelve hours. I’m now off work for the rest of the year. The irony is that I was scheduled to get my vaccine next Thursday.
12/22/20 – 8:40 pm: I slept most of the afternoon. I’ve been confined to the basement since last night. You know, everyone talks about the symptoms being so terrible, and don’t get me wrong, they’re no walk in the park. But I think the hardest part of all this is being completely isolated from everyone.
12/22/20 – 10:30 pm: My daughter now has a temperature of 101.7. And so it begins…
12/23/20 – 12:38 am: I’m sitting in the guest bedroom, stuffing Cheez-Its in my face. Hard to sleep since I slept most of the day. I can only assume I’m eating out of biologic necessity, since I can’t taste a damn thing. I need a shower, but my motivation for purposeful movement is so low.
12/23/20 – 9:45 am: Fitful night of sleep. I regret not having the motivation to shower – I feel pretty sticky after breaking a high fever twice. So far, a few patterns have emerged. The headache remains, no matter how much Tylenol you throw at it. The body aches are there, regardless of whether you have a fever or not. I know my temperature is going up when the chills start.
12/23/20 – 1:00 pm: You remember Return of the Jedi, when Han Solo says he thinks his vision is improving because he sees a light blur instead of a dark blur? That’s how I feel with my taste. I can distinguish salty from sweet, but there’s no way I could identify foods if blindfolded.
12/23/20 – 4:00 pm: Wife’s temperature is rising, and son has a cough. Looks like we may all be together for Christmas after all. I’ve been reduced to arguing with 12-year-olds on Facebook as to the proper order to watch Star Wars movies. In the next two weeks, I may be able to test multiple theories.
12/23/20 – 9:40 pm: The amount of support we’re receiving from family and friends is humbling. This quarantine feels very doable now that it looks like all of us will be affected in one way or another.
12/24/20 – 10:40 am: So it is now Day 3 since diagnosis, Day 5 since onset of symptoms. Here’s where we’re at: I have body aches between my shoulder blades that feel like I’ve been smacked with a shovel. Repeatedly. I have congestion and runny nose, with an occasional pain that feels like someone is trying out a new woodburning set on my sinuses. It hurts to move my eyes. My hair hurts. Fever mostly gone, but there’s a low-grade temp that will sneak up on me if I get cocky. Sense of taste and smell totally gone. My bathroom habits are, well, disgusting. I won’t go into details, but I’ve apologized to the rest of my family for what they’ll experience. It’ll either be the smell of hot garbage or an incredible amount of Febreze – it all smells the same to me.
12/24/20 – 1:00 pm: I’m blown away by the generosity of my friends and family. I have texted numerous people, and donuts have been delivered to my house twice, along with a tray of mac and cheese. Everyone talks about remembering 2020, but I will choose to remember the times that humanity’s good side showed, and not the tragedies that our news media chooses to glorify.
12/24/20 – 4:15 pm: All four of us have now been affected, but not one of us has the exact same symptoms. Mine have been well documented. My wife has intense body aches, fever, as well as a heightened “Spidey sense” of smell. My daughter has a headache and fever, as well as burning in the eyes. My son has a cough and low-grade fever. In nine months of treating this, I’ve learned that there are common features, but there is no consistent presentation from patient to patient. I had a friend who just lost sense of smell. That is what makes this so dangerous – not only could you be sick, but you could also be perfectly healthy with a single symptom.
12/24/20 – 6:13 pm: I continue to be impressed by this fever’s ability to hang around. At about the seven-hour mark after meds, it starts creeping up again, and the muscle aches of death set in. Any activity wipes me out. I am thankful that I don’t have any severe symptoms, but even with the flu, I’m starting to rebound by now. Looking around to the rest of my family, I realize that I’m the healthiest one, so it’s time to make dinner.
12/24/20 – 7:02 pm: Dosed up on cold medicine, the aches are finally starting to ebb. Dinner is made, but now I lack the strength to get up and dish it up. Wife is sleeping, so I guess there is no hurry. Now to decide on what to do this evening: continue to watch the Game Show Network or watch a Christmas movie. I’ll probably end up staring at the paused image of Steve Harvey for another four hours then go to bed, if previous days are any indicator.
12/24/20 – 7:27 pm: Still sitting on the couch, trying to work up motivation to get food. Wife still sleeping. Steve Harvey left – app discontinued due to inactivity. Now I’m on the TV screen saver…wonder how many pictures before it resets.
12/24/20 – 9:50 pm: 100.9. Revenge of the fever.
12/24/20 – 11:23 pm: Ibuprofen > Tylenol. Period. The “avoiding ibuprofen with COVID” thing has been debunked long ago. And even if it weren’t, I think I’d risk it, at this point.
12/25/20 – 10:45 am: Easily the most low-key, drawn-out unwrapping of gifts in the history of Christmas.
12/25/20 – 6:15 pm: Just stuck my face into a pot of sautéed onions, green pepper, and garlic. Nothing. My eyes aren’t even watering. God bless us, everyone.
12/25/20 – 8:00 pm: My chest feels heavier today, causing me to cough more. Is it muscle? Reflux? Impending lung failure? Blood clot? The variability of this virus again rears its ugly head – I can’t decide whether I need to take a Valium or arrange my affairs. I would tell a patient that they’re worried about nothing – but it’s me, and I’m scared. My friend Laura is bringing me a pulse oximeter. Being in the field has its advantages, and maybe I can go to bed tonight without being afraid to fall asleep.
12/25/20 – 9:15 pm: Pulse ox 98%. Death not imminent.
12/25/20 – 9:45 pm: Talked with family on the phone for about fifteen minutes. Hard to believe how something as simple as that can be so taxing.
12/26/20 – 10:15 am: Day 5 and still battling low grade fevers on occasion. Still no taste and smell. Body aches not too bad, but I just woke up.
12/26/20 – 12:00 pm: My cousin just delivered 12 bottles of Gatorade to our door, then went back to the store to get orange juice because the first store was out. I continue to be humbled by the generosity of family and friends.
12/26/20 – 1:30 pm: I’ve learned that the heaviness in my chest is due to the Sudafed. Guess we’ll take that off the table.
12/26/20 – 2:30 pm: Just got a call from the medical director of my clinic. A third provider has tested positive, along with three staff from the pharmacy. I’ve been asked to return to work a week early, on the 4th. I just hope I don’t have a fever. I told him I couldn’t promise I’d be ready.
12/26/20 – 3:15 pm: Now got a call from the State Department of Health to do contact tracing. I understand that there is data to be collected, but I feel like there’s a better way to do this than to have a 20-minute phone conversation with someone that has a fever and a cough.
12/26/20 – 7:00 pm: The fever returns. Hooray.
12/27/20 – 1:00 pm: Another grocery run by friends. The fevers continue. We usually get on my son for isolating himself in his room, but now it appears to be the thing to do, since he’s the least sick of all of us.
12/28/20 – 9:02 am: Just got a text from my nurse. She has now tested positive. Took ibuprofen at 5 am. Going to see how long how the temp stays under control.
12/28/20 – 4:30 pm: The collective psychology of the Knabel household has taken a hit today. We are all frustrated with our isolation. My temp was under control for about 11 hours, but this is now the 8th consecutive day I’ve had a fever.
12/28/20 – 5:16 pm: “That’s the crazy thing to me about this disease. It’s like there are 8-10 symptoms in a grab bag and everyone pulls out 3 to 5. Then you roll a set of dice for how long they last and then another set for how intense they are.” This was a text I got from a friend today, and I don’t think there’s a better summary of things.
12/29/20 – 1:15 pm: Woke up with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had, the kind that you have trouble even thinking straight because of the pain. I had to go back to bed, but even with maximum dose ibuprofen, the pain persists.
12/29/20 – 2:30 pm: A friend of mine got immunized today. I’m grateful when anyone I know gets it, because this is terrible. Get your shots.
12/29/20 – 8:00 pm: Cough continues to worsen. I buckled and called my doctor for help. Got a prescription for Tessalon perles and a steroid. Hopefully this will give me some relief. Wife had to call new insurance info to the pharmacy so a friend can pick it up. Fever has also returned.
12/30/20 – 1:00 am: Having a house full of sick people is a real challenge. Coughed so bad in the shower that I thought I was going to pass out. Was hoping to wait to take the steroid until morning, since it can cause difficulties with sleep, but I don’t see where I’m going to have any choice but to take the first dose tonight. Running humidifier in room – hope that helps.
12/30/20 – 11:30 am: Got better sleep last night. Didn’t even have a headache when I first woke up, but then I went back to sleep and likely slept on my neck wrong. Think the steroid is already starting to work. Sats at 96%.
12/30/20 – 7:00 pm: Got Panera carry-out tonight, courtesy of a friend who picked it up for us. Broccoli cheddar has never tasted so good, now that the taste is coming back. I also learned why I’ve been having such intense headaches – I’ve also not had any caffeine for the past few days. Oops.
12/30/20 – 11:10 pm: It’s been nearly 12 hours since I’ve had a fever. I may not uncross my fingers until this time tomorrow.
12/31/20 – 10:15 am: Day 12, and still no sign of fever. 98.1 this AM. I think it’s finally broken. I am still coughing with even the most minimal of exertion. Took Mucinex this morning – going to try to avoid fever reducers.
12/31/20 – 1:15 pm: Finally took out the trash that’s been in the garage for a week. Glad I don’t have a sense of smell yet. Also decided to go out and tear down a Christmas decoration that fell in the winds the other night. Just doing those things raised my heart rate to 130 and caused a coughing fit that lasted for two minutes.
12/31/20 – 4:00 pm: State Department of Health called about Xavier’s contact exposure. Realized that the reason we have been getting ridiculous quarantine quotes is because they listed date of initial exposure as “12/31,” rather than “12/21.” I think my biggest disappointment with this whole pandemic has been the breakdowns in the data collection process.
Still have some lingering cough, but I’m able to get stuff done again. Worked a full week, but I was exhausted by Friday. Hope to get back to the gym in the next couple of weeks. Stay safe, everyone. I’m grateful to anyone who reads my posts. As always, be excellent to each other. And…