On March 31, I decided to take a ten-day break from social media so I could give myself the time and space to reflect on how much life had changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Little did I know that those ten days would more than double and instead of me reflecting on the disease, the disease would reflect IN me.
If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to give you a chronological order (to the best of my memory) of how my life turned upside down in a few days when I tested positive for COVID-19.
Last Week of March – The Beginning
Towards the end of March, I was feeling a lot of body aches (not completely unusual for me, it happened to me in the past) but the aches were getting worse and I had been having chest pain which I could no longer ignore. As a result, on the fourth/fifth day of continuous chest pain, I made an appointment to see my primary care provider. It is worth noting that I do NOT go to the doctors unless it’s for my annual check-up and/or I am deathly ill. Therefore, the decision to see my doctor was not taken lightly.
April 3, 2020 – Doctor’s Visit
My doctor checked all my symptoms and sent me for blood work — he predicted that either I have an autoimmune disease or by process of elimination, I have fibromyalgia, both of which my mom has. The doctor came to these conclusions based on where my pains were and also the fact that I had seen him in the past for similar pain. I also suffered from winter asthma and when he heard my lungs (which took much longer than it usually does), he wasn’t happy with what he heard. He concluded that I must have more than just seasonal asthma and gave me an inhaler to begin using to help with the breathing.
The only thing my doctor told me to keep an eye on was a fever. My internal body temperature usually hovers between 96 – 97 °F, but when the nurse checked, it was 99 °F; it wasn’t a big deal, but he wanted me to keep an eye on it anyway. I went next door (to the lab) and immediately got my blood work done.
April 4, 2020 – Fever
On the night of April 4th, I had a fever of 100.8 °F. I had also developed a bit of a cough. I knew that was not a good sign, but when I woke up the next morning, the fever was gone and I chalked it up to be a one-night thing and didn’t bother notifying my doctor that day.
April 5, 2020 – Fever Returns
On the evening of April 5th, the same low-grade fever returned, this time the cough had increased significantly, but still not something to be overly concerned about. I let it go.
April 6, 2020 – Coronavirus Test
I now had a continuous fever and called the doctor to explain all the symptoms I had developed over the weekend: fever with all of my previous symptoms having had magnified a few degrees and I now had “loss of taste” to add to it. The doctor assumed I had the coronavirus and asked if I want to be tested or if I wanted to ride it out at home. Obviously, I wanted to be tested.
The potential results from the blood work were looming over my head and between autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and coronavirus, I was at a loss for what I thought would be the ideal scenario for me. I went down to the doctor’s office during specific hours (they only see COVID-19 and potential COVID-19 patients during a two-hour time slot). I was taken in from the back, instructed to not touch a thing, and seen by my doctor.
Note: I wore a mask to the appointment.
The doctor checked all of my symptoms and feared that I had the coronavirus and proceeded to do the nasal swab test, which was anything but comfortable. I was advised that it would take 24-48 hours for the results to arrive. In the meantime, I was to self-quarantine (which I was already doing). Oh and my brother (who lives with me) was to also self-quarantine until my results came in. This meant my brother could not return to work.
This is a good time to fill you in on some background info. My brother works in the Emergency Department of a hospital in Essex County — the county that has been the hardest hit with the coronavirus in New Jersey. Although he showed no symptoms and we took every precaution known to mankind during his return home every day from work, I was pretty certain that if I was positive for COVID-19, I had to have gotten it from my brother, which meant he was asymptotic. There was no way to prove this though because his lack of symptoms meant, he could not be tested.
April 7, 2020 – Getting Worse
I was already pretty sure I had the virus, but by this day, I was more than 100% sure, despite not having gotten my results yet. My condition had worsened significantly in a day and I was barely getting out of bed. I barely had any appetite nor energy.
April 8, 2020 – I am POSITIVE for Covid-19
I called the doctor’s office around 2 PM to inquire about my results. The doctor’s office closed at 5 PM and no one had returned my call. I was incredibly frustrated because not only did I want to know, but if I wasn’t positive, my brother could return to work. The limbo was unnerving. At 5:30 PM, my doctor called (himself), and I automatically knew my results. The doctor doesn’t call you if himself you’re negative; they have other people to do that for them. He first asked me how I was feeling (not great) and then told me that I was positive for COVID-19. He also told me my blood work had come back but the numbers were pretty volatile and chances are it was due to the coronavirus diagnosis. He wanted me to redo my blood work in five weeks when we would be certain that the virus had left my body. In the meantime, rest, Tylenol (for the fever), and loads and loads of fluid were my only instructions.
April 9 – 12, 2020 – Can’t Recollect The Difference
This is when things were horrible around the clock. I can’t remember one day from the other and they felt like the longest days of my life. I was vomiting quicker than I could replenish my body with fluids (around the clock). I had lost most of my weight during this time (total of 10 lbs in seven days). I couldn’t use the restroom on my own; I was using bladder leak pads. And I wasn’t eating anything solid. I felt like I was always sleeping on account of the codeine in my cough medicine, but I never felt rested because the sleep was constantly interrupted. Oh and if all this wasn’t bad enough, a new symptom had befallen on me: diarrhea. And my breathing was constantly shallow — something I tried very hard to be mindful of.
I won’t even bother mentioning the countless bedsheets, clothes, and blankets I’ve tossed on account of my unpredictable vomiting.
Every day felt more miserable than the last and I remember juggling my emotions between self pep talk, prayers, and tears of despair. Repeating “It’s OK” to myself (and apparently out loud) became my mantra. It was all I could tell myself to keep my strength. And when my mind couldn’t keep up with my body, I profusely prayed and then I cried.
Coincidentally, I did not respond to a single call or text during this period. I almost always kept my phone on Do Not Disturb (DND) so that when I was able to get some sleep, it wouldn’t be interrupted.
Thankfully, my brother handled all the calls and texts during this time (and well after this) to keep our families apprised on my situation.
April 13, 2020 – Trip to Hospital
The one thing I actively tried to avoid for days was a trip to the hospital (against my brother’s medical advice). I did not want to end up in a hospital for multiple reasons:
- didn’t want to add a burden to an already overburdened system
- didn’t want to expose myself to potentially getting even sicker
- just hate hospitals, period
But I was dehydrating faster than I could replenish and eventually accepted I needed to go before I got even more ill. So, I went and it was a very different experience than any prior visit to a hospital had been.
The hospital parking lot was DESERTED — completely empty except for a total of 3 cars, max. When I first got there, I spent an hour outside the hospital, in the parking lot in a makeshift tent. They asked me all my questions and took all my vitals outside. Even when the doctor came to see me, it was done outside. Although I thoroughly understood why it had to be this way, my physical condition made this experience very difficult to deal with.
When I was finally admitted for fluid (and some medicine to help me keep food down), I was allowed in alone. My brother would have to return home and wait for my eventual release.
I was taken into a room all myself, hooked up with needles, and left to lay there until my body had been replenished of essential fluids. All I can remember is falling in and out of sleep and ignoring several calls from the hospital (I was not able to hold a conversation because of how violent and relentless my coughs were constantly). After several hours, I was released to go home (meanwhile I had not given anyone my insurance card information or anything else). When I inquired about it, I was told that COVID-19 patients weren’t physically seen by anyone except the doctors and nurses and that I would need to pick up the call I had been actively dismissing to provide all the information.
I can’t wait for that bill to show up in the mail.
In retrospect, I wish I had gone to the hospital sooner because this was the turning point of my illness. I wasn’t feeling better immediately (in fact, nearly two weeks later, I would still be recovering), but this is when I could tell my body began to react differently.
April 14 – 17, 2020
During these days my fever decreased to occasional visits as opposed to daily visits, my taste buds returned and I began to have a false sense of improvement. It wasn’t that I wasn’t improving, it’s just that I was improving a lot slower than I thought in my head. I paid the price for these misgivings too – the violent coughs followed by vomiting continued to remind me that I wasn’t healed yet.
On April 17, I had my online dance classes, half taught by my assistants and half taught by myself. The minute my classes were over, I ran to the restroom and vomited. I had overexerted my body and it was not having it.
I spent the next full day in bed.
Things I Wish I Could Do, But Couldn’t
During my “rest” period, I wish I could have read books (one of my favorite pastimes); I couldn’t. The constant headaches made it impossible. I tried to listen to audiobooks on Audible; I couldn’t. The lack of focus made listening to anything impossible. I thought about watching a show or movie (not something I generally liked to do but I was willing to try anything); I couldn’t. The combination of headache and lack of energy was no good for visual aid.
I couldn’t take deep breaths because it was PHYSICALLY impossible. After every vomit session, I felt like my heart would burst out of my chest and my brain would crack through my skull. Thankfully, neither happened but the pain was unbearable. There were nights I cried because I didn’t know if my body would survive this much torture.
My point is, I spent days in bed with nothing to do but lay in my misery, not because that’s what I wanted to do but because I physically could not do ANYTHING else. I cannot tell you how that feels because unless you’ve been there, it is impossible to comprehend.
Current Recovery Process
I’ve been on the other side of the “worst of it” for approximately a week. Let me tell you what that has consisted of:
- violent coughs with no notice, followed by vomiting (though not nearly as often as before); I am still taking my cough medicine though I have tried to dwindle my daily dose based on how I’m feeling
- good days filled with many bad hours
- just plain bad days
- sleepless night (and I don’t mean a few hours, I mean up ALL night consecutively)
- lungs that are still filled with the virus (my brother listens to my lungs with a stethoscope daily and can still hear the same crackling that my doctor heard when I first got diagnosed). It has lessened since the beginning of my illness, but no major change has occurred in the past week.
- any form of overexertion leads to a relapse in symptoms. By overexertion I mean activities like the following:
- teaching dance (online)
- cleaning my home
- talking for a prolonged period
Every day, I go to bed praying that I’ll be able to sleep, that I will be able to take deep breaths without the chest pain, that I’ll wake up feeling better and that it will last a full 24-hours. It is worth noting that I have yet to have 24 hours free of symptoms/pain.
This week, as I have resumed my gratitude journal every morning, it has only consisted of one of two entries:
- I am grateful to be alive
- I am grateful to feel good this morning
I don’t know when I will be better — each day I try to push myself a little more than the last and the result is the same: body is not ready. I am trying to be patient with myself and finding the balance between the two have been a real personal challenge. I know I am getting better, but the virus has not yet left my lungs. THAT is a scary feeling to go to sleep with each night.
And to know that just because I’ve had it doesn’t mean that I can’t get it again (according to the latest World Health Organization’s scientific briefing), that makes this virus a constant (active) threat to me.
I have had time to reflect this past week (something I couldn’t do until now). I also had the (dis)pleasure of checking the news. Though I am not the least bit surprised, I am disgusted by so many leaders and everyday citizens of this country. I understand the horrible impact this virus has had and continues to have on the economy, and as a result, the day to day hardship it has caused tens and thousands of people who are out of jobs (many of my family and friends are in this category).
But you know what? The economy will come back up again. If someone dies, they WILL NOT!
It is so utterly ignorant of the likes of Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and every other bozo out there who thinks the coronavirus is comparable to car & swimming pool accidents. One does not even know where to begin with people who use this kind of “logic”. All I will say is neither of those accidents is CONTAGIOUS! Where is the comparison?!
People who have the audacity to protest in the name of having the country re-open up, government leaders as the likes of Mayor Carolyn Goodman (of Las Vegas) who think their city should open up with no contingency plan are atrocious human beings. My advice for them? Go contract COVID-19 and then we’ll see how you feel. The notion that “if it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care” has made our country so incredibly selfish. The idea that saving someone’s life at the cost of one’s “freedom” is their big selling point makes me angry to my bones. The sheer level of ignorance, lack of compassion and empathy is not only disheartening but incredibly alarming!
One of my greatest misconceptions about this virus was that it would only severely affect the elderly and those with the compromised immune system. Turn out, it’s not that black and white!
At the beginning of March, I was still planning to go on my trip abroad, and my biggest fear wasn’t getting the virus (I figured if I did get it, I would be able to ride it out) but rather getting quarantined abroad and not being able to make it back home. Even during the very early stages of when I had the virus, I figured I would just have to “let it run its course” and “ride it out”. I did not for a second imagine the virus would cripple me to the point that it did.
And you know what? In the grand scheme of things, my symptoms wouldn’t even be considered severe but rather “moderate”. But you know what they weren’t? They weren’t mild (which is what I expected given my demographics). With “moderate” symptoms, I was still unable to get out of bed, could not use the restroom by myself — think about that for a second. A 30-something year old, seemingly healthy (I mean, sure, I can lose 40 lbs but so can most of America), with no known pre-existing medical conditions (remember, I only had seasonal asthma) and yet it has now cost me 4+ weeks of my life and I am still recovering.
And remember how I mentioned that my brother, who lives with me, had no symptoms when I got sick? Well, even after taking care of me day and night for nearly a month, he still showed NO symptoms whatsoever! That’s how differently and unpredictably it can impact each body. You have no idea how the virus will hit you and if you are not lucky enough to be asymptomatic, then chances are you are not prepared for how your body will react if you end up positive for COVID-19.
There are not enough words for me to express my gratitude to all the people who have prayed for me, sent me good vibes, and checked in on me. From family members, friends, coworkers, and even strangers near and far, I have been blessed with an outpour of love and prayers during this whole ordeal. And because I strongly believe in the power of prayers, I know that they were singlehandedly the most powerful contributing factor to my recovery.
As I am recovering from the virus, I intend to reach out to everyone who inquired about me. But, there are quite literally hundreds of people in mosques and my parents’ community in Bangladesh that I will not be able to thank personally. For them, I send my prayers back, filled with gratitude and blessings. During the month of Ramadan (which begins tomorrow), these are the people I will say special prayers for.
People don’t have to do anything for you, so the fact that someone takes any time out of their day (especially during this crisis) to pray for you is extremely powerful and I do not take it for granted.
However, my truest, most sincere love and affection go to my little brother, who was by my side physically and emotionally and helped me get through this. From making my food, picking up my medicine, purchasing electrolytes, making all kinds of homemade remedy/concoctions, getting me to the bathroom, holding my head as I vomit, cleaning after every mess I made (and boy did I make many), to ensuring I do not dehydrate — he was by my side and never let me feel alone in this fight. He never complained. He looked after me far better than I could have ever looked after myself. Saying Thank You does not feel like enough. But, he’s family and that’s what family is for so it will have to be enough. =o)
Throughout this, he never got a single symptom and we are both grateful for that! There is no way we would have survived at home had we both become ill. Brothers are a blessing from God and my brothers have proved time and time again (especially during my illnesses) that they are the ones I can always count on.
I have learned that it is during your illness that you realize who loves you, truly cares for you, and genuinely wishes for your wellbeing.
Alternatively, you also realize who isn’t in your closest corner, and that’s OK too.
As I continue to recover from this virus, I am grateful for the insights it has brought to light and I hope that every day going forward, I will keep those in the forefront of all that I do.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Stay Safe, Everyone!