Mid March a few days after a business trip to the bay area … (Friday night) I noticed a weird dry itch in my throat. The next morning I woke up with a distinctive dry cough, light fever, chills and a massive headache and generally feeling crummy. The cough was violent and felt like it was turning my insides out with every cough. Miserable. There was no doubt. I had picked up Covid-19 in California. UGH. The good news was that after being sick on Saturday and Sunday, I woke up on Monday feeling pretty good. My throat was burning, but other than that, I was feeling pretty good. So I jumped back into my life and work as much as I could.
In those early days, testing was limited to individuals with serious symptoms. And, I didn’t notice any significant decrease in ability to breathe and my fever never spiked. So, I went it alone. I isolated myself and friends and family started the service of bringing me occasional groceries. The following Monday I woke up and the sore throat was gone. I wasn’t 100%, but was feeling 85-90% and thankful for the mild symptoms. Covid-19 was no big deal (for me), and my life was almost back to normal.
Saturday night (2 week from first symptoms), I woke up with a sharp pain in my chest. It felt like a broken rib. I had been trying to learn the guitar so I figured I must have been using bad posture and bruised my ribs by leaning on the guitar a bit too much. The pain persisted but increased a bit, through Sunday and into Monday.
By Monday night I realized that something more serious was happening. The pain was growing and it was getting increasingly more difficult to breathe and find any comfortable position to sit, lay, or even stand. I consulted with a few doctor friends of mine to decide on a plan. I didn’t want to jump into some Covid-19 chaos at the emergency room – but we decided that I would most likely need a CT scan to figure out what was really happening. I set up a tele-doc appointment with my local doctor to get a referral to the ER in hopes that I could skip some of the delays and chaos. However, by the time I had waited for an hour, then sat on hold for 10 minutes, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was having serious trouble breathing, the pain was crazy bad with no relief. I called my daughter and asked her to take me to the ER.
I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. And my poor daughter was sure I was dying by the way I was gasping for breath, moaning and crying during the entire drive. The ER experience was quick and easy. They put me into a wheelchair, checked my temperature, and wheeled me away from my daughter. Who was left crying unable to enter the hospital. The ‘air hug’ the nurse hospital worker suggested wasn’t nearly consolation for either of us. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t have a fever. But when they checked my oxygen, I was truly shocked to hear my O2 was 98%. Seriously? I was suffocating. I was taking tiny shallow breaths. I truly felt like I was dying.
Every breath and movement felt like daggers were being stabbed into my chest. The pain was insane. I couldn’t sit, and when they needed me to lay back on my back for echocardiogram, it was impossible. The pain was simply too intense. DAGGERS! STABBING!
Finally, they were able to confirm I wasn’t having a heart attack (I knew it). The X-ray wasn’t any less painful. It showed nothing. Then they wheeled me off for the CT scan. Trying to lay back and hold still in for the CT Scan was MURDER. The tech was a bit miffed at the nurse that they hadn’t managed my pain a bit better because it made his job more difficult.
They had given me some IV meds (anti inflammatory and pain), that helped me settle down. After the Dr. saw the scan, he didn’t even come back into the room. He called the phone in the room and said the scan had distinctive ‘crushed glass’ pattern they were seeing with Covid-19. He encouraged me to go home and treat the pain and symptoms with alternating ibuprofen and Tylenol. Serious? I can’t have anything better for this pain? Narcotics are not ideal in these situations because slower heart rate and breathing is the opposite of what’s needed and creates significant additional risk.
He explained that often with pneumonia if the inflammation forms on the outer edges of the lungs, it rubs and is quite painful. YES. I later learned this is called pleurisy. The pain was insane. But I was able to get home and back into bed for the night. The whole experience was maybe 3 hours. But they assured me that everything would be ok.
I tried my very best to manage through the next day. But, the pain increased and by 1-2am the following night I was in massive pain and beyond desperate for help. I didn’t know what to do. But after pouring my heart to God in a desperate and pleading prayer, I begged for guidance about what to do. Clear direction came to my mind that I should call for help. I called a few different numbers (State of Utah Covid #) and eventually called the ER where I was the night before. The Dr. said he couldn’t give me any advice. I would need to decide.
I decided. I need to get into the hospital. I figured they would admit me.
Rather than freak my daughter out again (plus it was 2am), I drove myself to the hospital. The pain was crazy, and the anxiety was building. But I was confident that I could get there. I did. I probably should have had my daughter drive me. But I made it, and limped into the doorway and asked for help. And, there I was again. Back in a wheelchair. They checked my temperature and wheeled me to the registration window. Unfortunately, it was now late enough at night that the staff was most accustomed to random people coming in looking for narcotics. So, after the lady checked my O2 and found it was 97%, she just kept telling me to relax and hold still. Are you kidding me? PAIN LIKE DAGGERS! I’m whining and crying and going out of my mind.
As luck would have it. They put me in the same room (as the night before) with the same nurse. And I was back into the same process again. Hold still for an ECG. No heart attack (seriously?). Then an X-ray. The night before the X-ray showed nothing. Tonight, the X-ray showed a good chunk of pneumonia growing in my lower right lung. 24 hours and getting worse.
A new nurse came on shift and gave me 3 units of morphine (over time). THANK YOU. It felt like finally someone was pulling the daggers out. And my body started to relax. The ER Dr. that night decided to treat the pneumonia as a secondary infection. That reality was maybe the most fortunate luck in the whole situation. Had the pneumonia been a second surge of Covid-19, the pneumonia would have had it’s way with me until my immune system could dominate. Maybe game over. But after just a few days, the antibiotics started to work their magic and I was on my way to recovery.
Backing up a bit. I returned home from the ER that second night and was able to get a few hours of deep (motionless) sleep. When I woke up – for the shortest moment I thought the pain was gone. But a soon as I shifted my body, the daggers were back. I made my way downstairs to take some meds (slow and painful shuffle holding my breath while moving) and ended up sitting on the toilet (sorry for TMI) as I waited for my daughter to show up with the prescriptions from the pharmacy. I was amazed sitting on the toilet that if I sat motionless and meditated into a mellow breathing pattern, I was able to relax to the point of sleeping (no pain). That was the final inspiration of what I needed to do to manage the overwhelming pain. Hold very still – mediate into slow and mellow breathing. The pain was the scariest part. Now I had a way to keep it under control. Of course, a bit of extra pain meds helped. But avoiding motion/shifting around my lungs was the most important breakthrough.
My daughter (married less than a year) moved home to nurse and care for me. She was amazing. Since I couldn’t move, she was there with water, Powerade, crackers, meds and everything I needed. She made it possible for me to sit motionless. My wife has some asthma so I encouraged her to stay remote and let us manage our way through the recovery. But, her love and empathy had her suffering right along with me (maybe even worse because she was limited to hopes and prayers). It’s pretty scary when every internet post and news story talks about how quickly someone can go from my condition to worse to dead. Everyone around me was traumatized.
I held onto the fact that I could breath (carefully) and my O2 levels remained in safe levels and I never had much of a fever. Two good neighbors (doctors) consulted with me and my daughter through the week as I started to make a bit of progress our stress started to decrease. But more distant family members remained frustrated with the hospital’s unwillingness to admit me for more watchful care. For my part, I was thankful to finally be able to manage the pain, to be home, and to be under the watchful care of the worlds best nurse (my sweet daughter).
24 hours a day… when I’d have a small coughing fit (in the early days, it was coughing up chunks of blood and mucus) she would call out from the second room or doorway to make sure I was ok. I’d answer back that I was ok so she could try to catch a few minutes of rest. Her work/company was awesome. Even though they were in the middle of massive workforce reduction and furlough (she’s in HR), they gave her time and space to care for me.
She was amazing. She’d take my temperature, pulse and Oxygen numbers every few hours and basically kept a chart/journal of my status and progress.
Within a few days I knew I was on a positive path to recovery. Within a few weeks, everyone else could see the same in my energy and voice. For 2 days, I couldn’t even walk to the toilet, then it was a painful and very slow shuffle. Then I was making the trip 10 times per day (I was drinking as much water and Gatorade as I could).
It broke my heart to see my daughter risk illness to take care of me. And, for her new husband to be quarantined alone for 2 weeks. He helped me into the ER that first night and needed to make sure he hadn’t picked up the virus. But they put it all on the line to help me get through those days. They would sit in the backyard and share dinner (8-10 feet separated) or a movie in the garage (when it was cold/rainy).
I kept the whole situation pretty quiet. But at some point my wife posted a bit about it on her photography Instagram and then a huge wave of flowers, support and love poured in. People drove a few hours to bring me dinners, treats and cards. It was touching and a bit overwhelming. Hundreds of people sent well wishes and prayers. I had prayers coming in from Christians and Hindu in India. And prayers and support from Europe.
I’ll never forget the overwhelming support and the kindness and hope it brought.
I visited the doctor this week. They want 2 more weeks then we’ll do a follow up Xray to make sure the pneumonia has cleared. I’m anxious to get back to running, cycling and my normal active life. I did sign up for an October marathon. Excited to get prepared and back in shape.
My personal learnings from this…
People are awesome. My family. My daughter. My neighbors and friends. Strangers. Front line healthcare workers (even billing and insurance). Everyone seems to have a bit of extra love and support. It’s almost like it’s Christmas in April. People are all being just a little bit nicer to each other. I saw this thing about Christmas lights staying on to provide hope. So, I turned mine back on in March. I have a big star on my rooftop that shines every night. I hope it carries a bit of light into someone’s heart and gives them hope. Humanity will not be destroyed by this pandemic. We will be strengthened and improved as we continue to love and serve each other.
Many nights I prayed. Dear God, please help me be healed and recover and I’ll use the early immunity you give me to be a front line helper to anyone down the road that needs my help. If any of you need my help… from faith, hope, prayers to bringing food or supplies to your house. Just ask. I’ll be there.
I wish I had understood that even a mild case of Covid-19 would compromise my lungs. I would have been more careful and given my body EXTRA time to heal, recover and get back to full strength before trying to push myself. This thing is a bugger. Even with mild symptoms, don’t underestimate the damage it might have done inside that you won’t recognize. Don’t do what you always do in final recovery from a cold or the flu. Give yourself more time and healing.
If you aren’t older and/or high risk for serious impact. Don’t be afraid. Most of us will get this virus sooner or later. If you’re healthy, you’ll most likely knock it down fast. Lets stay focused and vigilant to protect the most vulnerable in our society and lives.
Thankfully. This is not the end of times. We’ll get through this. The best of times are yet to come for humanity. Together we can overcome anything.