By Valerie Joy Wilson, as told to Jennifer Clopton
Everything about COVID-19 was odd for me. On the whole, my case was quite mild. But even so, this was unlike any illness I’ve ever had – and it was incredibly scary.
My first symptom was waves of weird sensations that spread across my body. The best way I can explain it is that it felt like I was short-circuiting. I couldn’t sit still as what felt like electrical waves passed through me. Heart trouble runs in my family, and what I was feeling was so unsettling that I finally went for a check up with my cardiologist – an appointment I’d been putting off for months. My heart checked out fine.
Then I lost my sense of taste and smell. First, I bit into some pasta that tasted especially salty. The next morning, I drank some orange juice and dumped it after a few sips, thinking there was something wrong with it. Then I bit into a cookie that had no taste. That’s when I started to realize – maybe the problem was me and not the food.
After that I had a low-grade fever of 99 – that only lasted a day – then some sniffles and a cough that worsened for days and was pretty scary at its peak. The cough was weird too, though. Have you ever had a dry cough? Why would you need to cough if it’s dry you’d think, right? There’s nothing productive to get out and coughing doesn’t make you feel better. It just makes your throat hurt but my body still wanted to cough all the time.
That’s what made me finally suspect I had COVID-19 and I started to worry. I have Lyme disease – an autoimmune disease that compromises my immune system, so I went to see my doctor. He ran some blood work, which showed my white blood cell count was very low. That’s when he decided to test me for COVID-19, and on March 19 the results came back positive.
I was sick for 16 days in all, but it wasn’t linear. I’d wake up one morning thinking I was doing better, and then I’d slowly decline throughout the day. Then I’d feel better for a day only to worsen the next. I didn’t feel great throughout, but I also never felt like I had to go to the hospital. At worst, I’d say my physical symptoms were about a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
But if you ask me how scared I was on that same scale – I’d say my anxiety was about 8,000.
I got very emotional when they told me I had the coronavirus, and I’ll be honest, mentally and emotionally I really struggled with the diagnosis. I live alone and this is tough to navigate yourself. Isolating while you are sick isn’t easy, and while I’m not typically a super anxious person, I did give myself panic attacks watching the news. I heard reports that after 6 or 8 days people often worsen and that screwed with my head. So when my chest started hurting, I didn’t know if it was my lungs worsening or if I was just giving myself anxiety. It was very confusing. You don’t want to overreact, but you also don’t want to miss something and wait until it’s too late to get help. So you stew like a nut case. It’s a terrible mind game, and I didn’t do well mentally with it.
But as scary as it was, I stayed at home by myself and pushed through. After another week or so, my health started to improve. My cough went away. My sense of taste has mostly returned, and my sense of smell is now coming back slowly. Right now, I can only smell things that are close to me.
Even so – I don’t feel the same anymore.
The seriousness of all of this has really hit me. The world feels scary. This thing is so contagious – it’s almost beyond our comprehension – and I was a carrier. Once I found out I had it, I of course stayed home. But knowing I could have given it to other people before I had symptoms is an awful feeling.
Once you get this you start to realize that even if your case isn’t so bad, you were walking around while you were asymptomatic like a ticking time bomb potentially getting others sick and sending them to the hospital – or even worse, destroying lives. That is a horrifying realization and a tough one to live with. I had to call a few people I’d been with when I was asymptomatic to let them know I tested positive and that was horrible. But far worse is wondering if I could have made someone vulnerable sick…just by passing them in an aisle at the grocery store or sharing an elevator with them.
I’m only 34, but I’ve taken this seriously from the start. I am a germaphobe and hand sanitizer queen – and I still got it. So please take this seriously. Any of us can get this, and for every mild case like mine, there are far more serious and deadly ones. When you get this – suddenly you feel a great responsibility to want to protect others. You have that ability right now if you just stay home. So please do it.
I get how hard it is. But this will end at some point and when it does, we can all get back to work, business will eventually come back, and we can finally be with other people. What we all do now will determine whether our parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors are with us when that day finally comes.