Our Firsthand Experience With Covid–We’re Two Of The Lucky Ones, We Hope – Now, The Aftermath

So, I’ve had Covid for a week now. I caught it from my girlfriend. We believe we know where she got it but we cannot know for certain. We now have firsthand knowledge of and experience with Covid we did not want. I am sharing some of our experience and some of my thoughts about it for your consideration, and in the hope you can avoid it. I am not a doctor. This story is not any attempt to give medical advice or even offering a medical opinion. Nor am I suggesting that either my own experience, or that of my girlfriend is normative. This is just a personal, anecdotal account of our firsthand experience with Covid.

For over a year, we have followed every protocol. We have always masked up in public. My girlfriend has been masked around her 90 year-old mom this entire time. She has not entered her home for more than 5 minutes, and has not ridden in a car with her. With the exception of an Extreme Experience driving event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 28th, we have engaged in no public activities not necessary for life. (The event did an outstanding job of implementing and enforcing mask requirements, distancing provisions, and sanitization between each driving session).

Climbing in to that sweet Ferrari. Notice the masks and sanitizers.

How It Started

My girlfriend started showing symptoms, notably a dry cough, on Saturday, April 3rd. We were driving home from a family gathering to celebrate her mother’s 92nd birthday. The weather was beautiful and mild. We ate a pot-luck picnic lunch outdoors on the back deck of her sister’s home. Of the 18 attendees, we were part of a small group of 5 or 6, not yet vaccinated. 2 of those had already received their first vaccination shots. My girlfriend and I wore masks, even outdoors, out of abundance of precaution. (This turned out to be wise. I can report that everyone present is fine.) When her cough started, accompanied by a pretty severe headache, we chalked it up to having been outdoors, in pollen, in a breeze, in dropping temperatures for more than five hours. It had to be some sort of allergy, right?

But the next day, and especially Sunday night, she knew something wasn’t ”right”. She lay curled on the couch, coughing frequently into her pillow, suffering with a headache she couldn’t quite get to fade even after 24 hours and the normal headache meds. Because of our precautions, we did not consider that it was Covid. After a decent night’s sleep, she went on to work on Monday. She has a separate office where she was able to remain distanced from co-workers.

The test and result

When her cough was persistent and more frequent on Tuesday, April 6th, she went in for a test. The positive result surprised us both. While waiting for results from the test, the doctor who saw her also ordered a chest x-ray. He wanted to rule out bronchitis or pneumonia due to her cough and the difficulty he observed in her breathing. Thankfully, her lungs were clear.

I’m sure we aren’t the only ones to feel surprise and dismay at a positive result during their Covid experience. The fact is, there are many like us, who have followed every protocol. Like us, they never wanted an experience with Covid. The news, and the side effects of social disruption were more than compensatory for the effort to avoid any firsthand experience with Covid infection.

But, those who haven’t been as careful, or who couldn’t be bothered to take it seriously, or inconvenience themselves, have impacted our lives anyway. To some degree, we are all victims of all the far-reaching effects of this pandemic. There’s no sense whining about it. But, when you believe the science, try hard, act consistently, and persevere in the effort to stay healthy and to keep from making others sick, you feel surprised and angry when you get this damn virus anyway. It’s a kick in the guts. A Covid experience was definitely not on my bucket list.

We followed all these measures, and yet…It only takes one infected person not following every measure, all the time to give the virus a transmission point.

When the test confirmed Covid, she left work to begin the doctor and CDC recommended home care and the 10 day quarantine (from the onset of symptoms). Which should technically end today or tomorrow. But, she has not had a straight line recovery. The first couple of days looked very good. On Wednesday, she was wracked by coughing fits, a bad sore throat, muscle aches, and malaise that kept her in bed until 4:30 pm that afternoon. She only got up for a couple of hours to eat a light snack and then went back to bed. It was well past noon on Thursday before she felt like getting out of bed again. Over-the-counter TheraFlu or DayQuil helped suppress her cough, though these undoubtedly contributed to her fatigue.

How it’s going and what we’re doing

From Friday through bedtime last night (Sunday), she is improving. But we have arrived at the 10th day since the onset of symptoms, and she is not symptom free. She is still sick. I can hear her coughing in bed as I write this. The coughing isn’t as frequent or violent as the worst days, but a 10 day quarantine is clearly not applicable to her. Day 10 is not a magic threshold. She would have no business driving a commute to sit in an office for full day. So, our Covid experience reveals some potential discrepancies in the official advice. To be fair, the CDC guideline of a 10-day period is given as a minimum in the absence of a fever for at least 24 hours and when exhibiting improvement in symptoms. So, there is some flexibility. And, thankfully, her office is not pressuring her yet.

My girlfriend’s youngest daughter is a nurse who has served and treated hospitalized Covid patients, and has seen some die. And her own Covid experience wasn’t limited to her role a a front-line health-care worker. Early this year, she lost her grandfather to complications from Covid infection.

She encouraged us to use a cocktail of vitamins C and D along with Zinc to help boost and support our natural immune responses. Emergen C Immune + is a product ready-made with those components, so we take two packets each daily. We are taking a low-dose aspirin every day to counter-act Covid’s blood-thickening effects. Other than that, as I mentioned my girlfriend has used a cough suppressant. Two nights ago, I took 2 Alleve before bed for relief of what felt like swallowing shards of broken glass. So far, the sharp pain of that sore throat has been the worst of the experience symptomatically for me.

This could have been much, much worse

Thankfully, even though my girlfriend has lingering symptoms 10 days in, both our cases are on the mild side of the scale. In comparison to millions who have been hospitalized and the nearly 600,000 in the US whom Covid has thus far killed, we are lucky! We don’t need a hospital. We won’t need funeral arrangements. But we most certainly could have. And this virus that is still in both our bodies, if transferred from us to other unwitting hosts, could produce drastically different symptoms and drastically different outcomes. My symptoms this morning are the same as I’d usually have in mid-April since I battle seasonal allergies. I’ve been able to keep up a walking regimen of a couple miles a day for most days.

If I didn’t know I had Covid, and if I worked in an office, I would have been there. I’ve coughed maybe 30 times total during the week. In contrast, my girlfriend has had multiple coughing-fit episodes. She may rattle off 30 or more coughs per event. Thankfully, her breathing has remained steady and unimpeded (if you don’t count the times she can’t stop coughing for a minute or two). But her energy level is a 3 on a 10 point scale. Don’t get me wrong, 3 is good compared to a few days ago when she didn’t want to get out of bed at all. As I write this, every few minutes, she coughs a few times to try to clear her throat and the top of her chest.

Asymptomatic spread still a thing

As I mentioned above, if I didn’t know for a fact that the mild scratchy throat, rare cough, and barely noticeable muscle aches I’ve experienced were from Covid, I would not think twice about it. That’s the insidious thing. This study shows that almost 6 in 10 Covid cases are coming from spreaders who are themselves asymptomatic. Like me, those asymptomatic spreaders would have no cues to either be tested or quarantined.

Masks make sense in a shared environment when 6 of 10 cases is transmitted by an asymptomatic carrier. Since certainty is that elusive, is a mask too much to ask?

I’ve spoken to one doctor who believes these asymptomatic spreaders represent millions more Covid cases that will never show up on any database. Hearing this in the beginning, and believing it, I acted as if I was a carrier. As mentioned above, my girlfriend and I both did. We didn’t act that way because we were afraid we would get Covid, we acted that way because we were afraid to ”give” it, unknowingly. The safest, least intrusive, most humane, and most loving thing we could do for our families, neighbors, front-line workers, and strangers was to act like we could infect them, and behave and distance accordingly. Now, unfortunately, our Covid-induced behavior is not an act. 

Next for us, vaccines

I see this as a moral imperative: I’d rather die trying to save other’s lives, than live and risk inadvertently killing them.

Still if there was a guarantee that our experience is the worst Covid can do, getting vaccinated would be a foolish and unnecessary risk. Almost any reasonably healthy person can tolerate a week of aggravating cold symptoms. But there are no guarantees. This same virus, or some variant of it, has killed millions around the globe and 600K here at home. In my view, that makes vaccination a moral imperative. Not because I’m worried about what it may do to me, but because I don’t want to be the nexus point in a contact tracing sequence that eventuates in someone else’s death. Being an accomplice in the death of another human being is not a firsthand experience I ever want to have.

Without a doubt, there are millions of asymptomatic carriers in the United States who are implicated in tens of thousands of deaths. They just don’t know it for certain, or don’t want to admit it. The lack of anything more than circumstantial evidence is not an acquittal.

”Don’t put that on me!” you say. Where should I put it? And if you don’t want that “put on you”, get vaccinated. Simple.

The takeaway

Now that I have violated my girlfriend’s HIPA privacy and given way too much information about my own health status, what, you may ask, is my point? Am I just trying to elicit sympathy over a tickling cough and a sore throat?

These are fair questions. I’m sharing our Covid experience with you, in the hope you will to think about what it feels like to have an experience forced upon you that you not only did not want, but tried your best to avoid. That feeling is not a good one. It feels like a violation. I want to blame someone, even though I know that won’t roll back the clock and it won’t make me or my girlfriend recover faster.

I am angry and concerned, or maybe angry because concerned, about the potential long-term effects this bout with Covid may be setting us up for down the road. What other future firsthand experience might some careless person have seeded into us that won’t bloom for months or years down the road? This study from London’s Oxford University raises concerns about neurological and psychological effects. Our Covid experience may extend well past the CDC quarantine period. The Covid experience for some is already of an indeterminate duration.

Long term effects of COVID 19 brochure template. These are what have been identified as potential threats down the road. Fun, huh?

I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far in my account, you’re at least somewhat concerned about Covid yourself. You probably wear a mask. Social distancing feels normal to you now. You may already be vaccinated or you’re leaning that way. I hope all of that is true. I also hope you will use your influence and your example of good and loving decisions to help instruct, guide, and persuade the unconvinced. This pandemic can still be a catalyst for positive, constructive change. 

Covid changed my political views

It has certainly changed me, most notably my political views, in some very good ways. (Although now it has changed my medical chart for the rest of my life, in a very bad way). For me, the pandemic moved fuzzy ideas about the shared, inter-connected aspects of health and sickness, (and therefore of health care,) out of the abstract, and into sharp-edged, practical reality. Politics gets very real and very personal when your own life is on the line. Politics is the crucible where the ideal meets the practical and the necessary.

Here in the real world, where 99% of us don’t have a private Island or a floating city where we can retreat and hide out away from the great unwashed, teeming masses, we share air. We share spaces intimate enough, compact enough to make each other sick. Some of those shared spaces and experiences are voluntary acts of will. At other times, proximity to other humans is part of a job description, the income of which cannot be forfeited just because symptoms appear. And that person who cannot afford to stay home when they might be coming down with something, might be patient zero for the next viral assault that makes Covid-19 look like a trip to Disneyland.

Starting to see Health Care as a different kind of right…

I had unsuccessfully tried to get my head around the notion of health care as a right before the pandemic. I had always thought of rights as those entitlements to which we are born, simply for being born. Thinking this way, I could not see how the right to health care is something one is born with. Most of the rights we typically consider inalienable are those we believe to be ”ours,” possessed by the individual, and not to be taken from them. Liberty, for instance, is much easier to take from a person, than to give to them. It is impossible to give someone the pursuit of happiness, as any parent knows. You want your child to be happy. You give your child opportunities. Good parents encourage their children’s interests and pursuits. But no one can give another the pursuit of happiness. That pursuit can be taken away, however.

So, I thought of rights in this way, as possessions. And thus thinking, I reasoned that while health can be taken from a person, health care is not something a person is born possessing, and therefore not a right that can be taken away. I thought of it as a privilege – a useful one, a humanitarian one, even a desirable one – but a privilege, nonetheless, and not a right. And from the standpoint of the individual, that may still be an accurate way to look at it. However, if considering the question from the view of the public good, the entire equation changes.

…One with a different primary beneficiary

My experience with Covid, began as a witness and observer. Now, I’m numbered among the human flotsam swept up in its flood. The watching, and now, the experiencing, have produced a new conviction. I now believe Universal Health Care is primarily for the public, social, and national good.

It is not primarily for the individual at all. Of course, the individual benefits. But that is a proximate end to the ultimate goal of protecting society. I am now a born-again advocate for immediate, universal, mandatory health coverage (to the extent allowable – while maintaining personal and privacy protections). Every member of society deserves protection from whatever sickness any one member may contract, thereby endangering all. A single, uncovered member places society’s health at risk, through lack of access to care, treatment options, or at-home, out-of-work, sick pay. If we are willing to pay taxes to a government that buys state-of-the-art weapons to defend us from military enemies as a social good, then we should be willing to pay taxes for the government to defend us from biological, viral, molecular enemies.

A common objection, the product of bad thinking

Many are opposed to universal health care, or socialized-medicine, or single-payer systems (or whatever politically charged label can be slapped on) because they believe a person is being freely given something of value (health care) that is not free to provide. They feel the common and understandable disdain that many of us share over handing out goodies to people who won’t or can’t earn the goodies for themselves. And not content to stop there, paying for those goodies by taking the costs from the people who are working and earning the same goodies for themselves, but are involuntarily forced to pay for someone else’s too. It doesn’t seem fair. That view, once entrenched is hard to dislodge. 

We should be able to talk about this so we can prepare for the future

But is it fair to subject workers and earners (and therefore taxpayers) to sickness or death, because one person cannot afford health care to treat a sickness that exposes all the taxpayers, who together, could have afforded to pay for the treatments, thereby protecting not just that individual, but all of themselves? What is fair about that?

We will botch our way through this pandemic…limping all the way to the finish line. Although, according to our last President, we’ve been ”rounding the turn” for what amounts to the world’s longest-running, continual Nascar race in the effort. But, what happens when the next pandemic hits? Wouldn’t you rather some of your taxes go to protect you from an uninsured person coming to work sick and killing you or a loved one? These are at least issues to talk about without accusing each other of wanting to turn the country into the Soviet Union, for God’s sake.

How it’s going…and what’s ahead for many of us

Our firsthand experience with Covid is soon to involve the battle my girlfriend is going to face with her work over the timetable for her return. She’s coughing now. She’s still sick. She is certainly still symptomatic from the same viral murderer that is going to kill as many of us as we allow to do so. Thankfully, she has work provided health insurance. But she has no mechanism to appeal to paid sick-leave, or an allowance for full-time work-from-home until there is a complete cessation of symptoms and production of a negative test. She has hit the 10 day mark, and she is still coughing. Hers is an individual case, but is not likely to be unique in those terms. Her duplicate could be the cough you’ve been hearing in the cubicle next to yours all morning. 

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