My COVID Experience

[page created 12/10/2020, corrections/updated 12/11/2020]
[additional updates 12/16-18/2020, 12/25/2020, 12/31/2020, 1/8/2021, 1/22/2021 - scroll to bottom for the latest update.]

From mid to late November, I spent nine days in a COVID hospital ward. I started experiencing chest tightness late in the first week of November and didn't know it was COVID - I had heard that a pneumonia was going around, and it seemed more like either a pneumonia or a garden variety flu. I foolishly thought I just needed to ride it out, but then after another two or three days it hit me hard - I was experiencing waves of debilitating lethargy, the cough got worse, and a fever developed ...  I started to wonder. Not long after that, my S.O. Lili started experiencing similar symptoms, leading to her O2 levels plummeting, being rushed to the hospital, and testing positive.

So now I was in a dilemma: we have three cats and, not knowing how long either of us might be in the hospital, I needed to make arrangements for our next door neighbor to come over & take care of them in our absence. That meant doing some kitchen and cat box cleaning. I also badly needed to wash some clothes (some of which were soiled what with the sudden minor episodes of diarrhea exacerbated by the uncontrolled coughing), and prepping for a hospital stay of unknown duration. It was like being drunk on your ass and packing for a trip. This was made all the more difficult because of my own O2 deprivation issues. Fortunately, the week before this thing hit Lili, a respiratory therapist came over to help her deal with an O2 issue she was having since late October which was was unrelated to COVID (more likely, a recurrence of breathing issues she experienced back in 2005 following her tram flap mastectomy, chemo and radiation). The therapist brought an O2 concentrator into our living room. This turned out to be extremely fortuitous because, with Lili in the hospital, it meant I had access to it and could help make up for my own COVID related O2 issues. It was a life saver, I couldn't have made it through all the stuff I needed to get done before checking myself into the hospital without that machine to keep my O2 levels up.

I cannot tell you exactly how I managed to get exposed to COVID - I've been good about sheltering in place, wearing my mask whenever running errands and keeping hand sanitizer at the ready at all times. I have my suspicions, but at this point that's all they are - I can't prove it out. Which, if you're reading this at the time I'm writing it, in mid December 2020, and you're watching the cases spike the and deaths pile up across the country leading up to what's looking like a dismal Christmas for a lot of people this year (for many, COVID may be the least of their worries - financial strain has to be a close second), should serve as a warning. Avoid getting close to strangers, avoid crowds, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer before touching anything when you're out of the house and WEAR A G-D effin' mask people!!!!

Anyway, the first thing they did after getting me into the ER was administer a COVID test; the following day, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the test came back positive. They got me up to the COVID ward floor, where I had the room to myself - along with the loudest ventilator fan I've ever heard (pulling air from the hall and vents and sending it out into the open air outside the hospital buiding, a obviously needed precaution when you think about it). They plastered me with sensors, set me up with a high velocity O2 feed and started in with regular drug administration and pulling blood out of me for blood work, which happened unannounced at all hours. I would have gone batsh*t crazy were it not for the fact I had the presence of mind to bring my phone and charger. The earbuds were great for cutting the fan vent noise to tolerable levels, I could stream KCRW (best station on the planet) any time, as well as TV  - I had the Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, CBS and YouTube apps for watching video. Having clients for my two main email accounts on my phone, as well as the Twitter app (my preferred social media platform of choice), meant there was no dearth of distractions from my stationary situation. (I found myself frequently turning to YouTube and watching episodes of MST3K - a welcome distraction from the world. I also got to finish The Queen's Gambit, which Lili and I started watching before all the sh*t hit the fan - I can't recommend it highly enough.)

Lili got the full five day Remdesevir treatment from the get go of her stay and, for her, it worked a treat - she was home after just 6 days of being in the hospital, well on her way to a full recovery. I was not so lucky - they did give me one Remdesevir treatment but, stopped after that because subsequent blood work revealed a spike in my liver enzymes - a red flag as far as further Remdesevir treatment goes. I did get the convalescent plasma, along with the mild steroids and other drugs they give COVID patients. The hospital staff could not have been any more competent and nicer than they were - I was in great hands and, on top of my positive mental attitude and their treatments, I dodged a bullet. Actually, we both dodged a bullet - a person our age has a slightly greater than 1 in 4 chance of dying from COVID. Neither of us deteriorated to the point where we needed a ventilator. After 9 days they discharged me - Thanksgiving afternoon. Lili really came through with flying colors and is close to 100% today, a fact for which we are both very happy and relieved.

You might get the impression from all this that I'm all better now too. But the reality is I'm still recovering from COVID, and this may be an ongoing thing. Foremost of my issues is O2 dips and shortness of breath. If I'm in a resting state (such as sitting here in front of my computer and typing), my 02 sits at between 93 and 96. Any energy exertion - walking from room to room, or up and down stairs (unavoidable in our house) causes my 02 to drop into the high 80s and I struggle to catch my breath. I've also noticed that coming out of sleep, it's even lower on occasion, though it comes up fairly quickly after I sit up and open my eyes. I still have nasty coughing jags, though the good news there is I'm bringing up crap with the coughing - my lungs are trying to get rid of what's left of COVID's remnants way down in my lungs. I'm also still quite dragged out - I lost 15 lbs while I was in the hospital, and I'm trying to be good about not putting it back on (I needed to lose those pounds, though I would NOT recommend COVID to anyone as a weight loss program, unless the idea of playing Russian Roulette with your life is something that appeals to you). While my temp normally hovers in the 97.5-98.6 range, I've been experiencing spikes of 99.8 to 100.2, often with an accompanying headache, every two or three days. When it happens, I take an Extra-Strength Tylenol which brings it back down within a half hour or so.

I can also tell you first hand: COVID fog is real. The number of typos, grammatical errors and other English hiccups in this page, which I did my best to find and fix, were many and diverse. I probably haven't caught them all. Sudden bouts of fatigue and the need for frequent naps is pretty much my life right now.

The docs and the hospital told us the two-week mandatory quarantine clock starts ticking the day the COVID test comes back positive; at this point, both Lili and I well are past the point of being contagious and, with COVID antibodies now running around in our systems, we should be protected from getting it again any time soon - at least, until the such time as either the natural COVID antibody protection wears off (which is possible) or the production and distribution of the new vaccines coming out in early December 2020 ramps up sufficiently to the point where it is widely available and low cost for everyone - whichever comes first.

I've made the Facebook post with the link to this page visible only to people who are in my Friends list. You are free to share the link with to this page whomever you like. I'd like to turn off comments to just this Facebook post (there may be a way, need to research further) because I don't want to get hit with comments from a**holes telling me COVID is a hoax, masks impinge on people's freedom, and any other disinfo BS along those lines. I'm posting this to my @doctecazoid Twitter acct as well, pinning it to the top of my feed for now. Same rules as FB comments above apply - instablock of anyone spewing disinfo/BS, no exceptions. The primary reason we're even going through this pandemic, and so many people are getting sick and dying right now (don't you DARE contest me on that - https://worldometers.info/coronavirus - COVID is NOT fake, I am speaking from direct experience)  is that, back in late Winter 2020, Trump deliberately sat on his hands and did not take the actions outlined in the pandemic docs Obama handed off to Trump in 2016, to head off a pandemic threat - which he and his administration simply tossed in the trash can. The only good I see coming out of it is that he lost - think of what a hero he would have been hailed as if he'd done the right thing from the get go and kept this thing from getting out of control, like they did in Taiwan, New Zealand, Singapore and other proactive countries. A second Trump term would have been a near certainty under those conditions, and I don't think our democracy could have survived that. We're taking one bullet to avoid another, which is a real shame, because both were avoidable.

I can be reached by Direct Message on Twitter (@doctecazoid). I don't spend very much time on Facebook, having a deep loathing of the platform, and I don't have Messenger installed on my phone or computer so if you Message me, the only way I'll see it is when I log in to my FB acct in a browser ... knowing some who read this might want to reach out to me, I'll try and check it on a regular basis the next two weeks & see who chimes in. Bring up #QAnutty conspiracy theories of any kind, or election stealing, or any kind of socially engineered disinfo lacking in logic, reason, and/or critical thinking: you can count on me dropping you from my friends list like a hot potato.

If I update this page in the coming days and weeks (I intend to, we'll see), the updates will be date-stamped below this line. In the meantime, I leave you with this: Be careful out there ... you never know what's coming at you from around the corner.

-Tom O.


Update 12/16-18/2020

The last six days or so have been up and down. There were periods of feeling like I was making progress, getting a little more of my energy and breath back, offset by periods of increased lethargy, lower O2 & a lot of coughing.

Then yesterday, with the approach of a massive snowstorm, I had to prep for it. Many impediments and roadblocks.

1) We're having the siding replaced on our house. The siding guys deposited a huge-ass dumpster in our driveway, effectively blocking anything - including our garbage bins - from getting around it. The cars have to stay on the side of the street, in front of the house - there's barely room for one car at the front of the driveway, and we've been keeping the car off the driveway so that if the siding guys start doing their work (soon, maybe?) they'll have access to their siding matierials and the dumpster. The only path between the back and front of the house right now is to go across the back lawn, through a narrow opening at the back corner of the house, and then across the front lawn.

2) Four years ago, we were gifted a Sherman Tank of a snow blower, which is a amazing beast. One problem though: because the past two winters have been so mild, it has been sitting idle in our drafty garage, and I never got around to cleaning it off and firing it up prior to this winter. (It was on my to do list, but COVID pretty much killed that plan.)

3) On pulling the unit out of the garage yesterday, it seemed exceptionally heavy. At first I thought it was my weakened state, but on further inspection, I found to my dismay that both tires had lost air - one was partially flat, the other was completely flat. Mid afternoon, went to Harbor Frieght & bought a tire inflator. It was a struggle just to deal with the walk between car and store. Should have looked at the box more closely, as it turned out the power source is not a wall outlet plug but a cigarette lighter.

4) With no other choice, I dragged the behemoth from the garage, across the back yard, around the narrow opening at the back corner, and across the front yard to where I parked my car as far off the street and onto a strip of grass along our sidewalk as I could (so as to not block the plows; at present, with a dumpster and siding materials piled on our driveway, there was only room for Lili's car). This was a herculean task, and there was *massive* hyperventilating and coughing, as you can imagine.

5) I started up the car & left it in idle, hooked up the compressor to the cig lighter, turned on the unit, and connected the air hose to one of the snow blower tires. Waited 45 minutes. The pressure gauge moved not one bit. It was getting darker and the snow was due to start falling soon. I disconnected everything, threw the compressor in the car, got on line via my phone, found a cig lighter-to-wall power adapter online at the Lowe's site, the site said they had them in stock, went to get one. Walking around the labyrinthine corridors was a challenge; I had to take it real slow in order to avoid hyperventilating too much. Sadly, it turned out the site was wrong & the power adapters were only available via special order. By now it was dark, and the snow was just starting to fall.

6) Drove back home, rested for about 15 minutes to get my strength back enough to go back out, drag the behemoth (again, with *much* hyperventilating) back across the front yard, through the narrow opening at the corner of the house, and to the garage. I'm amazed I survived that ordeal - I was breathing so heavily, and I imagine my heart rate was off the charts. Resolved to deal with the snow blower after the snow melts, have a service come pick it up for servicing and deliver it back sometime in the (hopefully) near future.

One positive development out of all this: working my lungs so hard, it feels like my breathing has improved a notch and coughing jags have decreased in frequency and intensity. Apparently, all that hyperventilating was good for my lungs.

I spent the night of 12/16 into the afternoon of of 12/17 recuperating from my ordeal, which really did take a lot out of me.

(about 24 hours later, 12/17/2020, after all the storm was done dumping snow on us)

I am about to head out and attempt to manually shovel the 8-12" we got over the past 24 hours. Fortunately, with the driveway blocked off by the dumpster, siding materials & Lili's car, the amount of actual ground I need to shovel is far more manageable that it would otherwise be.

(2 hours later)

Well, that went well.

Not.

Try as I might, I could only handle one or two shovels full of snow at a time before the hyperventilating made it impossible to continue. The job was made that much harder by the fact that the bottom later of snow had started to partially melt, making every shovel full heavier than if I'd gotten started earlier; on top of that, the heaviest part of each shovel full was sticking to the shovel, requiring a strong tap to shake it loose and then shovel the remains. I managed to get through my first goal: cutting a path along the back driveway to the garage. But it took a *lot* longer, required extreme effort and left me spent. And there was still the front walk, sidewalk and the front of the driveway to do.

I soldiered on as best I could - Lili had tried tackling the front walk but she left a lot behind I had to dig up, and as with the back driveway, I could only do a shovel full or two at a time before stopping for three minutes or so to hyperventilate and at least partially catch my breath.

I made it to the end of the front walk, and I was spent. Looking at the sidewalk and front driveway expanse, where of course the plows had deposited the heaviest of the packed snow - I really wondered how I was going to make it through. As with moving the snow plow yesterday, my hyperventilating and heart rate were off the charts.

It was at a moment where I was using my shovel as a crutch, head and hands on the handle, gasping for air, that a car pulled up and two teenage kids came out, carrying shovels.

Seeing me in distress, the older of the two asked: "You need help, mister?"

I managed to gasp out between panting breaths: "Yeah - I had COVID in November - I'm still getting over it - and I have major breathing problems."

"What do you need done?"

"The sidewalk - and from the back of Lili's car to the front of the driveway - so she can get her car out."

"You shouldn't be killing yourself then. You need us to do it?" (A rhetorical question if there ever was one.)

"That would be great."

"Go on inside, we'll take care of it."

I didn't even have the presence of mind to ask them what they would charge, and I really didn't care. I just wanted to get my ass inside and sit down so I could start finally catching my breath. I do remember telling them I was short on cash but that I could write them a check, and they were fine with that.

I believe that through this whole ordeal I was more winded than I was yesterday dealing with the behemoth snow blower. It was a miserable experience, I'm lucky my heart didn't explode.

Working together, the two of them knocked out the rest of the job in about 15 minutes or so. They came to the front door to let us know; in the interim, Lili had checked her purse and found she had $30 in cash. We thanked them for doing the work and asked them what the charge was. They said $20; we gave them the $30, telling them they were lifesavers. We weren't kidding.

I hadn't had any food since a late and substantial brunch at 1pm. It was now dark outside, but I was so spent I couldn't even life a finger to get anything from the kitchen. I stayed in bed, alternating between dozing and tweeting and hacking up phlegm, until about 11pm. Lili had a the last two slices of pizza that were leftover from the pie we bought the day before; I made a massively large protein smoothie which I'm drinking as I type this.

I'm thoroughly and utterly exhausted, and also extremely grateful the ordeal is behind me.

Assuming the snow melts before we get another storm, I'll be calling a maintenance service (same outfit we took our lawn mower to three or four years ago), have them come and pick up the snow blower, take it in for servicing and deliver it back. I'm sure it's going to cost an arm and a leg but it's a damn sight better than trying to deal with it myself in my current condition.

One day at a time, right?


Update 12/25/2020


Merry Christmas!!

Three days ago, I got to see my GP in person (first time in a long time). I described for her my breathing difficulty, also the periodic mild fevers and headaches I've been having the past few weeks. I've also lost more weight, down 25+ pounds from my pre-COVID weight. In addition to doing up fresh blood work (first since getting out of the hospital late November) and giving me an examination, she determined my body might be fighting off something else separate from COVID - perhaps a standard flu or pneumonia. She prescribed a six day antibiotic regimen and said to come back for another visit in a week. I'm on day three of the six days and I'm happy to say the antibiotics seem to be working - my breathing is improved (it's not anywhere near 100% yet but it's definitely better than it was) and I'm no longer having fevers and headaches. Good call on the part of the GP. In the coming days and weeks, I'll be having another chest x-ray as well as an echocardiogram, which will hopefully give us a better idea of what my prognosis is, going forward. Fingers crossed!


Update 12/31/2020


Happy New Year!!

As we bid adieu to the dumpster fire that was 2020, we can reflect on the fact that, among other things, we managed to survive it largely intact. In Lili's case, she came through the COVID experience with flying colors, and has been hard at work these past few weeks helping to complete work for the U.S. Census. In my case, I'm pleased to report that the antibiotic regiment has greatly improved my overall condition. While the main issues - shortness of breath, congestion, lethargy - have not been completely eliminated, there's been a noticeable, significant improvement over the last eight days. Doing chores, moving around the house from floor to floor, running errands in and around town don't cause the same level of heavy breathing it has up to now - I can tolerate doing more, and with greater physical effort, than I was able to since early November. I can take deeper breaths than before without automatically triggering a cough. Coughing jags in general are now fewer and farther between (it's usually at its worst when I get up in the morning), and the jags don't bring up as much lung crap as they had previously. Bouts of lethargy are also fewer and farther between. O2 is now sitting consistently around 93, and doesn't dip as much when I'm short of breath as it had been. The chest x-ray is now deemed no longer necessary, and my GP gave me a pneumonia vaccine that protects me from 23 different strains of pneumonia for the rest of my life. I'm gradually putting on more weight, yet I'm still well under my pre-COVID weight. My blood pressure is a lot better (near normal in fact), my sodium is well within acceptable limits, and I continue to abstain from alcohol (New Year's Eve notwithstanding). With any luck, all of these positive health trends will continue as we move into the new year.

Onward and upward.


Update 1/8/2021


Still just incremental improvements. Stamina is better, breathing still shallow but not as shallow as the last update above. Still having coughing fits that sometimes get pretty intense - I'm guessing because now that the crap my lungs are trying to clear up is at the very bottom, they have to work that much harder to bring the crap up. Still, crap is coming up and that's a good thing. Periodically I force myself to take really deep breaths, and to exert more energy (brisk walking, bringing hoarded basement crap up for disposal which involves a lot of up-and-down stairs sessions), which is actually helping. I'd say my lungs are at 85% capacity right now, and definitely heading in the right direction.


Update 1/22/2021


It's been two weeks since the last update, and also it has now been a full two months since I was discharged from the hospital. I'm still not totally out of the woods, but there's been a noticeable improvement in my breathing and stamina, and the coughing continues to decrease in frequency and intensity.

Recently, in an NPR story about 'long haul COVID' experiences, a woman still having breathing issues after a number of months (6 as I recall) described what breathing was like for her. She described the sensation as if a cage surrounded her lungs, and that the deeper she tries to breathe, the more her lungs try to push against that cage and are prevented from fully opening up.

I'd say this is a fair description of the sensation. In my case, it feels less like a cage than some kind of netting that doesn't want to give. But in my case, since getting over post-COVID pneumonia, I've noticed that as I make the effort to exert energy and push my lungs, the netting feels like it is giving way; I can now take much deeper breath before feeling the constriction of the netting than I could a month ago. And yes, while I do get winded when I expend a fair amount of energy, and more coughing is subsequently triggered, I can push myself harder before hitting that wall than I could, as recently as two weeks ago. I feel like my lungs are now operating at around 93% capacity, and each day sees a gradual loosening of the pesky netting sensation.

I just had an echocardiogram yesterday (due to my concerns I might have overtaxed my heart trying to deal with the snowstorm described above) and I'm waiting to hear back on the results. I'm due to see my G.P. again in about another month, and given my current rate of recovery, it seems possible my recovery from COVID will be complete by that time. Knock wood.

Since getting back home from the hospital, I've made a few lifestyle changes:
- I've largely switched from coffee to tea;
- I've cut back significantly on alcohol consumption (one mixed drink a day at most);
- I'm over 20 lbs below my pre-COVID weight, and better diet choices is helping to keep it from escalating.
These changes have improved my overall health and well being. I intend to stick with them - wish me luck.


-Tom O.