EDITOR’S NOTE: Deb Grider is a longtime RACmonitor and ICD10monitor contributing editor and a popular guest panelist on Talk Ten Tuesdays. We welcome here back to the ICD10monitor family.
Yes, I did have the COVID-19 virus. But I have been so fortunate that my symptoms were moderate and not severe.
Yet even considering that, it was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever gone through. Several times, while battling the virus, I really thought I might die – if not for my wonderful husband, who took care of me and my family, along with friends and colleagues who gave me support and checked on me daily. I also have so much respect and thanks for the healthcare workers who took care of me during this horrific experience. Without all of them, I do not think I would have had to strength to battle the virus.
In my profession, as a healthcare consultant, I travel quite frequently. In late February, I was crisscrossing the country, going from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Orlando and then back to my home in Indianapolis in three short weeks. I was feeling fine. I had regular checkups with my physician, got my flu shot, and considered myself relatively healthy.
I was scheduled for hip replacement surgery March 24, and was looking forward to it, since I have had hip pain for several years, and it seemed like the best choice for me. About a week after I returned home, I woke up with a low-grade fever, was lethargic, had a terrible dry cough, and could not even get out of bed for several days. Of course, it was the weekend, so my husband insisted on taking me to the emergency department of my local hospital.
I saw the ED physician, who did a complete history and exam and sent me for a chest X-ray. I had pneumonia, and the doctor put me on antibiotics and prescribed a cough suppressant, along with in-home albuterol treatments. A week later, I was not getting any better. Then the shortness of breath started. At first, it was relatively mild, but was getting worse. I woke up one morning at around 2:30 a.m. and could not catch my breath.
I was taken to the emergency room. My pulse oxygen had dropped to 85, so I knew I was in trouble. After receiving oxygen, my pulse oxygen rose to around 92, which is not good, but better than when I went in. After asking the ED physician for a COVID-19 test to see if I had the virus, he told me that since I had not traveled internationally, I did not qualify for the test.
I was baffled. This virus was beginning to spread like wildfire. I went home with a new set of prescriptions, along with a nebulizer and a recommendation to buy a pulse oximeter so I could monitor my own pulse oxygen, with instructions to contact my physician in a few days if I was not feeling better.
Now I had terrible body aches, along with my other symptoms, and was still not getting better. I could not sleep lying down, so I slept in a chair, sitting up. I continued sleeping in that chair for well over a month. I think I am going to buy a new chair now. Needless to say, I got little sleep, and barely ate anything. My shortness of breath was worsening and was constant. I could not even walk 10 feet without feeling like I was losing my breath. So I contacted my physician a couple of days later and we had a telemedicine visit, and after taking a detailed history, it was decided I would go back to the hospital for a COVID-19 test and a CT chest scan with contrast.
At this point, our state was allowing testing if a physician ordered it. The COVID test did come back positive; I had the virus. At least I knew now what I was dealing with, which actually frightened me more. I kept thinking, “if I have to be hospitalized, I probably will never come home.” My doctor or the nurse called me every day for three weeks so I could give them an update on my pulse oxygen readings, of which I took a reading every hour each day, along with my temperature, weight, and symptoms. They would adjust my medication regimen accordingly. Thank goodness for telemedicine; I cannot thank my doctor and staff enough for everything they did for me.
Well, after 3-4 weeks, I did start feeling better, the coughing lessened, my pulse ox came back to 97, and my fever was gone, along with the body aches. I lost a total of seven pounds, which I really could not afford to lose, but my appetite has yet to come back. Good news is that I did not lose my sense of smell or taste.
To make a long story short, it has taken me six weeks to get better, and I am still in recovery. My pulse ox is back to normal, and I feel rather good now. But I still have a bit of shortness of breath, especially at night, and I still have a lingering cough, which I have been told will go away hopefully with time. The healthcare community still does not know everything about this virus, so we do not know yet what the long-term effects will be.
So, how has this personally affected me? Well, quite a bit, actually, and in some ways, in a good way. I feel like I have been given a second chance in life. I do not sweat the small stuff anymore. I feel I am a softer, kinder person, and am more compassionate than I was before. My priorities have changed, and I appreciate my family and friends much more than ever. But on the downside, I have been afraid to leave my home. Two weekends ago, my husband wanted me to get out of the house and wanted to go to the nursery to buy bedding plants. I said okay. I was excited to leave the house and go on an outing. I had not left the house since March, with the exception of going to the hospital multiple times, and was excited for the adventure.
We had our masks on, and I thought I could get out of the car, but when we got there, I could not. I panicked. There were other people at the nursery, and even though I would be outside, I just could not get out. I waited in the car. Yes, I have been outside in our yard and garden, but that has been as far as I have gone. I know I have to overcome this. Our state has partially reopened, of course with specific guidelines. Restaurants and stores are now open with limited capacity. I thought it would be great to go out to eat, so I made a reservation at our favorite restaurant but cancelled at the last minute, because I became anxious about going. I keep telling myself, I have to get over this, right? So yesterday, I did it. I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. Unfortunately, my pharmacy does not have a drive-up window, so I had to go in. I got out of the car, put on my mask, and went in. Right after going up to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription, I began sweating and could hardly breathe. I realized I was having a panic attack. I quickly paid for my purchase and got out of there. Well, that is the last outing for me in a while. But I will keep trying to venture out, a little at a time.
What am I looking forward to? I cannot wait for the day to again go to restaurants with friends and family, hug my children and grandchildren, and just enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I know that will come in time. I am also looking forward to rescheduling my hip replacement surgery in the near future.
But for now, I am working in my home office, talking to my children and grandchildren on Zoom, and catching up on lots of movies and TV shows I have missed, and having virtual cocktail hours weekly with my friends.
My hope is that our wonderful physicians and scientists can quickly develop a vaccine and/or a good treatment for this virus, that our government will get it together and develop a plan of action that makes sense, that fewer people will get this horrible virus, that fewer people will die, and that patients will get well and go home to their loved ones.
In my career, one of my specialty areas has been critical care. I have shadowed numerous critical care and infectious disease specialists in the ICU many times, and have always been amazed at what a fantastic job they all do managing and treating their patients. I think about all of the healthcare workers on the front lines every day and say a prayer every night that they stay safe and healthy. Thanks to all of them, all over the country, who have put their lives on the line for all of us. They are missing their families and putting their own safety at risk every day. Their dedication and courage cannot be measured. And for everyone, pay attention to social distancing, use caution, protect yourselves, and wear a mask. We all have to accept responsibility and do the right thing.