DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor. I’ve never been a doctor. Even as a child, at no point did I have any delusions that I would ever become a doctor. This is an anecdotal account of my experience with the novel coronavirus and some of the things I did to safeguard my health that I think may have contributed to my great fortune in having such a mild case. If any of my friends who are medical professionals read this and object to anything included, please let me know and I’ll edit it as needed. I only want to spread information that might be helpful to others, and hope this might help someone going forward. Thanks for reading.
I started experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus about 16 days ago, and I didn’t post online about the details of being sick because I wanted to avoid terrifying the bevy of Italian women who have been checking on me every hour for the past week. Now that I’ve gone five full days with no symptoms, though, I want to share this report on my Corona Experience in the hopes that it might help others be better physically prepared.
COVID-19 is a very strange illness. In my own experience, I found any comparisons to the flu tenuous at best. When I get the flu, I’ll notice one day that I’m starting to feel sick, and the next morning I’ll be fully rocked by a fever and all the usual flu symptoms. In this case, I didn’t wake up sick one day, but rather felt the volume knob being slowly turned up by one notch at a time so that each day I was only slightly sicker than the last. The experience was very unnerving and I was concerned that a sickness that took this long to make its entrance would take equally long to go away. It was also hard to pinpoint when I was officially “sick,” which made it difficult to make decisions about how to proceed.
Over the course of a week, the symptoms came and went like they were working in shifts. One day I would be debilitatingly achey and run a fever, the next I would be extremely lightheaded and my lungs felt strained to the limits of their abilities. At its worst, I could feel them fill with fluid and even the deepest breaths would not supply them enough air. I blacked out three times over the week, once in the shower and twice laying down, after several days of increasing light-headedness. Throughout the entire time, it would always come in waves, so often I would feel 100 percent better before resuming the intense symptoms only a few hours later.
Like a lot of people, it took me days to really feel knocked out, so in the beginning I rationalized the symptoms away. “My skin feels warm, but I was in the sun today.” “I’m coughing, but I smoked a cigarette the other day.” By the time I was fading to black every time I stood up, I suspected something else was afoot, and my continued descent later confirmed my suspicions. I was already quarantining by that point, and I strongly encourage everyone to start staying home long before you think you need to. I was contagious for this entire period, and it’s nice to look back and think of all the people I didn’t infect by not going out, who might get to enjoy a few more years with their grandparents because of my choice.
I’ve left the house only two times over the past 15 days, and both were for fruitless trips to New Orleans coronavirus test sites. One was hosted in a walk in clinic and the other was a makeshift drive-thru in a university parking lot. In both cases, there were not enough tests to spare one for a healthy 34 year old.
At the first site, I was informed that only the elderly and people with compromised immune systems qualified for testing. There were approximately 30 people in line, all young, all clearly sick with a very grave illness, and none of us got tested. At the second site, there were only 100 tests available for the day, and far more than 100 people in line when I got there 30 minutes after they opened. The doctor said she could not formally diagnose me, but told me that I had all the same symptoms as her other patients at the coronavirus center and spent 45 minutes talking to me about how to treat them. “It is safe for you to assume you have the virus.” I also assumed she had a lot on her plate that day in light of the global outbreak of a virulent respiratory illness, so I considered the amount of time she invested in talking with me a sign of her opinion as well.
The extreme, unconscionable shortage of tests in America has two repercussions that spring immediately to mind. One, that people who don’t know they’re infected are more likely to run around town infecting everyone in their path. Two, people who were never given documentation of their illness will be less bold in spreading valuable information about their experience. I’ve written this thing myself because I think it’s sufficiently important that people know what to expect. Also, the uniqueness and severity of the symptoms I experienced made the sickness virtually impossible to confuse with another, non-corona virus.
The symptoms I experienced, in order of appearance, were:
- whole body ache
- Extreme Fatigue (I got exhausted to the point of wanting to go to sleep when I would walk to the bathroom)
- Lightheadedness, dizziness when standing up
- lungs initially hurt and soon began to feel drastically reduced volume to the point where I could not breathe.
- Loss of consciousness
I cannot stress enough that I am not a doctor. Less a doctor than most. But I think I got better quickly and came back even from such severe symptoms because I was extremely healthy for two weeks and worked to turbo charge my immune system. I remember waking up on the floor feeling that the virus may actually kill me, and I remember the moment I was still sick but realized that it was a fight my body was going to win. I approached all of these things with the attitude that they couldn’t hurt, and I would observe over time whether they might help.
Here are the things I did:
Got a ton of sunlight. I would lay in my secluded backyard for an hour or two a day, which supplied me with much needed Vitamin D.
Drank a heroic amount of water. Roughly a gallon a day. At the very least, this provided moisture to my lungs that prevented them from becoming irritated by the virus and developing a more serious cough
Took 1000mg Vitamin C with water immediately on waking up and snacked on kiwi, mango, and pineapple throughout the day.
Ate a lot of sauerkraut and Activia yogurt. Your mucus membranes produce what they do in order to capture pathogens and escort them to the nearest exit. One of these is your nose, another is your stomach. Activebeat.com informs me that probiotics help your gut fight these pathogens off; I’ll do some research later and see if ncbi.nlm.nih.gov agrees.
Ate a lot of food so I would “pass” these pathogens.
Practiced diaphragmatic breathing to improve my lung capacity The true threat of coronavirus is how badly it diminishes the power of your lungs to oxygenate your blood, as they fill with fluid and are left with less and less room for air. The reason ventilators are in such high demand is because they are used to supply higher concentrations of oxygen to the blood in order to prevent organ failure in severe cases of the virus. So I worked to strengthen my lungs in the weeks leading up to the symptoms by going on daily bike rides. After I quarantined, I started practicing diaphragmatic breathing. You breathe in as deeply as you can for four seconds, making sure to expand your stomach on the inhale. Then you hold it for four seconds, then purse your lips and exhale. There will be pressure on your lungs due to your lips being pursed, but don’t blow, just let it flow out slowly. Over time this will increase your lung capacity and I felt it kept my lungs more active at a time when something was being very persistent about trying to shut them down.
Ate a clove of fermented garlic with a meal once or twice per day for its antiviral properties.
Boiled ginger in hot water to make ginger tea. Another antiviral.
Got light exercise.
Kept very clean and spent a minute in cold water at the end of my showers.
Slept about 10 hours a day.
Willfully ignored anything that might stress me out. Cortisol will terrorize your immune system, and I consistently noticed that I felt my absolute worst within 30 minutes of waking up for that reason. We all have things to be extremely stressed about right now. I have three mortgages, insurance bills, water bills on multiple houses, 13 tenants who are out of work and can’t pay rent, and I just got a letter in the mail saying the city of New Orleans sent my property tax bill to the wrong address and they’re about to auction my yard off to the highest bidder if I don’t pay them $600 within two days. Not the house, just the yard.
It doesn’t matter. This is your health. Put it out of your mind. When you get stressed out and your heart rate ramps up from the stress hormones, it weakens your immune system. Just chill out, slow down, and breathe while you still can. Talking on the phone helped me immensely. I picked up the phone when I didn’t want to. I video chatted when I didn’t want to. Within a few minutes of picking up, I was always happy I did. It grounded me in the moment and gave me emotional stimulation that lifted my spirits. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, message me with any questions about anything. I’m happy to talk to anyone and you don’t have to ask. Don’t let the mental strain of isolation put you at even greater physical risk.
Finally, two tips from doctors:
I spoke with a few doctor friends and they told me two things that were pretty helpful.
- The public health crisis comes from the hospitals being overwhelmed and not having enough resources to take care of everyone. It’s very important to not get sick so you don’t clog up the health care system, but if you are sick, to not hit the hospital unless it’s absolutely necessary. I was told that if I was having difficulty breathing and truly worried, to go to urgent care and get a chest X-Ray, then go from there.
- If you have a severe case, get a hold of a pulse oximeter. I got one on eBay for $17. You put it on your finger and it reads the oxygenation of your blood based on the color of your fingernail, whether it’s more red or blue. At sea level, your oxygen saturation should be about 95-100%. If it dips to 88-90%, this is when it’s time to medical attention for supplemental oxygen.
I’m fortunate to be okay, because I’m young and healthy. While I do seem to be recovering pretty quickly, one thing I can say is that I can easily see how this could kill somebody. The virus is no laughing matter, and it’s not something you can mix up for another, more casual sickness. It’s something that could take the lives of anyone with a less than fully powered immune system – whether they are compromised or simply higher up in years. So prepare yourself by getting as strong as you can now so you’ll be able to withstand the virus when you contract it, and please, above all else, stay home so you don’t risk spreading it to anyone else. And of course, if you have any questions or just want to talk, feel free to reach out.