I am a 41 year old mother of two young boys, 2 and 6, and I had COVID-19 in March. I had what would be considered a mild case – low grade temp, nausea, extreme exhaustion, headaches, GI issues, very mild phlegmy cough and completely lost of my sense of smell.
I tried to get tested twice but couldn’t, either because they ran out of tests before I could make it to the front of the line – after waiting two hours in my car in the rain while feeling like complete hell – or because my symptoms were not severe enough to qualify for a test.
My husband and I both were confirmed positive for antibodies about a month later, but what remains shocking is that we are completely left out of the overall COVID numbers. We are uncounted as far as confirmed cases go. How many more people are like us? And you know as well as I do that no one is tracking positive tests against positive antibody tests. How do we know the vastness of the spread without being able to track it? The answer to that question is simple: We don’t. And that is terrifying.
And now, it’s gotten out of control in the United States. It’s too late to turn back now. Many, many more people are going to get sick. You or your family members might be next.
But do you know what terrifies me the most about having COVID? It’s that we have no idea what long-term damage this is doing to our bodies.
While I have recovered and haven’t had a fever in months, I still get extreme exhaustion some days, brain fog, heart palpitations at night when I lay down and breathlessness when I’m active and talking at the same time. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s the result of COVID-19 or just the fact that we are at home with 2 & 6 year old kids, working full time and living on coffee and broken sleep.
This is coming from someone who has always been active and health-conscious, even as a kid. I’m a personal trainer and yoga teacher by profession, and runner by hobby. I work out on a regular basis and do my best to eat well. Breathlessness and heart palpitations are not my usual deal. But they might be a lifelong sentence now.
The idea that long term damage could have been done to my lungs, heart and brain after one week of being mildly sick is scary. I have no idea what respiratory, neurological or muscular issues I’ll have in 5, 10, 15 years because of this virus. It is really f-ing scary.
But let me paint another picture for you – one that often gets left out of stories about people with COVID:
The three weeks that my husband and I were sick at the same time were some of the most panic-stricken, anxiety ridden and terrifying weeks of my entire life. A solid week of not knowing if I was going to wake up the next morning and imagining that my son would find me, or both of us, not moving in the bed was horrific.
While husband was bed-ridden with a 102 degree fever for 4 days, I took care of our kids as best I could. They watched about 14 hours of tv a day and ate a lot of canned soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I made while sitting in a chair. Putting our 2 year old to bed was excruciating. I couldn’t stand and rock him for more than 2-3 minutes at a time before I would have to sit down and put my head between my knees. I counted the seconds until I could sit again every single day. I couldn’t eat because of the extreme nausea and anxiety. I lost 7 pounds – which is a lot on a small frame – and could clearly see my ribs after 7 days of not eating. My husband did exactly the same when I was most sick, all while also being sick.
I’ve seen people post on Facebook “What do you do if both parents get sick?”. The answer is, whatever you need to survive. There are no other people to come in and lend a hand. You are on your own. No one wants to be near you, nor should they be. You suck it up and deal with it because there is no other option. And it sucks.
For those three weeks of extreme exhaustion, I cleaned like my life depended on it. My hands were painfully chapped and red from washing them every 30 seconds. I cleaned the bathrooms almost daily. Making food was like prepping for surgery. Before cooking anything, the entire kitchen had to be sanitized. I would scrub my hands, wrists and forearms, then walk with my hands in the air to dry them with paper towels and then put on gloves. I had to think about every single thing I touched. If I touched a drawer out of habit, I’d have to pull my gloves off and start over. If I touched my face or mask without thinking, I’d curse and have to start all over again too. It was a maddening procedure that happened three times a day and took longer than necessary because I had to sit down every 10 minutes from fatigue.
When my sister brought food to our house one rainy day, she left it on our front steps and I watched her as she went to and from her car with groceries, my hand on the glass door separating us, tears in my eyes. I was so scared. I felt so helpless and terrified. I mouthed the words “I’m so scared” to her as she left, and she gave me an air hug. I cried when she left.
At night I would read articles online about the latest symptoms and inevitably come across a grim story of someone my age with similar symptoms who did not fare well. My mind went rogue and I had panic attacks almost every day. I told myself I would not read any more articles but then I would keep reading to find out more information. Plus, I was searching for something that would tell me how this virus manifests so I could follow my own timeline which I meticulously wrote out on the whiteboard calendar in our kitchen. I can tell you exactly what my temperature and symptoms were every single day of that week.
One article said that most mild cases will either start to get better at day 5, or take a turn for the worst at day 7. So when I made it to day 5, I was cautiously optimistic that I was getting better, but also waiting for the worst. Those might have been the most panicked two days of my life. Every moment of chest tightness or nausea had me wondering if my next stop was the ICU on a ventilator.
Fortunately, day 5 was the beginning of getting better, but getting better took a really long time. I still couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes at a time without having to lay down for the next 7 days.
Four months later, a low-level panic is still there along with the ongoing after-effects. We were lucky and extremely grateful that our family is healthy. Yes, we have antibodies, but no one really knows what that means. There are suggestions that people can get it twice and possibly worse the second time, which scares the hell out of me. I get that everyone is panicked at a certain level but when you know what could happen again, it is petrifying.
If you don’t believe this virus is real or that wearing masks is over-rated because you don’t know anyone who has had it, now you do. I am a real person, with a real family. You can email me and I will email you back. I will tell you that you do not want this virus, even a mild case of it, and you do not want to be responsible for giving it to the people you love and know. You do not want the panic, terror and unknown that comes along with it.
Sadly, COVID-19 is here to stay in the US. Our leadership (or lack thereof) will not protect you, so it is up to you to protect yourself, your family, your friends and your communities. PLEASE take this seriously. STAY HOME WHEN YOU CAN and if not, WEAR A MASK.
It is up to you.
And if you choose to keep living life as if nothing is happening around you, at least you know the panic that awaits you when you get sick too.
Kendra Fitzgerald is the Co-Founder of Devoted Mamas, a virtual prenatal and postpartum training company, and the Founder of Barefoot Tiger an in-home personal training, yoga, and pilates company in New York and New Jersey. She is a Prenatal & Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist, Personal Trainer, Yoga Teacher and Mama to two sweet boys.