I am now a statistic. On Jan. 3, 2021 (just a few days after we officially closed the chapter on 2020), I became ill and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The new year was not going to be kind to me, I discovered. Instead, I was about to get a crash course in experiencing COVID-19. Here is what I learned after testing positive…
#1 — The symptoms hit FAST
I remember waking up in the morning feeling like I might be coming down with something, and within just a few hours, it was hitting me like a freight train. Suddenly I could not keep my eyes open, and a deep ache was settling into my body. I felt absolutely horrible.
I thought I might be coming down with the flu. But I had a sneaking suspicion it was COVID-19. The symptoms were the same, but they somehow felt very different. I took a test two days later, and my suspicion was confirmed — I was positive for COVID-19. My husband, who had been sick as well, also tested positive. He would ultimately recovery quickly. I would not.
#2 — I never knew a fever could last so long, and the headache… oh my gosh, the excruciating headache
I was pretty out of it for the first two weeks, so it is hard to recall exactly, but I believe by the time it was all said and done, the fever had taken hold of me for 11 or 12 days straight. The fever wasn’t extremely high, but I was drenched in sweat every time I woke up as if I had been sleeping inside a steam room. I took fever-reducing medicine throughout the first two weeks, which would abate the fever for a few hours at a time. But once the medication wore off, the fever always came back.
At the same time, I had extreme body aches and fatigue, plus the MOTHER of all headaches. For about a week, a headache resided just behind my right eye, throbbing incessantly and making it painful for me to move that eye in any direction. The next week, it moved to the back of my head, and instead of throbbing, I was treated to what felt like an ice pick being jammed into the back of my brain every 20 to 30 seconds. It was quite painful and utterly maddening.
#3 — There is no magic pill or treatment that will make it all better
About 2 1/2 weeks after I tested positive, my mother, who lives a state away, convinced me to go to the hospital. She called to check on me and told me she could hear over the phone how labored my breathing was.
By that point, I had become used to being breathless just walking from room to room. But I was afraid to go to the hospital to get checked out because I feared I would be admitted. I had read enough stories about patients dying in the hospital alone to freak me out sufficiently.
What scared me more, though, was that my breathing problem was pronounced enough that it was detectable over the phone. So I decided to listen to my mother.
Shortly after my call with her, I went to the emergency room and told the staff there about the difficulty I was having breathing. “Can you check my lungs?” My blood was drawn, my oxygen level and blood pressure were measured, and a technician rolled a mobile x-ray machine over to me for a chest x-ray. About two hours later, a doctor informed me I had COVID-19 pneumonia.
My heart sank because I was sure I would be admitted. But to my surprise, the doctor told me there was really nothing they could do for me. My instructions were to go home, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, and regularly check my oxygen levels. If my breathing got worse, I should come back to the emergency room right away.
#4 — COVID-19 pneumonia is different than regular pneumonia
Until that point, I had never heard the term ‘COVID-19 pneumonia’ and had no idea what that meant. My ER nurse told me it meant that COVID-19 had entered my lungs, and my ER doctor told me because COVID-19 pneumonia is viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics would not help. My best course of action was to recuperate at home.
When I went home, I did what any person would do after learning they have COVID-19 pneumonia — I went to Google and read every article I could find on the topic. That was a bad idea because it only scared me more. COVID-19 pneumonia lasts longer, causes more harm to your lungs, and spreads over time like a series of wildfires, I read online. Yikes. And I had it in both lungs.
#5 — A low oxygen level is a cause for alarm
Never in my life have I even thought about the blood oxygen level in my body, but I sure do now. I learned that a low blood oxygen level could indicate a serious problem, especially if you have COVID-19 pneumonia.
So far, my oxygen level (at least from the time I began measuring after I learned I had COVID-19 pneumonia) has only dropped to 93 (my doctor told me I needed to be concerned if it dropped below 90). I use the Samsung Health app to measure my levels at various times throughout the day. There are also pulse oximeter devices available for purchase for those who are interested.
#6 — My smell was altered… I experienced ‘phantosmia’
One of the most well-known symptoms of COVID-19 involves the loss of both taste and smell. But I ended up experiencing something quite different — ‘phantom’ smells, or phantosmia. Basically, it is your nose ‘hallucinating’ smells.
Sometimes it was a burning smell — so strong that I was almost convinced there was a fire in our apartment or somewhere in our building. Other times it was a ‘chemical’ type of smell, like burning plastic. And at other times, it was a foul trash smell, as if my entire apartment was filled from floor to ceiling with rotting garbage.
It only lasted for a few days, but it was very disconcerting.
#7 — Everyone’s COVID-19 experience is different
My husband tested positive the same time I did. He tells me he definitely felt sick and knew that he was experiencing COVID-19, but his symptoms flew by quickly, and in less than a week, he was mostly over them. The only sign that he ever had COVID-19 is a bit of a lingering cough. He has always rebounded from sickness quickly due to what he refers to as his ‘strong constitution,’ so it did not surprise me that his recovery was a quick one.
My experience with the illness, and the road to recovery, has been very different. It has been three weeks since I first fell ill, and I am still not completely well. However, I do feel a thousand percent better, even with the lingering symptoms. My breathing feels as if it has improved, and my energy is returning. I am still coughing throughout the day, but I am perfectly ok with it. I believe it is my body working hard to expel the crud from my lungs.
#8 —COVID-19 is still mystifying, and getting answers is tough
What has surprised me the most is that I thought after almost a year of dealing with COVID-19, there would be lots of good information that healthcare professionals could share with me. But the answers I received to some of my questions seemed vague. For example, when I asked how long I might expect the pneumonia to last (because at some point I need to go back to work), I was told anywhere from 10 days to six months to ‘you won’t be working for a while.’
Of course, I don’t blame our hard-working healthcare professionals — COVID-19 is a very tricky virus that impacts each person it touches very differently. It has made doctors' and nurses' jobs very difficult, and I know they are trying to learn as much as possible to help all of those who fall ill. And the more stories I read from COVID-19 sufferers, the more I see just how difficult it is to pin this one down. Everyone’s experience is so different.
#9 —Some symptoms may stick around
Have you heard the term ‘Long COVID?’ It refers to those who end up suffering from COVID-19 symptoms for a very long time. Some people are still experiencing symptoms months after testing positive. It’s like it never really went away.
Will I fall into this category? I don’t know, but I am currently heading into week four. I actually joined a COVID-19 support group on Facebook to see what others are experiencing, and many are reporting long-term health issues. I have to admit that it’s more than a little depressing to think I might be dealing with this for months on end.
#10 — I could end up being infected with COVID-19 again, especially since there are now variants
“It’s entirely possible that you could end up with a different type of COVID-19 and go through this all over again,” my doctor told me. “So don’t think you are in the clear just because you have had it now.”
My doctor told me to keep taking all of the precautions seriously — like wearing a mask in public, keeping a safe distance from others, and washing my hands regularly. In other words — don’t let your guard down. I don’t plan on it. This is one road I certainly don’t want to travel down again.
- Disclaimer: Please note that I am NOT a healthcare professional, and this article is NOT meant to give medical advice in any way. I am simply sharing my own personal experience with COVID-19 and encourage you to see your doctor if you have questions about COVID-19 and your own health.
Shannon Cheesman is a marketing specialist by day and freelances as a writer in her spare time. You’ll find her at Blue Blossom Writing.