I consider myself lucky to have not contracted COVID-19 and have wondered many times what it really feels like to have the virus. Although the experience seems to vary greatly from patient to patient, it is interesting to hear first-hand stories. A long-time massage client did test positive for the virus recently and her story is below. She happens to be a pre-med student and did some research to answer some of her own questions about the virus and her symptoms.
Here is her story …
I live with five girls in a small apartment, so nobody was happy when I had to get tested for COVID-19, myself included. All of us have jobs that put us in direct contact with vulnerable populations, whether coworkers or healthcare patients. None of us could risk getting anyone sick. So, even though my symptoms of the virus were very mild, I decided to get tested.
I did everything right before I got COVID-19. I wore a mask, social distanced, and only went out to go to work or to get food when necessary. I work at a hospital, and most of my patients are vulnerable to the virus, so I was checked for a fever and asked who I had been in contact with every day that I went to work. I made it through our coronavirus checkpoint every time, until I decided to get tested. I didn’t know that one of my co-workers had been an asymptomatic carrier, and neither did she, until the day before I got tested myself.
One morning, I arrived to work as usual, and when I started eating breakfast, I realized I couldn’t taste or smell anything. It was a very odd sensation, nothing like having a cold. My sense of smell was not inhibited; it was completely nonexistent. I was surprised, but not alarmed. I didn’t have a fever or any other symptoms of the virus, and took it to mean that I was coming down with a cold. When it didn’t go away after a couple of days, I consulted the RN on duty during my shift at the hospital, and he told me to get tested, just to be safe, because loss of smell is a common symptom of coronavirus. The next day I scheduled my appointment.
Getting tested for coronavirus includes having a cotton swab stuck up your nose into your throat, in an area called the “nasopharyngeal region”. It’s the place where your nasal passage meets your throat. Many people find it very uncomfortable, and others find it painful. Personally, I didn’t think it was too bad. Because my test went to the lab right before a big wave of COVID hit Utah (where I live), my results were quick to be processed, and came in that night. I wasn’t exited to open the email telling me what my gut already was – I was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus.
To put it mildly, all hell broke loose. My roommates were screaming, running outside, and freaking out every time I walked out of my bedroom to go to the bathroom or get some food. I didn’t feel physically sick, but I did feel incredibly alone – for those first couple of days, especially. It is completely understandable to distance yourself as far as possible from a carrier of something that could make you very sick, but it is important to consider their feelings, as well. I was less than excited to begin two weeks of quarantine, and the negative emotions coming my direction were not a help in the slightest.
For those of us that are likely to get mild cases of the virus, or to know someone who will, there is importance in caring for your mental health. It is contrary to human nature to isolate oneself for two weeks, and that deserves recognition. For two weeks, I was only in contact with other people for a maximum of an hour a day. I didn’t get closer than 10 feet from anyone. And subsequently, I didn’t have physical contact with another person a single time. If this is your situation, there is tremendous need for grace with yourself. Don’t be afraid to spend all day on Netflix, because there’s not always a good way to deal with something so unnatural. Just do what you can to get through it. And if you know someone who has the virus, call them often to see if they need anything. Likely, what they’ll need is just someone to talk to!
The Medical Side of Things
While I was in quarantine, I did my fair share of research on the virus. As a pre-med student, I was fascinated by the implications of the fact that I could not smell. It was as if my trigeminal and olfactory nerves had been shut off, and this is doctors’ best guess, as well. This is concerning because both of those nerves are in your brain, and viruses generally can’t spread to your brain. Either COVID is attacking via the neurons of the nervous system, or it is bypassing the blood-brain barrier, which generally protects the brain’s blood supply from any intruders that could cause damage. If it can do that in upwards of 80% of cases, including the mild ones, what more is it capable of?
The truth is, very little is known about COVID-19. We initially thought it was a respiratory disease; now it seems to be affecting the cardiovascular system and nervous system perhaps even more than the lungs. We say it only affects the old and sick, but healthy and young people have died, too. It’s like Russian roulette – should you go out and risk your chances of contracting it, not knowing how it could affect you?
Unfortunately, research is far from being done, and the virus has been deemed by scientists as more complex than the likes of HIV and Ebola, which should speak for itself. In such a situation, there is no “good” answer, but there is wisdom to be had. In the end, there are risks to being isolated, just as there are risks to going out in public. The best guidelines to follow are to wear a mask, for your own safety and others’, and to social distance as much as possible without isolating yourself. Even as our conversations about COVID die down, a new normal remains. For our own sanity (and safety), let’s not ignore it or fight against it – let’s do the internal struggling we need to adequately cope with our feelings about the situation, and protect as many people as we can in the process.
I wanted to provide some supplementary materials about COVID-19 that I felt specifically relate to my client’s story above.