By Mylika Scatliffe
Special to the AFRO
I went to urgent care, Sept. 4, with a persistent cough and tight chest I’d had for a few days and just chalked up to bronchitis. It was a holiday weekend after all, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get an appointment with my primary care physician. I figured they’d examine me, tell me what I thought I already knew, give me a prescription and send me on my way. In fact, they sent me home with an inhaler, a steroid pack and a casual suggestion to get a COVID test “just to be safe.”
I thought, “COVID?! But I’m careful! I hardly go anywhere! I don’t clear the front porch without a mask and I don’t even have a fever! I can still smell and taste! This can’t be COVID!” Nevertheless I went home and scheduled the earliest test I could get for the following day. I was increasingly nervous. but trying to convince myself it was just a precautionary measure.
I spent the rest of the day trying to ignore my worsening exhaustion, the difficulty I encountered climbing up and down the stairs in my small row house; and preparing for virtual school that was starting in just a couple of days for my second grader. I tried to ignore how bad my chest was starting to feel, and how much it hurt to cough and that I couldn’t stop coughing. I just kept using the inhaler, sucking cough drops, taking OTC cold meds, checking my temperature every so often, telling my little one to stay away from me and praying.
On Saturday, I went for my self-administered COVID test in the drive thru of Rite Aid, with the pharmacy tech giving me instructions on how to swab my own nasal passages.
The next day, the day before Labor Day, while in quiet denial, I started to vaguely feel as if I was drowning. I checked my temperature to discover a fever of 101 degrees. Denial turned to reality. I called my sister-in-law with a shaky voice, explained I was starting to have breathing difficulty and asked permission to drop off my 7-year-old because I knew he wouldn’t be allowed in the ER.
Eight hours, 1 CT scan, and 1 positive result later; I was home in my bedroom, not to leave for the next 18 days.
Eighteen days of not being able to speak a simple sentence without having horrendous, retching. coughing fits that left me breathless. Eighteen days of near constant shortness of breath, so much so that a simple walk from the bedroom to the bathroom and back (36 steps, I counted), left me huffing and puffing as if I was in Zumba class; but without the endorphins and exhilaration. Eighteen days of showering every other day to lessen exposure for my husband and son because we only have one full bathroom. A simple shower left me exhausted, needing a two hour nap to recover. Eighteen days of chills, body aches, and nausea that rivaled that of my first trimester of pregnancy. Constant checking of my oxygen saturation, being discouraged by what I saw on the pulse ox screen and sky high heart rate; and being told later by a doctor friend that he was about to order my husband to get me back to the hospital, because I looked and sounded so bad.
Not to mention how petrified I was that I’d infected my husband, son and mother with whom I’d had a socially distant visit on her front porch to wish her “Happy Birthday” a few days earlier (they all tested negative). How I missed the first month of virtual second grade, couldn’t touch or cuddle my husband or son, couldn’t sleep on my back; couldn’t stand the smell of the meals my husband was leaving me on a tray or the bleach and disinfectant he had to use in the bathroom every time I used it.
To this day, I don’t know how I was infected; I didn’t and still don’t go out much, have visitors or go anywhere without a mask.
Eventually, my symptoms and appetite improved. I was allowed out of my bedroom and onto the main level of the house. I could troubleshoot technical issues with my son’s Chrome book and virtual class without fear of infecting him. After three weeks, my husband ran out of leave and had to go back to work. After about five weeks, I decided to cook dinner one night, and had to stop halfway through that simple task to sit down and literally catch my breath. After six weeks, I was finally cleared to start working again in my home office. Even then, I had to take a break every hour or so because my work involves talking on the phone all day, and a simple client phone call was exhausting.
It all boils down to this; I didn’t have to get COVID to understand its severity. Hundreds and thousands of people were, and still are, dying from this virus. However, having survived and being aware of the steadily increasing death toll from this wicked virus, it’s frankly infuriating to hear anyone compare COVID to the flu, or call it a hoax or media conspiracy. I’m only just now, four months later, starting to feel almost back to normal. Trust and believe me, it is nothing like the flu.