Dr. Mark Kortepeter has studied how to identify and contain infectious diseases for decades. Two and a half years into the pandemic, he experienced Covid-19 firsthand.
Early in 2020, I had a lengthy period of fatigue without a diagnosis that I attributed to having had Covid-19 after travel to New York and New Jersey. My tests were perpetually negative, but I assumed I had been infected and recovered prior to the arrival of better laboratory tests. Accordingly, when I managed to “dodge the bullet” of infection for the past two and a half years, I assumed it was because I had such superior immunity. That hubris and delusion was shattered in the past week. In retrospect, I had just been very good about following my own public health precautions and avoiding exposures.
Two of my sons had recently become ill with Covid – both had the two primary doses and a booster. As an adult over 50 years old, I was eligible to get a fourth dose, but hadn’t gotten it yet. The reason I hadn’t been a combination of simple inertia and the inappropriate assumption that as an active, healthy adult, I would probably do fine if I were infected. Each of my sons was ill for about 36 hours. I figured, if I did happen to get infected, perhaps I would have perhaps two days of illness. I was wrong – being nearly three times their age had much greater impact than I had imagined it would.
Around 5:00 pm last Friday, I felt the onset of muscle and joint aches different from the usual soreness after exercise. I also recalled that during the prior two days, I had noticed a very slight cough and nasal stuffiness that I attributed to seasonal allergies. Does this sound familiar? I wonder how many people with “allergies” are out there actually spreading Covid. I decided to take an at-home Covid test. I was shocked to see the rapidity and strength of the thin line under the “T” on the test kit. Covid got me.
There seems to be a prevailing belief that Covid now causes just a “bad cold.” That may be true for many people, but not me. At first, I didn’t feel too bad. I went out for an evening stroll around the neighborhood, keeping my distance from others. When I returned home, everyone in the household started wearing masks, and I moved into my son’s recently vacated bedroom. Everything went downhill from there. In another unforced error, I probably should have gone to see a doctor and possibly received Paxlovid, but I had read reports and talked with colleagues who suffered the same type of rebound, or recurrence of symptoms, that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently experienced. I didn’t want to risk that.
Night 1: Temperature 101.5° F
This was a night from hell. I ached all over. My sinuses were so stuffed I could hardly breathe, which triggered a migraine and nausea along with it. The worst thing, though, was when I did manage to drift off to sleep, my foot muscles would suddenly cramp along the arches without warning and awaken me.
My pulse ran over 100 all night (my normal pulse is in the 60s). I was so exhausted, I could barely move, and I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I began to fear that my kidneys would shut down due to lack of fluid intake. It still took me two hours to muster the energy to get out of bed, stumble down to the kitchen and pour a glass of water.
Night 2: Temperature 101.5° F
Things were a little better. I think the water helped to reduce the frequency of foot cramps, and despite the ongoing fever, my pulse came down to the low 90s. Nasal stuffiness improved. I gave in and took some acetaminophen so that I could get up long enough to pay some bills.
Night 3: Temperature 101.5° F
I thought by now my temperature would have come down, but it continued unrelenting for another night. My pulse came down to 86, but my heart pounded whenever I lied flat, which kept me awake. The nasal congestion seemed a little better, but tonight I developed a wicked sore throat. Every time I swallowed, it felt like someone was burning the back of my throat with a hot poker.
Night 4: Temperature 100.6° F
Finally, the temperature started on a decline. Despite the drop, my pulse stayed steady at 86. My sore throat was a little better, but the congestion continued. When will this end?
After the Fever
After four days and nights of nonstop fevers, my temperature finally came down to normal. I was able to emerge from my “cave,” but I was nowhere near done with this. I was left drained and exhausted, and my legs felt like rubber for another five days. I sweated during the slightest exertion. Even though I barely coughed during the acute phase of illness, now I developed a wracking cough that occurs without warning and felt like I was hacking up my lungs.
A common symptom you hear about is the loss of taste or smell, but I never noticed that. However, the smell of food cooking or coffee brewing brought on nausea. All I could stomach was the occasional piece of fruit, and I lost interest in my daily cup of coffee. You also read about people having “brain fog.” What I found was a total lack of energy or ability to motivate myself to do anything other than lie in bed. About an hour of time lapsed between whenever I thought about something I needed to do, such as go to the bathroom or drink a glass of water, and when I was ultimately able to get up and do it.
I lied in bed for four days straight thinking about all the things I needed to do, but just stared at the ceiling fan going around and around. I was reminded of Martin Sheen in the opening scene of the movie “Apocalypse Now!” when he emerges from a drunken stupor staring at the ceiling fan while hearing helicopter rotor blades beating in his head. For even the littlest things that I wanted to do, I couldn’t muster the energy:
– Read the newspaper? No thanks
– Watch the next episode of “Stranger Things?” Not tonight
– Write my next Forbes article? He will have to wait
– Wordle of the day? I can’t concentrate
Now, over a week out, I am still tired easily, I still sweat at the slightest activity, I am still congested, and still coughing. The sore throat is finally gone, but swollen lymph nodes in my neck persist.
The True Toll of Covid
We have had recent good news with Covid – that despite a rise and plateau in cases, we have not seen a subsequent rise in either hospitalizations or deaths. One thing that good news doesn’t really represent, though is the personal toll of Covid, in those who survive and beyond the focus on deaths and hospitalizations. Work absences, loss of productivity are perhaps less tangible or quantifiable. I basically lost a full five days of productivity, and I am still not done with this – hoping that I don’t end up among the growing numbers with long Covid. I am trying to take it slow.
In the end, this was not “just” a bad cold for me. With the unrelenting fever, and the elevated pulse, it is easy to see how someone with heart or lung disease could be pushed over the edge. I am in good physical shape and exercise regularly, but it still affected me significantly. I expect there are lots of others who find themselves in a similar middle ground – not a mild case, but also not hospitalized. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a fourth vaccine dose, as I was past the six-month mark since my third shot. I also wish I’d gone in to see someone – maybe they would have given me Paxlovid.
There was one silver lining – this turned out to be an unexpected weight loss program. In the space of four days, I managed to lose two and a half pounds! But I would caution you not to try this at home.
Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus
firstname.lastname@example.org. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.