It is not my intention to blog much about medical problems. When you’re well into your 70s, as we are, various things will go wrong and most people won’t want to hear about them.
But I decided to make an exception and write about our experience with Covid-19. Friends and neighbors have expressed interest and, although you can find plenty of accounts in the news, most of them lack much personal detail. Our two cases have not been life-threatening, and they are classified as “mild” because they don’t involve the lungs. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. And after almost three weeks, we still don’t have sense of when/if we will recover fully.
Initial phase. I came down with symptoms first, on January 1. I felt tired and sensed a cold coming on. The next day (Jan 2) I felt worse and started running a fever. I’m a “low-normal” person—my normal is right around 97, but it hit 99 that day. I lost my appetite. I was experiencing intense muscle aches in my back and legs. (They went away in a couple of days and didn’t return.)
We were pretty sure it couldn’t be Covid-19, because we’d been really careful, and I had not even been off campus since December 18. And I felt a little better on the 3rd. But when I still had a fever on Monday morning (January 4) we called Resident Care. The nurse came and swabbed our noses to test for Covid-19.
She also left a finger-tip oxygen monitor with us and instructed us to use it several times a day. We were to notify the health center immediately if the reading, called SPO2, ever dropped below 90. It never dropped that low: it has remained in the mid-90s for both of us throughout the disease. We were also told to monitor our temperatures twice a day.
Two days later (January 6), we got our test results. Mine was positive, Jan’s negative. Jan was told she’d be retested in about 5 days, but to call immediately if she got any symptoms.
The night of the 6th, I got severe chills with uncontrollable shivering and fever. Piles of blankets didn’t help. After a time, that subsided and I got to sleep. That same evening, Jan experienced a severe headache and low fever. In the morning, she called Resident Care, and they came by and swabbed her again. Two days later the results came back: positive for Covid-19.
Since then, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Jan has been suffering many of the same symptoms as I have, sometimes milder and sometimes worse, usually 4 or 5 days after I get them. We think we’re over a symptom, only to have it crop up again the next day. But we finally seem to be on the road to recovery now.
Neither of us has been on any Covid-19-specfic treatments. I take Nyquil at bedtime to prevent coughing. Jan has been taking over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants.
Let me emphasize that throughout this disease, Resident Care has been great. We have gotten a call from them almost every day. They ask about any changes in symptoms and remind us to call them if we see signs of a problem. This is an example of why we’re at Kendal. We have someone we can call 24 hours a day who can help make sense of our symptoms–someone who will willingly make house calls. We’re grateful not to have to deal with this on our own.
Here is a summary of the symptoms we’ve had.
Fatigue. The predominant symptom has been severe fatigue. I’m a person who rarely needs more than 7 hours of sleep, and I sometimes go through periods of getting 6 hours or less. But during this Covid episode, I have slept 10 hours some nights, and then napped in the afternoon. Jan, too, has had overwhelming amounts of fatigue, often spending most of the day in bed—quite uncharacteristic for her. I have at least been able to spend multiple hours each day sitting up at the computer and participating in Zoom calls. On many days, Jan has lacked even the energy needed for sitting up.
Fever/heart rate. I ran a constant fever, generally low, from January 7 through 11. It was typically 98 or 99, one or two degrees above my normal. It returned to the upper 96s and lower 97s (my normal range) on the 12th and has remained normal since. Jan ran a low fever for three days, but it has since disappeared. Jan also noticed that her heart rate, as recorded by her Fitbit, was abnormally high during the time she had the fever. Her resting rate is around 70, but it was 76 during that period. Her high heart rate may have contributed to the difficultly she often had in sleeping, in spite of her fatigue.
Chills/blue hands. I only had one episode of severe chills, on January 6, but for a week after that I was cold every afternoon and evening, regardless of the room temperature. I would put on my winter coat around 2PM and wear it until bedtime. Jan hasn’t had chills, but she has had sudden, unexplained episodes of cold feet. And one day, her hands turned oddly blue, especially the veins and the areas surrounding the fingernails. She found that holding them under warm water was enough to restore their normal color.
Cough. Jan has had significant bouts of coughing and continues to cough now and then. I have had occasional coughing, but nothing like Jan.
Dry mouth. Both Jan and I went through periods of a couple of days of intensely dry mouths. Drinking lots of water did not help, but the dryness gradually went away.
Taste/smell/appetite. For me, the most jarring symptom has been the loss of taste and smell. I say “jarring” because it was so sudden and absolute—unlike anything I have experienced in any previous illness. On the morning of January 10, I cut an orange in half and squeezed out the juice. That would normally involve a pungent orange smell. But I smelled nothing. Even when I covered my nose with the squeezed-out orange rind—nothing. When I drank the juice, I couldn’t taste it. I had already lost my appetite some days earlier.
My taste and smell are recovering (starting around January 12), but the process is strange. I’m a coffee drinker. I drink it black, and I grind my favorite dark-roast beans before making each cup. I continued to drink a limited amount of coffee after losing my sense of taste—and it could not be differentiated from hot water. Then, I started to get some taste back and my coffee tasted terrible. It reminded me of the coffee you sometimes get in diners that has been sitting far too long on a hot burner. Similarly, I tried tasting a sip of sherry, and it tasted medicinal—nothing like sherry. Other foods tasted OK, however. The taste of both coffee and sherry seems to be gradually returning, but I can tell it will take a while.
Jan lost her sense of taste several days after I did, and it is only just beginning to recover. She still has no sense of smell.
Appetite/weight/nausea. I lost my appetite at the beginning of the sickness, and it has recovered somewhat. My weight, which was around 192 at the beginning of this, dropped to 185 and now seems to have stabilized around 187. Jan lost her appetite as well, and it is just beginning to recover. She has also experienced bouts of nausea (which, thankfully, I have not).
Voice quality. On January 7 (the day my sense of smell vanished) I noticed a change in the quality of my voice. It had taken on a slightly fuzzy or raspy quality and was a little higher in pitch than usual. My throat was not sore, and I had no difficulty speaking, but I could hear that my voice had changed. Subsequently, Jan volunteered that she had noticed a change in my voice. It has recently started to recover its normal quality.
I’m a singer, so I probably notice this change more than most people would. On January 16, I decided to see if my vocal range had changed. I tried singing scales. I found I had lost a lot of volume at the low end of my range, and had probably lost a note or two completely. At the top end, I found my voice switching from “chest voice” to “falsetto” several notes lower than usual. It remains to be seen whether these changes are permanent. And they could in part be due to lack of practice—I haven’t sung much for months.
I haven’t noticed any change in Jan’s voice. Nor has she.
So where did we get it? The short answer is, we don’t know. We’ve been careful. We’ve rarely left campus since the beginning of December. Our meals and groceries are delivered to our door. We have worn masks whenever we’re outside, which has not been often.
Since I came down with Covid first, I assume I was the one to introduce it to our household. The last time I left campus prior to getting the initial symptoms was December 18, when I drove Jan in to an appointment at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. While waiting to take her home, I sat in a large atrium space with three other people, all of us in masks, and all of us 10-15 feet apart. Perhaps I got it there. I also stopped in briefly at a coffee shop across the street to get a cappuccino. When I arrived, I was the only patron. There were two workers behind a glass partition, masked. By the time I left, there were two more patrons, all of us masked and distanced. Perhaps I got it there. We’ll never know.
Our current period of quarantine will be over January 24, and by then we hope to have enough energy to go for walks.