Living with Covid takes its toll
November 20, 2020
Covid-19 couldn't happen to us. We were careful. We wore masks. We avoided crowds. We washed our hands incessantly. We carried hand sanitizer everywhere we went. We are homebodies. We only visited with people who we knew are also very careful.
We were wrong. We got Covid. My wife Kim tested positive on Oct. 17. I tested positive four days later on Oct. 21. It's been an emotional and physical rollercoaster.
On Oct. 13, Kim started feeling sick after dinner. We just thought maybe she ate something that was not fresh. She was vomiting that night. The next morning she had diarrhea and called in sick at school, where she is a teacher. The so-called MEA weekend was approaching and she felt if she just had a couple of days to rest, she would be fine for school on Monday. The next few days were not good for her. She could barely get out of bed. Her muscles were weak and she had no energy.
We canceled a trip to see her two boys in Fargo.
Her condition continued to deteriorate. Could it be Covid? We always joked every time we sneezed or coughed or had a scratchy throat that we were getting the virus.
Getting the test
She made an appointment for a Covid test at MedExpress in Cloquet. I drove her to the appointment and sat in the car as the nurse gave her the signal to enter the building. I was not permitted to go in with her. The test results were available in 15 minutes.
She came back into the car, said she had Covid, and began crying. We were both shocked and scared.
This is a virus that has killed more than 240,000 Americans and there is no cure. We both have vulnerable health conditions and compromised immune systems. She is a Type 1 diabetic and I have heart and lung issues.
My mind was racing with negative thoughts. What if she has to be hospitalized? What if she dies? How am I going to take care of her and not get it? Do I already have it asymptomatically?
Why is it that our mind always seems to think of the worst possible scenarios at a time of crisis?
We drove back home with me consoling her that we would get through this like we have during other difficult times. The odd thing with this killer virus is that you are diagnosed and then just sent home. No medications, no remedies. Just ride it out and go to the hospital emergency room if you have trouble breathing.
That was our treatment plan. But we had been staying with her elderly mother for the past three days because her husband had to go into a rehabilitation facility in Duluth. He had been feeling weak and was short of breath. Looking back on it now, it was odd that no one in the facility gave him a Covid test upon arrival.
Kim and I had to stay with her mom as she was not able to care for herself.
Living with it
After we got to the house, Kim went to the couch and started texting family members and her employer. She began the long process of telling anyone that she was around in the past few days that they should go and have a test. No one wants to hear that news.
We all wore masks in the house and kept our distance from one another. I made an appointment for myself and Kim's mom to be tested the next morning.
When you are living with a loved one who has Covid, it consumes your thoughts. Days prior we were sharing the same bed, same bathroom, same towels and eating meals together. Do I have it also?
I was feeling pulled in two directions. My family members were telling me to leave and go back to our house. "Don't risk being exposed to the virus." But this was my wife and her fragile mother that both needed looking after. I couldn't leave them alone.
We made the decision that I would go back to our house at night and come over to help them during the day.
Morning came and I went to my appointment to have a nasal swab test. I was feeling good with no fever nor any other symptoms. The test was painless, just a swipe at the outer edges of the nostril.
Then you are alone with your thoughts for what seems like an eternity. It was 15 minutes. There were lots of prayers being said in that room. I was negative.
I was told the tests were 85-percent accurate. I thanked the Lord for answering my prayers and headed back to my mother-in-law's house to share the great news.
Kim's mom also had a negative test. We wondered aloud how Kim was the only family member to have it. It was assumed at the time that maybe she picked it up from someone at her school as the positive cases were starting to escalate there.
She was still very weak - to the point that she passed out and fell on the kitchen floor. Her only movements were traveling from the bed to the couch. She had body aches and headaches. Advil was her only relief. And now she had lost her sense of smell and taste.
On Oct. 20, after helping out at the inlaws' home, I went home and started feeling like I was getting the flu. Body aches, chills, weak and tired. I just figured I was getting worn down. The next morning it was worse. My legs didn't want to move and I had a hard time walking down the stairs. I didn't have an appetite and again thought I was getting the flu. I couldn't have Covid because I just tested negative for it. Right?
I talked to Kim and we decided that I needed to go to the hospital and be retested. I was too weak to drive so a friend picked me up and dropped me off at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's emergency room in Duluth. The test was much different as the swab goes a lot farther up in the nasal passage and it takes an hour to confirm the results.
I was positive. I, too, had Covid. As tears welled up in my eyes, Dr. Amanda Carlson put her hand on my shoulder and told me she was sorry. Healthcare providers know too well what a sad moment it is to tell someone that they have a deadly virus for which there is no cure. I will never forget her compassion.
I called for a neighbor to come pick me up and sat in the back seat as far away from him as possible. I felt like a leper.
What were we going to do next?
We soon found out that Kim's 78-year-old dad had just tested positive. Now he was isolated in his room. Was he the one that gave it to the two of us? The fear kept spreading.
Then we got the tragic news about Jeff Walther, pastor of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Esko. He had died after a month-long battle with Covid. He was Kim's pastor and she knew his kids when they were students in Esko. We watched the online funeral service. It was so emotional for us. I wept as I listened to his kids saying goodbye.
I am the same age as Pastor Jeff and I felt a connection as we both had Covid. Could this virus take me also? I pictured my daughter having to give my eulogy and how hard that would be for her.
Rest in peace, Pastor Jeff.
We both continued to be weak, tired and had a cough and runny nose. I also lost my sense of taste and smell, for about five days. How strange. One good thing that came out of all this that Kim and I could now live together. We didn't even have to wear masks while we were isolated at home. We didn't have to worry about infecting one another. We could actually kiss one another again, hug and hold hands. That was so comforting.
Covid makes you feel so alone and so dirty. No one wants to be around you as it is so contagious and potentially deadly.
We realize how important family and friends are in times of need. We had so many people bring us meals and calls to check up on us. Kim's son stayed with her mom until her husband was able to come home from the rehab facility. The bond with family and friends strengthened.
The next thing to happen is a call from the Minnesota Department of Health. The hospital has to report all positive test results to the state. I was interviewed for 45 minutes on my whereabouts for the past week. Did I travel? Did I visit any assisted living homes? Did I frequent any bars or restaurants? All of the contact tracing questions.
I learned that you can still test positive up to 30 days after your initial diagnosis but you are not contagious for that entire period. And then you are given a date when you are allowed out of isolation. It is 10 days after your first symptoms.
So my first day out of quarantine was Halloween. I was so happy to be able to pass out candy and feel like I was a part of society again.
On the mend
Now we are both feeling much better. My wife missed four weeks of teaching. I am just getting back to doing some of the things I used to do. We still haven't fully regained our strength. We still have endurance problems. We need to sit more and rest more. And I worry that we may get it again, especially with the cases on the increase.
The department of health interviewer said once a person has the virus, you may have three months of immunity before being able to be infected again. But no one knows for sure. Doesn't that seem to be the pattern of this virus?
No one knows for sure what is going to happen. We feel so fortunate to be here in the present and to be able to tell our tale of survival. I know we will be first in line when the vaccine is offered.
Please stay safe everyone. This virus is real.
Greg Oakes is a freelance writer for the Pine Knot News.