I am not an alarmist. I tend to play down media hype and don’t get swept up in mass hysteria. Therefore, when my parents shared their concern regarding the early reporting of the novel coronavirus, I remained calm.
“I got the swine flu and I survived; this is just another bad flu the media is blowing out of proportion,” I responded. I even went ahead with a scheduled trip in mid-March to Milwaukee with my three daughters to visit family. The day we left Phoenix, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
While in Milwaukee, the world began to change. Flights were canceled and all international flights coming into the United States were stopped. Schools were closing and people in China and Italy were getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. It was then that I realized the severity of the situation.
Our trip home was vastly different from our trip to Milwaukee. There were people on the plane and in the airports wearing masks. We took disinfectant wipes with us to wipe down the seats, seat belts and tray tables. The pandemic was now front of mind.
We were advised to go into quarantine for two weeks upon our return to Phoenix. Upon landing, the only thing I did differently than my daughters was visit the bathroom. We then went home.
While in quarantine, I went to the supermarket two or three times and to the gas station once. We had three visitors all week who were healthy — to the best of our knowledge — and with whom we maintained social distancing.
Two weeks in, I began to feel my chest closing, and I started wheezing mildly. The following day, the wheezing was severe. The next morning, I had back pain and chest pressure, a low-grade temperature, no sense of taste or smell, a sore throat, a horrible dry cough, no appetite, extreme fatigue and severe wheezing.
The only testing center was an hour from my home. I had to promise to self-quarantine until I got my results — in three to seven days.
I was plagued by extreme fatigue as I drove home. I crawled into bed, and that is where I have stayed until today, a month later.
That evening, I started a daily account of my COVID-19 experience on Facebook. The response was overwhelming. Over 600 people reached out to me, either through comments, Messenger, text, calls, WhatsApp, etc.
People wanted and needed to know details — how I felt, what I thought, what treatments I was using and more. They were desperate to know what I was experiencing on a day-by-day basis.
The outpouring of support, prayers, caring and compassion was incredibly encouraging. I felt obligated to share what it was like to fight this invisible monster that was causing me to sleep 18 hours a day.
This virus is unique from anything I have experienced. Initially, my symptoms were intense. Each person experiences slightly different symptoms, and the intensity varies substantially from asymptomatic to those who end up on ventilators.
In addition to my low grade fever, chest pressure, back pain, wheezing, deep, dry cough, night sweats, body aches, burning sore throat, loss of smell and taste, loss of appetite, weakness and exhaustion I also experienced extreme brain fog — an inability to concentrate or focus on anything. After a week or two, I had some depression.
My symptoms were so intense during the first four days that I took myself to the ER.
After a week, I began to feel like my symptoms were improving. However, just as the fever would dissipate and I would begin to feel some relief, it would strike again.
Once more I spiked a fever, my chest closed and my breathing became more labored. Once more I experienced intense back pain, sore throat, night sweats, extreme fatigue and body aches. I was right back where I started.
These episodes would last a few days, and the cycle would begin again.
For me, each episode was slightly less intense than the last, which was encouraging — until week three.
Week three, day one, I began another episode; however, this one was much more intense. The symptoms were as bad as they were in the very beginning. In addition, my oxygen levels and pulse rate dropped significantly.
Until this point, I felt I was going to beat this invisible monster and I was going to survive. Now, for the first time during this illness, I was genuinely scared.
I did not want to jump to conclusions, but I felt awful. I made a telemedicine appointment with my PCP for the following morning.
He felt I had probably developed a secondary bacterial infection — bronchitis or more likely pneumonia. He prescribed a course of antibiotics and a steroid inhaler.
I started to feel the effects of this regimen about four days later, and then I began to improve substantially. By day 28, I was feeling so much better. My physical symptoms were easing, but for the first time in four weeks, my brain cleared, and I could think. I decided to stay in self-quarantine for a few more days just to be sure.
I am writing this article on day 29, and last night I had a bit of a setback. I think I was so excited to be feeling better, both physically and mentally, that I may have overdone it a bit. However, I am on the mend again, and I will hopefully be out of my bedroom in a few days.
There have been so many who have suffered, so many who have lost the battle against this beast and so many who are left mourning. To all those who are COVID-19 survivors — I understand and am proud to be among you who put up such a good fight. I hope to be able to join you as a survivor soon.
To those who have lost loved ones, I am so sorry, my heart aches for you, and I send love and prayers to all. I am extremely grateful to my family and friends for all their support, love and compassion.
Their prayers and good vibes kept me going through the darkest of moments, and I encourage anyone suffering with this to reach out to loved ones and those that care about you. Their love and support were invaluable, and their encouragement definitely made me fight harder.
This virus is not a hoax. This virus is brutal. This virus is an invisible monster that I assure you, you do not want to tackle. I am beyond relieved to have fought this battle, and I seem to be winning.
But it was extremely frightening at times. All I can do is share my story and hope that it provides insight and motivation for you to adhere to social distancing, to stay home, stay safe and stay healthy. JN
Jacqueline S. Fine-Breger lives in Scottsdale.