Mystery Virus Illness Two-Thousand…Twenty

I have been ill for seven solid weeks now. By “ill” I mean I have been actively running a fever – in addition to other symptoms- for fifty-two days. I’m just going to lay it all out in a timeline, for my sake as much as anyone reading this. I’ll intersperse it with pretty flower pictures from the yard because lord knows we all need a little more cherry beauty right now. So here goes:

March 1-14 ish: (note, this is two weeks before the seven weeks I’m officially counting). I am unnaturally tired. We’re talking “feel like I could fall asleep standing up in the middle of the kitchen” tired. Triple my daily caffeine intake just to make it through and take naps every chance I can get, tired. Also lots of diarrhea (TMI, sorry) and certain things taste and smell different to me. I joked with Zach on more than one occasion during these two weeks that it felt like I was pregnant. I kept saying I felt like I was coming down with something, but no symptoms were showing up other than the GI ones. Alden also had GI symptoms at this point so I assumed I had caught some minor stomach bug from him.

March 13: Friday the 13th. Idaho has it’s first confirmed coronavirus case. We know it was here before that, but it couldn’t have been very widespread because there weren’t the critically ill patients and deaths you would expect if it had been. So my chances of having been exposed at this point are really quite low.

March 14-15: I feel a bit better, energy is low-normal, no other symptoms besides taste changes.

March 16: It occurs to me for the first time to take my temperature, as I feel really cold and can’t get warm. I have a low grade fever. My baseline normal temperature is 97.1 F, which means that I feel it when I hit 99, the way people who run at 98.6 feel when they hit 100. I want to note here that I almost never get fevers. In fact, through more than a decade of chronic sinus infections with antibiotics every three months, chronic UTIs, and a million colds and stomach bugs from my kids, I can think of four times in the past 25 years that I’ve actually had a temperature over 99: twice with influenza, twice with norovirus. All of them, my fever was gone in 12-72 hours. I didn’t even get a fever when Zach gave me mono in college!

March 17: The dry cough starts in the evening, by the next day it’s constant.

March 19: I start getting shortness of breath. I can’t walk across our (not super large) kitchen without having to sit down and catch my breath. Still coughing a lot and very tired. Still running a low grade fever.

March 20: Alden and I both got swabbed at a drive-thru coronavirus testing spot. It was an oral swab, and really more of a “poke” because my gag reflex is so bad after four pregnancies with hyperemesis.

Pretty flowers my parents sent

March 21-30: I continue to run a fever every day. Occasionally, I wake up fever free, but by lunchtime it’s always back. I can feel it hit, as it immediately saps all my energy and I feel really cold. The fevers range from 99-99.7 F. I frequently wake up, spend about two hours doing nothing but sitting around and then have to go back to bed for a 2-3 hour nap. The coughing and shortness of breath wax and wane; some days I think I’m improving but then I’ll suddenly feel awful again. On the evening of the 30th, I get my swab test results: negative.

March 31: First thing in the morning, I go to see a doctor. I can’t see my doctor because they’re sending anyone with COVID symptoms to a specific clinic to limit spread of the virus. The doctor I see seems very competent, does a very thorough exam. She says my lungs sound great, O2 sats are 98%. Of course, it’s a morning I woke up without a fever. She does a rapid flu test: negative. She then allows me to swab myself, nasally, for a repeat coronavirus test, since she agrees it sounds like the first one was a really poor sample. Tells me to come back in a week if I’m still sick or getting worse.

Waiting at the COVID clinic

April 6: It’s been a week, I’m still sick, coughing a lot although the shortness of breath has improved. I still don’t have my swab results. They make me go to the COVID clinic again, where I’m seem by an older man who does a very cursory exam, dismisses most of what I say, doesn’t really ever answer my questions and directly contradicts himself with every other sentence. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t know why I’m sick, doesn’t want to admit he doesn’t know, but isn’t really interested in doing much about it either. Since it’s been four weeks, he agrees I should try a course of antibiotics – just in case it’s atypical pneumonia, while simultaneously telling me that I definitely do not have pneumonia. He gives me a diagnosis of bronchitis.

April 9: I finally get my antibiotics. It took three days of me repeatedly calling the clinic, the pharmacy, and even the after-hours on-call doctor to finally get them ordered correctly and sent to the correct pharmacy. I complete the five day Z-pack course and don’t feel even a tiny bit better.

Zoey spotted a really cool chimera tulip growing in our yard

April 15: I finally get my results from the second swab test: negative. It took 15 days and me calling the clinic and asking them to call the lab to find out what happened with my test before I finally got results. It’s now been a full month that I have been ill. Cough has lessened but not disappeared. Still getting fevers in the 99-99.7 range every single day. I get a tele-health appointment that afternoon with the first doctor I saw at the COVID clinic. She tells me that based on the two negative tests (plus Alden’s negative test) they are confident it is not coronavirus and is just some other “rhino-enterovirus” that’s going around. I repeatedly point out that I have never had or heard of a virus like that which does not cause any congestion, especially with my sinus history. She sticks to her (lack of) diagnosis. Says she would clear me to go work as a nurse, she is that confident it’s not COVID. At this point I’m 4.5 weeks in. She tells me if I’m still sick at eight weeks they will consider whether to do a chest x-ray. She even insisted that, despite my continuing fever, I’m no longer contagious because it has been so long. I have to say, that defies everything I was ever taught about contagious illnesses.

April 16-May 1: I continue to run a fever every day, usually 99-99.3 F. By my fifth week of illness, the shortness of breath is completely gone and the cough mostly only shows up at night when I lie down. By the the sixth week, the cough is almost completely gone. I begin to hope each day might be my first day without a fever, but am always disappointed by late afternoon. I feel a little bit of my energy and stamina coming back, although I’m nowhere near normal levels.

May 2: I feel very tired, I’m starting to cough again. By lunchtime, my fever is 99.5. By dinnertime, I have to go lie down and rest. By the time Zach is putting the kids to bed, my fever has reached 100 (the highest it has yet been) and I feel awful.

May 3: I’m back to being awake for only two hours before needing an almost three hour nap (after sleeping in until 10am). My fever is 99.5 when I check it in the morning, and at times feels higher. I’m coughing again, the dry, bronchial cough. Mild dizziness at times. I do nothing but eat, sleep, and cuddle the kids on the couch the whole time.

I planted ferns! This is a maidenhair fern, the other I planted is a sword fern. Perfect for the shady corners of the yard.

I want to add in here that, during this whole time I have been sick, Alden has also not been well. He started the GI symptoms the same time I did, and has intermittently had a 99-100 fever for the past seven weeks as well. He has also been very low-energy, low-stamina the vast majority of days. Zoey briefly had a few days of a temp around 99. Dinah, for the past four weeks or so, has also been fussy, had GI symptoms, and a temp around 99. However, she is also actively getting molars which could cause all her symptoms. Even Eleanor, about three weeks ago, succumbed to a fever of around 99. Zach is the only person in the household who has remained completely symptom-free. We have all been at home in quarantine and, until April 15 when the doctor insisted it was not COVID, even had other people going grocery shopping for us. No chance for the kids to be exposed to anything else. This strongly suggests to me that whatever I have is viral and contagious, not some weird autoimmune condition.

Doves have made a nest in the tree right outside our kitchen window. Eleanor was the first to spot it and tell us.

May 5: Dinah had her well-child check with our family doctor, and I used the opportunity to ask her about my prolonged illness. Let me just say right now how much I love this doctor. Her practice isn’t even in our town, but I’m willing to make the drive because she’s just that wonderful. She immediately gave my concerns her full attention, did an exam (even though I wasn’t even on the schedule for an appointment with her), and agreed right away that we should do some bloodwork and get a chest x-ray. I was able to do both the same day. She also scheduled me for a follow-up telehealth appointment with her next week to discuss the results of the tests. Finally, she recommended that I get the antibody test done. Crush the Curve Idaho is offering the blood test for antibodies, that they send to the University of Washington, to anyone who wants it. Supposedly, it’s highly accurate (unlike the coronavirus swabs). My doctor feel that, more than likely, I have COVID, despite the two negative tests (as she pointed out, they are notoriously inaccurate). So now I’m waiting again, but at least feel like someone is taking me seriously, treating me with proper concern, and actually cares that I have been sick for nearly two full months.

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