“We don’t know.”
That’s the condensed version of what the doctors said to me as they double-blinked over my chart with confusion.
I was in the hospital for seven days following my bout with COVID-19, and not a lot of what I went through made much sense. And, if we’re being completely honest, it still doesn’t make much sense.
Ahh yes, the COVID story everyone wants to hear: Nothing makes sense. So comforting, right? Trust me when I say I’m the last person who wants to deliver any kind of fearmongering story, but as a healthy 35-year-old mother, I’m here to say the COVID mystery that has literally plagued our world is still somewhat ongoing.
I first got COVID-19 in January when the omicron variant was spreading like a bad rumor in a high school locker room. It was seemingly everywhere and couldn’t be contained.
I’m sure you remember when everyone who didn’t get COVID-19 was suddenly under the weather with its “less severe” evil cousin twice-removed, omicron.
When omicron sneaked into our house, it wasn’t because I gallivanted in large crowds without a mask or licked door handles at my local Walmart. I’ve been pretty careful with COVID-19, consistently walking the shaky tightrope between being cautious while also trying to carry on a normal life without fear. But unfortunately, so I learned, omicron didn’t care about your cloth mask, your hand-washing, or in this case, my vaccine. It was going to pummel through that front door unannounced like Kramer in a “Seinfeld” episode.
Both my girls, ages 7 and 5, tested positive with me. My husband, who had COVID in 2020, managed to dodge this one. My kids did great, with little to no symptoms, and I developed a pretty terrible cough. My doctor immediately got me the monoclonal antibody treatment and the Merck therapeutic. I battled what felt like a really bad case of bronchitis for two weeks before finally testing negative.
But just three days after what I thought was the end of this sneaky bug, I found myself bedridden, shaking all over with chills and fevers that simply couldn’t be tamed. This went on for 10 days before I broke down and went to the hospital.
And that’s when I learned the most interesting thing so far with COVID: We know so much, but also nothing at all. COVID remains a mystery for some of us, and the mission to understand it is still very much underway.
When I was hospitalized, I was technically negative for COVID-19, but had unknowingly developed COVID pneumonia before my admittance. In full disclosure, I do have an underlying condition. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2019, and I’m on a disease-modifying treatment that depletes my B-cells. Basically, what that means is I have a compromised immune system because I lack those special white blood cells that produce antibodies. However, I do have all my T-cells, the little warriors in your immune system that fight infection.
I’m not completely disarmed, but my immune system is weakened to a degree. That being said, I’m otherwise a very healthy, active 35-year-old mom. I don’t have any of the comorbidities you see plastered across CDC warnings, and I was fully vaccinated.
Yet, here I was in the hospital with mystery fevers. Was it the aftershock of COVID-19? Was it an immune reaction? Was it something else? Am I an alien??
Doctors tested me for everything under the sun. My entire body was scanned in some capacity. I can’t even remember how many vials of blood were tested, how many cultures were taken and how many heads were scratched trying to figure me out. I had pneumonia, but my oxygen was good. I had fevers, but no other indication of an active COVID infection.
First, the diagnosis was long COVID. Then it wasn’t. Then it was. Then it wasn’t again. I’m pretty sure we settled on long COVID in the end, but nobody really knew. COVID is so unpredictable and wide-ranging that it just gets lumped in a pile if it doesn’t amount to anything else concrete.
Finally, I was able to go home and finish my recovery from the comfort of my own couch. I lost about three-quarters of my lung capacity from pneumonia, and the fevers were still periodically occurring. However, breathing in the sweet, sweet fresh air and being at home with my children was healing.
What many don’t realize is, when you are admitted to the hospital, particularly with anything COVID-related, you are very much isolated. For the first part of my stay, I was in lockdown because I was assumed to have COVID. Once that was lifted, I could only have one visitor at a time, which is better than what many experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. My children were not permitted to visit due to their ages. I’m not sure ripping a mother away from her young children is helpful in any capacity — and they were definitely scarred from this — but it’s the rule, and rules are rules.
After three weeks post-COVID fighting off chills and high temperatures, the fevers finally stopped. Why? I don’t know. Was it the 14 pounds of strawberries I ate when I came home because that’s all I craved? Was it the sunshine? Was it the relief from stress? Was it the steroids or Levaquin they gave me? Did it just finally run its course? Nobody knows.
What I do know, however, is that even though the country is somewhat returning to normal, medical researchers still have much to study. By the end of my hospital stay, another woman was admitted on my floor with the same symptoms. Maybe she was an alien, too, but something tells me we just had an aftereffect of COVID not fully understood or documented yet. I’m all for normalcy. We need it. Our kids desperately need it. But we also need to support those who are still trying to understand, treat and prevent the COVID monster.
I’m not the only mystery out there.