From the Marathon to the Emergency Room: A Covid-19 Survivor Speaks
A reader shares her harrowing experience fighting the disease.
Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared as a post on a Mar Vista, CA Nextdoor page. We’ve edited it lightly for clarity and reprinted it here in the hope that it will serve as a reminder to all of us of the importance of following social distancing guidelines.
The primary purpose of this post is to inform and to help my neighbors understand that they may need to rethink this virus and to take all precautions seriously (I believe most have come around and are doing their best—thank you).
On Monday, March 23, I ran my regular 5:30 am run with a couple of neighbors, maintaining our social distancing. Later that day I became fatigued and had a headache, laid low with chills. On Tuesday, my running partner, wanting to rehab an injury, canceled our 5:30 am 8-mi run and I was so relieved. I pride myself in never canceling or no-showing. I knew I shouldn’t go but might’ve, sick and all. It never crossed my mind I was contracting “it.” I had a Wednesday run scheduled and coincidentally that partner also canceled. Truthfully, I could not have run that Wednesday and I would’ve canceled as I was coughing, febrile, and fatigued.
I had a video appointment that Wednesday the 25th of March with my PCP from UCLA and she ordered testing, but we discussed the shortage and considering I am a registered nurse we agreed I would isolate, treat as though I was positive for coronavirus, and seek treatment only if I got short of breath. I was prescribed an inhaler, albuterol with spacer, and Tylenol for fever. I was febrile 24/7, hitting 101.4. I showed no signs of improvement and I grew concerned that we were missing a bacterial infection and I was missing the opportunity to go on antibiotics. This is a long time to be with a fever. My doc pretty much knew it was Covid-19 after I had a couple more video appointments. We agreed I would get tested and another inhaler was ordered.
My breathing became shallow and short but I knew how to pursed-lip breathe as I had helped my patients do in CCU. I was in complete control though I felt like an old emphysema patient and yet I’d never smoked. I stayed in our guest room for 8 days, febrile the entire time, sleeping, coughing that dry cough, and suffering from a headache and chills. I never left the room. I held the walls to go to the en-suite bathroom then back to bed. That’s it. Did I mention I had run the L.A. Marathon two weeks prior? 26.2 miles? Did I mention I had run nearly 50 miles in the two weeks after that marathon? Maybe that wasn’t smart; I needed to rest and recover after the marathon but runners just don’t stop. Did I mention I am on no meds, have no underlying health history, and am not immune-suppressed? Nada.
The following Monday after being quarantined for 8 days, my oxygen levels dropped. I struggled and knew it was time. We made a run for it to UCLA SaMo ER. I left my son who had been sent home from college at Cal on our porch—both of us crying. My husband left me at the driveway of the UCLA ER and we said good-bye. I mean it was good-bye. Dramatic, I know, but that happened. For me to assess my life and only be sad for the loved ones I was about to leave was surreal. While en route to UCLA I was on calls with my three daughters—they were so, so strong and selfless. They encouraged me and gave demands to fight and assurance all would be okay. They told me they’d wait to see me on the other side soon. Later, I learned they called each other incessantly and couldn’t stop sobbing. Dramatic, I know but that happened, too. It was terribly heartbreaking. But listen, I was too sick to feel the heartbreak. So, selfishly, that was good.
My hospitalization is a blur. Coronavirus invaded my lungs, causing bilateral pneumonia and necessitating treatment for pulmonary embolism. My main goal was to avoid the ventilator. How does one do that? I was in a hospital room with the door shut for ten days. Never lonely, never bored, never wanting visitors. The thing I remember was docs saying they were sorry there’s no cure and they could only provide supportive measures and “compassionate” medication. Wow. Okay, let’s do this. I did receive every trial drug—every drug that was a “maybe.” I was blessed. I was privileged. Randomly I recall trying to normalize the situation. I tried my best to accommodate those concerned and answered a few text messages, I took a couple calls—I believe in my delirium I even made one. Not really smart but I was trying to normalize. This grew very exhausting. I just couldn’t. I was busy resting, fighting. Resting, fighting. Resting, fighting. Fighting. Fighting.
My temperature soared to 103.6 at one point. It finally broke after more than two weeks straight with fever. (I hadn’t had a fever in 20 years and that was from a breast infection as I nursed my now 20-year-old son!) I began to wean off oxygen and I was discharged to continue recovering from home April 16.
Did I mention the purpose of this post? IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. It is about nudging that one strong, healthy person who believes they’re invincible. I thought I was but I still played it safe and I wound up in the hospital for 10 days on the edge. Most of our community is doing an amazing job of staying safer at home, washing hands and following guidelines.
BUT if you think you can bend the rules, even once, you could be on the verge of making the biggest mistake of your life. You are not guaranteed that you’ll heal. Most do recover. I’m not trying to frighten you or be over-dramatic. But to think you may become a random statistic is horrifying. I stayed safer at home. I went to the store twice. I followed the rules. I have no clue how I got it…shopping cart? Air droplets? The L.A. Marathon? I don’t know. I did go to Palisades Park the Sunday before I became symptomatic—I was 100 feet away from the closest person and got rained out. I was out there not much more than 30 minutes—an hour at the most. (At that time the guidelines permitted that kind of excursion.)
I’ve overshared. I’ve gone into detail. I may regret this. But please know, my purpose is to help my neighbors. If one of you learns from this, good. You are worth it. Be safe. Stay strong. We will come out stronger.
I’m exhausted. I may delete this. Maybe it was therapeutic. It certainly was draining and I’m fatigued partly because that virus still has a small hold on me. I retested this afternoon. One thing I know today, the virus is not consuming me as it just was. Not today, Covid 19, not today. I pray I continue to recover. I pray you all dodge this beast. Good night.