Home Health and Health Care I didn’t take the coronavirus seriously… until I caught it.

I didn’t take the coronavirus seriously… until I caught it.

by Erika Nicole Kendall

…at least, I think I caught it.

Let me explain. I live an active lifestyle, with a healthy diet. I hit the gym six days a week, with no hesitation. I take my blood pressure regularly, and the results are always so low that the joke is people aren’t sure I’m even still alive.

I also don’t get sick. I get sick so rarely, that I remember the two times I was last sick—March of 2016, I came down with the flu and it was so bad, I couldn’t stand it, and September of 2013 with a weird cold.

I’m also a bit of a germaphobe. I’m no Adrian Monk or anything, but I’m sayin’. My gym offers antibacterial wipes and towels, and I use them …liberally. I don’t touch my face unless I’m applying skin care, I use a brush to wash my hands and nails—both the nail bed and under the nail—and I am weird and obsessive about keeping my reusable water bottle clean.

All that to say, this January, I came down with a cough so dry that I felt like my mouth was a desert. It was so intense that my abs hurt the next day, and every day thereafter. And, because I don’t get sick, I didn’t have any adult medication. I thought little of it, presuming that I’d simply overdone it at the gym and was dehydrated, so I drank in some extra water and took some children’s cough medication.

My nose started running randomly. I felt like someone was taking two thumbs and jamming them into my sinuses, much like what happens when spring pollen season starts up. It came as no surprise to me that I couldn’t smell (or, by extension, taste) anything. I vowed to step up my allergy routine, and moved on.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night, dry heaving and eventually rolling into a full blown cough, drenched in sweat. I could feel myself randomly sweating at inappropriate times, but attributing it to being over/under dressed, so I took my temperature.

99.8. Hmmm, that’s not okay. I took a children’s fever reducer, kept tabs on it, but moved on. And, because I was waking up at all hours of the night from the cough, it was no shock to me that I spent my day completely exhausted.

The real kicker, for me, was my blood pressure.

I am surrounded by people with some form of heart disease, and I’ve spent years writing about heart health and how we can be more mindful of our own. I don’t play when it comes to my blood pressure or my heart rate. I know how my heart is supposed to feel and behave in my chest. I know when my heart rate is normal and when it is elevated. I took my blood pressure and, for the first time in over a decade, it was considered “elevated.”

One day in particular, I was at the gym mid-workout, and felt like my heart rate elevated, same for my blood pressure. My heart was beating so hard, I felt like I could hear it. The dizziness was overwhelming. I stopped my workout, immediately stood to the side, and waited until the feeling ultimately subsided. I attributed it to maybe a side effect from a little too much espresso in my coffee, vowed to drink less, and decided to just stay home and get some rest until this all subsided.

Each Wednesday, on my Instagram account, I host a Q&A Wednesday where readers ask me questions about fitness, weight loss, and nutrition. People asked me, in the early days of the outbreak, if I intended to keep going to the gym. All things considered—at least, with the information we had at that time—there was no reason to worry. Considering the language being used to discuss it, it still seemed like such a far gone conclusion that it’d ever blow up the way it ultimately did in America, anyway.

But then, we started getting data about COVID-19, the term for the disease caused by exposure to the novel coronavirus, and I realized how clearly my own experiences aligned with the list of symptoms. It was entirely possible that what I’d experienced was, in fact, COVID-19.

Coronaviruses already existed—they’re merely a class of viruses that can cause illness in living beings. Scientists refer to this latest iteration as a novel coronavirus in the sense that this is “new,” or “novel.” This novel coronavirus is causing what we know to be coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.

COVID-19 symptoms, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), include “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.” But, for every 6 people who find themselves infected, one person becomes sincerely ill and at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

It’s the other part of this that scares me, though.

The WHO also states that “Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness,” but that’s not all. COVID-19 is a virus, something you need a healthy immune system to fight. Our immune systems are affected by any number of things—certain kinds of medication have side effects that negatively impact your immunity. Those undergoing chemotherapy, people who smoke, and those living with HIV can be at greater risk.

That is, quite honestly, the bulk of American society. If it’s not us specifically, it’s someone we know.

A woefully unstable, unaffordable, and inaccessible health care system already has people afraid to go to the hospital for something as routine as a check-up. Imagine being so scared of the bill you’d receive for COVID-19 care, that you decide to forego the hospital visit altogether. Imagine living somewhere where there isn’t a hospital nearby. We don’t have the health care system that can support the boon of cases that we’ve seen here. Imagine what it’s going to look like in rural communities. (And, for perspective, imagine being subjected to… whatever the hell it is that’s happening to our health care professionals in this link here.)

Imagine being a black woman, knowing how this system treats us, in the era of COVID-19, and entrusting this system to save our lives en masse. To date, two people I know have passed away at the hands of this pandemic. I am fearful about losing anymore.

I will never know whether everything I experienced was all truly caused by coronavirus. We didn’t have tests then and didn’t even know enough to be sufficiently worried, so I can’t say for sure. But I know how that collection of symptoms, all experienced at the same time, can overwhelm a person’s body. I also know how quick and easy it was for me to brush everything off, have an excuse for it, squash whatever symptom was giving me grief, and move on. I consider my survival a stroke of luck—a kind of luck that was not accessible to approximately 35,000 people worldwide, 2,800 Americans. A third of those people we’ve lost, to date, came from New York, my home.

Everything I felt, it quite possibly would’ve taken down the next person. They might not make it. Hell, I could catch it again, and my luck might’ve run out. We just don’t know enough, so every protective measure makes a difference. Please take the warnings and the guidance seriously. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Reduce your non-essential travel. We’d be losing people we know and love because we failed to grasp the gravity of what’s happening, and we just can’t have that.

For more reliable, science-based, and current information about COVID-19:

Photo credit: Flickr /andynash

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