In October of 2009, the swine flu found me.

In August of 2020, the Wuhan Coronavirus came knocking on my family’s door.

Mom and dad were the first to feel symptoms, around August 14th. It wasn’t entirely noticeable at first, because some of the symptoms they had (coughing, feelings of tiredness) were not unusual for them for this time of the year, as both of them suffer from allergies. Plus, they’re in their 70s and are more tired now than they used to be.

But I remember mentioning to mom that I thought her cough sounded different than her normal cough. The cough I heard was dry, and it didn’t go away like it normally would with a few swigs of water. It was persistent. So was my dad’s.

Three days later, I started feeling symptoms. I was so fatigued I could barely get out of the bed to go to the bathroom. All I wanted to do was sleep. I thought it was odd, but I’ve had bouts of fatigue before with nothing underlying to go along with it, so on Tuesday when I got out of bed and didn’t feel sluggish, I figured the moment had passed.

It hadn’t. Mom and I both spent the next two days coughing, her more so than me. My tiredness came and went. At times I felt out of sorts, dazed. At one point on Wednesday the 16th, I was so out of it that I couldn’t get out of my office chair without fear that I was going to fall down.

After mom got me some water, I looked up the symptoms of the coronavirus. As much as I’d written about it and read about it over the last few months, the only symptom I recognized offhand that both of us had was the dry cough. Neither of us had had a fever for the past week, we didn’t have shortness of breath, nor the tight band around the chest some who have gone through the virus have said they’ve felt.

Those three symptoms are the ones the media most often references, but one they don’t talk about a lot is the extreme fatigue, which hit me like a Mack truck throughout the first week of my symptoms. The “out of sorts” feeling is another they don’t mention much in media reports, but it’s one my mom and I both had on and off that first week. I also lost most of my sense of smell and taste.

I had a talk with her that Wednesday afternoon. We need to schedule coronavirus tests, I told her. As scary as it sounded, she agreed. My dad was reluctant to do so, but mom and I made ours for as soon as we could. We scheduled appointments with the CVS drive-up testing clinic for that following Friday afternoon.

That Friday was the absolute worst day for going out to do anything. It was raining like cats and dogs, and we were feeling miserable. Nevertheless, we made it on time to our appointment at CVS, and we were both relieved to find out that the tests weren’t like the early ones they used to talk about in the media. Yes, there were little q-tip swabs involved, but thankfully we didn’t have to stick them all the way back to where they touched our throats.

Two days later we got the news: We both tested positive. I found out first because I checked the website first. I was devastated, because I knew if I had it, mom most likely had it and dad most likely did, too, even though he hadn’t yet been tested.

This was my worst nightmare come true, in spite of us being the family that did everything we were supposed to do (we wore masks, washed hands, social distanced as much as possible when we were around each other). It was bad enough that I’d gotten the virus, but it was worse that mom and probably dad had gotten it. They’re both senior citizens, and dad has multiple underlying conditions that could have made the virus fatal.

Two days after we got our results, dad was tested in the hospital and got his results. He was positive, too. He was in the hospital for 4 days, mainly to get dialysis treatments but also to be monitored for possible worsening of symptoms.

They released him Friday the 28th and told him that, like us, symptoms needed to be monitored and treated with OTC meds like Tylenol and cough medicine and to call 911 if we felt the code red symptoms like shortness of breath, fever, and/or tightening of the chest.

Fortunately for all three of us, our symptoms haven’t gotten any worse. We’ve just slept a lot, coughed a lot, and experienced spurts of energy along with long periods of sluggishness.

All three of us are well past the 14-day point from when symptoms first started, and feel like we’re slowly getting back to normal, but I’ve found the recovery process from this virus to be very unpredictable.

With the swine flu, I had the virus for about 10 days before returning to work, thinking I’d be fine to jump back into my normal daily routine. In reality, it took about 14 days from the time I went back to work to actually feel like myself and not completely exhausted once I came home from an 8 hour workday.

The Wuhan virus is different. For example, I had three good days of energy last week, though I would usually run out of steam around 4 or so. I tried to get back into my normal writing groove as best I could, but by Friday morning I was absolutely wiped out. Friday and most of Saturday I slept as though I hadn’t rested in ages.

Sunday started out as more of a normal day. Mom and I took advantage of the energy spurts we had to do a few things around the house. But by 3 pm we were both dragging and feeling like we’d run a marathon when all we’d done is a few things around the kitchen like make lunch and washed, dried, and put away a small load of clothes.

I’ve learned from online friends who have suffered from the virus that the recovery time can be longer than one might think. Whereas with the seasonal flu or a cold, where you might only have a lingering cough and the occasional sneeze after your symptoms subside, the full recovery from the Wuhan virus can take weeks, even months for some.

Mom, dad, and I both are still coughing at times, and still have periods of absolute sluggishness where we don’t want to do anything. I haven’t fully recovered my sense of taste and smell.

All in all, the three of us feel extremely blessed that our symptoms weren’t as bad or worse than some of the horrific stories we’ve seen in news reports over the last few months. The support and prayers from family, friends, and colleagues has meant everything to us.

But we are not out of the COVID woods just yet. What makes us nervous is what the future holds for us in terms of recovery, but we’re doing our best to just take things one day at a time. The worrying takes away the energy we already lack, so it does us no good to fret over what we don’t know about the future.

I can’t stress enough for people to listen to their bodies and get tested if they think they’ve come down with the coronavirus, even if you haven’t had a fever or shortness of breath. None of us ever had those symptoms.

It’s better to know if you have it as soon as possible, not just for your health but also for the health of those around you.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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