“Chronic illnesses and Covid…a cautionary tale.”

Yep, I caught Covid-19 and now I’m turning my experience into a PSA.

Even though I was looking forward to it all week, I barely made it to my Zumba class last Saturday (5/21). Later that day I began to feel ill. 

Oh, wait! Perhaps I should add context to that statement. You see, I’ve been living with a variety of chronic illnesses for several years now (including low-grade brain cancer), so feeling unwell has become pretty normal for me. Ergo, when I say ‘I began to feel ill,’ I mean more ill than usual.  It was like many of the symptoms I feel at various times from various diagnoses were hitting me all at the same time and with more intensity.  I didn’t have a fever so I chalked it up to a cold.

This would probably be a good time for me to back up and share that 10 days earlier, Thursday (5/12), I received my fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine.  I have no idea where, when, or how I picked up Covid-19 but I just read that “Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.” So, who, knows…I may have already been in the incubation period when I received that last booster.  

Although I was aware that after being vaccinated I could still catch and spread the dreaded Covid, I let my guard down and wrapped myself up with a false sense of security. I continued to wear a mask in most indoor situations but I felt pretty safe outdoors. For instance, on Sunday, (5/15) I went for a long walk with my friend Sally.  It wasn’t until last night that I recalled asking her if we could ‘slow down’ during that walk because ‘I couldn’t catch my breath.’ I literally said those words and acknowledged how strange it was for me to be out of breath while walking but then I did what I always do; I kept pushing forward another few miles. It didn’t even occur to me that I was experiencing a symptom of Covid.  As it turns out throughout this month I have had 10 of the 11 symptoms the CDC provides as identifiers for Covid-19. The only symptom I didn’t have was the one that would have been a red flag for me, a fever.

On Wednesday (5/18) I took an outdoor aqua aerobics class.  Later that night, I recall experiencing what felt like a severe cramp in my back (on the upper left side near my shoulder blade).  I thought I pulled a muscle during the class.  I proceeded to apply one of those disposable heating wraps (you know the ones that are supposed to stick to you but never seem to stay put) and once again I kept moving forward.  That ‘cramp’ has been coming and going ever since (it’s probably my spleen trying to fight the Covid off).

On Thursday (5/19), I made a two-hour trek to Malibu to meet up with the Chief Development Officer of the American Brain Tumor Association, Kelly Sitkin, and fellow brain tumor survivor (and radio show host), Niki Kozak.  Kelly flew in from Chicago the previous night and Malibu was the middle point for Niki and me. 

That meeting was important to me and it was the first day I began to really feel off.  I told myself I was just flustered by the drive and the fact that I was running late (I meant to give myself two and a half hours to get there)!  By the time I arrived back home I was absolutely exhausted and I went straight to bed. The exhaustion didn’t cause alarm though because…well…I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and brain injury so being exhausted wasn’t anything new for me.  I figured all of the driving I did that day took its toll. 

Between 5/19 and 5/21, I started having additional symptoms of Covid-19 but I didn’t know the symptoms were Covid related.  I was feeling nauseous so I took Zofran and attributed it to the Gastroparesis I was diagnosed with a few years ago.  And although I had the runs I thought that was my IBS acting up.                          

So now to circle back to the late afternoon of Saturday (5/21). At that point, I started to accept I was likely fighting a cold or the flu so I stopped trying to accomplish things and surrendered to the idea that I needed to stay home and rest.  Although I didn’t feel well from that point forward I waited to take the Covid-19 test until Wednesday (5/25) because I didn’t have a fever (as you may recall a fever would have been the defining symptom that would have triggered the test for me since a fever is not a symptom of any of the other chronic illnesses I deal with). 

So what made me finally decide to take the Covid test on 5/25? Well, my symptoms were getting worse.  After waking up drenched from night sweats accompanied by chills two nights in a row, I decided to take the test to rule Covid out.  I fully expected the test to come back negative. The night sweats happen from time to time but the chills were new. I do have to say the body aches were more severe than usual but again I also have Fibromyalgia so I dismissed body aches as a Covid symptom too.  I just attributed the intensity of the body aches to the cold I thought I had.  Eventually, a sore throat and cough set in along with a headache accompanied by sharp head pains (you can probably guess what I thought was going on there). I dreamt I had a seizure at least once (which means I probably did). And, for a few days, I couldn’t shake the sensation of smelling smoke.

Sometimes you just have to laugh…

I’m grateful to be on the mend and I’m thankful for the Covid vaccines. Although being vaccinated didn’t prevent me from catching Covid, I do believe I was able to stay out of the hospital thanks to the vaccine. Additionally, thus far, there hasn’t been anyone else in my household or that I’ve been in close contact with, who has tested positive and that’s likely due to the vaccines as well.

Click here for a link to the CDC’s Symptoms of COVID-19.

*Featured image photo credit: Niki Kozak
(pictured left to right: Wendy, Niki, & Kelly at the Malibu Pier on 5/19/22)

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