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“I’ve never felt like this before, but I’ve felt worse than this before.”

An image of a white door that is slightly ajar.
By Jessi Bryant

Knoxville, TN
United States

Recently I took a routine COVID-19 test, just as I had been doing each week for the past month. This time was different though because I’d been told that two people whom I’d been in close contact with a few days prior, just tested positive. I woke up one morning with classic symptoms of a sore throat and runny nose. I called into work. Then about a half hour later I received a call that informed me I had COVID-19.

Flashes of disturbing images fed to me of the critically ill by the media flooded my mind. Comfort was found by reminding myself that I was young and healthy. “I exercise and have no co-morbidities,” I told myself. If what they said about being outside and getting vitamin D was true, then I’d be golden. I took precaution. I sent word to cancel friends coming over and notified people that my kids had been around. I had my kids tested. I let their schools know we’d be doing virtual learning. I didn’t feel fatigued, just cold symptoms really. I had enough energy to sanitize the house.

The evening my test results came in, things started to get weird. I had the strangest sensation of warmth in my lungs when I exhaled. I’d never even thought of my lungs being capable of detecting temperature before. This would be just one of many firsts with the virus. The warmth in my lungs turned into a painful burning and crept into my nose. It felt like I’d dived into a pool and breathed in chlorine. My lungs started getting sharp pains in them. That same evening, I realized I couldn’t smell anything, even potent essential oils. My body ached, but I remember thinking, “I’ve never felt like this before, but I’ve felt worse than this before.”

My kids’ test results were both negative. I was so relieved but also overwhelmed by the daunting task of making sure they didn’t get it. How would I keep COVID-19 away from my kids when the person who prepares their food has COVID-19? Grubhub and Door Dash became my new best friends. For three days my kids and I stayed separated in different rooms. My oldest started sending me messages via paper airplanes that said things like “I hope to hug you soon.” He asked me who he’d live with if I died. I told him I wasn’t going to die from this. Then I lied like any good mother would do. I told him I was feeling better. That same night my youngest broke down in tears because she couldn’t bear not having her mother’s hugs and kisses any longer. The pain of the precautions outweighed the fear of potential transmission. I embraced my daughter as tears poured down both our faces. My son joined us.

I’ve had COVID for over two weeks now. Randomly, even sedentary, I still get short of breath and my oxygen dips below normal. Thankfully, I’ve always been able to get my levels back up to normal by taking as deep a breath as my lungs will allow me. My heart races doing the most mundane tasks like sweeping the kitchen. This time last year I hiked 26 miles up to one of the highest peaks in the Smoky Mountains. Now I can’t even stand in my kitchen to cook breakfast without having to sit down to take a break. I have moments where I feel like I’m getting better, then moments where I feel like I’m getting worse. The gold standard of having a fever has, strangely, yet to make an appearance.

Being quarantined for so long has given me much time to ponder the differing standpoints on how we should be responding to COVID. I see the CDC guidelines. I study the research. I read the opinions of my peers. I’m experiencing COVID first-hand. All of these factors are ever changing. It’s no wonder there’s such a dispute on how we should all be responding. COVID-19 effects everyone differently for those who have it. We all seem to accept this fact. COVID-19 effects everyone differently who doesn’t have it too. What would it look like if we all accepted this fact as well?

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