©2020 C. Henry Martens
(I’m up at three AM because I’m trying to cough my lungs out. When I’m not coughing, I hear creaking and groaning from my chest. These sounds are loud enough that my wife can hear them. It sounds like I have several rusty hinges in my chest or esophagus, one creaking after I exhale and suddenly another or two joining in to groan in harmony like some kind of sickly humorous, home-made metal band. The sounds are so odd that they seem unrelated to myself… but they are definitely coming from me.)
I’ve been sick for over a week.
And it’s been really weird.
But is it COVID-19?
At this point I don’t know… but by the time I finish writing this article, before you read this, I will try to have the answer.
Monday, March 2, 2020
I’ve had this painful area on my lower belly for about five days. At first, I thought it was a pulled muscle. Of course, there are lots of things that run through my mind, but I’m not really concerned until the rash shows up. At first, I thought it was an insect bite, but the pains that radiate from the area are intense and travel far from the site. I have a sudden epiphany and realize it could be shingles, so by Monday I’m ready to see a doctor. My wife and I don’t believe in wasting a trip to the doctor, so we’ll be talking to him about her nagging cough, something that they always pass off as asthma but seems to come and go like allergies. It’s been thirty years of chasing symptoms with temporary relief that fades in and out like the cough.
(I’m sweating as I write this. It’s a cold sweat. I’m not running a fever, and sweat like this is not something I normally do.)
My self-diagnosis was correct. Shingles. Something people get more often as they age, after having chicken pox as a kid. I get a prescription to treat the condition, and one to deal with the pain even though I object. I think I finally communicated our anxiety over my wife’s cough because she gets a Kenalog shot. She is told it will take about two weeks before she sees any improvement in her cough.
There is no discussion about Coronavirus. We’ve heard the earliest reports. We’ve been watching with more than a little interest, because after writing a trilogy of books based on a pandemic, we have some real interests in how closely this disease seems to resemble the narrative in the books. It is more than a little spooky.
(The coughing hits occasionally and even though at times severe enough to trigger my gag reflex, it seems to be easing up the longer I am upright.)
Sometime around mid-day Thursday I start to get a feeling in my throat. It isn’t like a sore throat. It isn’t like a tickle. It’s really not very similar to anything I’ve felt before. But the problem is this… I’m getting old… and as time passes it seems like any illness is likely to be a little more intense, and little less predictable, than in my younger years.
My wife and I are pretty healthy for our age. We go to the doctor and they always get this surprised look on their face when they ask what medications we are on… because the only one is the result of my wife having her thyroid removed. Apparently, most people our age are on several meds by now.
On Friday we do our banking, so we also do our shopping. Dave at the grocery store points out that they’ve had a run on toilet paper, but there is still some left on the shelf. We decide we have plenty. My wife seems to be coughing more instead of less, and she gets some funny looks when she can’t stifle one. The odd feeling in my throat has gotten more intense.
I’ve gotten in touch with an old friend, Dan, from high school that I found on Facebook. We shared an old house converted to a duplex after graduating, completely by accident as he rented one side and I rented the other side. He messages me his contact info.
(I’m on my second cup of tea loaded with honey and lemon. My wife got up with me and is taking good care of me. My coughing seems to be diminishing.)
By Sunday, the 8th my throat is definitely sore. The news is intensifying. There are deaths in the United States by now. I call Dan and we make plans to see each other. We’ll be leaving to see my daughter the following Sunday. My throat has now been feeling odd for longer than most colds lasted when I was young.
Monday, I am definitely ill. I can’t really tell if it is a cold or something else. It is odd because it seems to be progressing so slowly. We decide to isolate ourselves so that I can get over it before we travel. It is nice weather here and my wife goes for a walk alone. I don’t want to stress my lungs even though I crave the fresh air.
It hits hardest on Wednesday. Acres of snot come raging out of my nose in the morning as I blow into a tissue. It is so damn productive that it feels like I have unloaded my sinuses completely. Clear, thick, not like most mucus in the past which is usually yellowish. I’ve gone through an entire box of tissue. By now the hacking cough is getting bad enough to cause my chest muscles to become sore. In an odd kind of irony, my wife’s constant cough has diminished substantially. Maybe the Kenalog shot is working for her. She mentions a funny feeling in her throat.
On Thursday, I wake up feeling awful and cough to the point of gagging most of the day. At least the snotty nose is much less. I’m not getting much phlegm up, but I am getting some. By evening I’m feeling pretty good. I’m thinking the worst is over and it’s just a long cold., but then I start to sweat for no reason. At night I hear my first rusty hinges creaking in my lungs as I try to get to sleep.
(It’s seven AM and I just finished a bowl of Cream of Wheat. The food, or the temperature of the food, seems to have triggered a response in my body. I’m sweating like a pig, which seems an odd expression since pigs don’t sweat. I’m coughing less, and less deeply)
So now we get to Friday. My wife is at the point her nose is running badly. Banking day again, and we need milk. Dan has e-mailed me, looking forward to getting together. He tells me they had a trip booked to Italy in a few weeks and have canceled it. I e-mail him back that we are too sick to make the trip we were planning. We notify the kids that we won’t be coming to visit. I’m feeling pretty good. It feels like I am over the worst. My wife insists on coming with me to get milk. We would wear masks if we had any, but we don’t. We think it would be a good idea for there to be masks supplied by the stores at the front doors for sick people so they can minimize any issues. We get to the grocery store at about eleven-thirty and on turning the corner, we find the parking lot full. Not just full… but packed with vehicles. There are no carts outside or in the areas carts are usually parked inside. I’ve never seen so many people in the store. We have another deja vu moment as we discuss how similarly my books are mimicking this real pandemic. We stick to our list, the few things on sale from the weekly ad and the milk. Since we don’t have a cart, we stand in line with our arms full. The guy in front of us has a cart loaded with bottled water and two big cardboard boxes labeled, chicken strips. In my books one of the ways the pandemic is spread is in bottled water. Another deja vu. We manage to control our coughing, mostly, but people notice when we do. They try to stay as far away as they can. We spend more time waiting in line to check out than we did shopping.
Friday night and I’m intensely coughing again. We’ve looked through the bathroom cupboards for old bottles of cough medicine. We’d bought two only a little over a week ago and have gone through one already, the other opened and started. We are glad to find a couple of old half empty bottles.
Saturday morning and my wife and I have been up since 3 AM. Of course, I’m feeling bad again now that the clinics are closed for the weekend. Isn’t that how it works? I’m sitting here, listening to the rusty hinges in my lungs after I exhale. It is so odd that the sounds start and continue after I stop expelling air. I’ll be calling the hospital today to see if there are any testing kits available without going to the emergency room. I hear there are going to be drive through testing done at some big box store, and there is only one in our area, so I’ll ask about that. I might have to wait until Monday. One good thing, my wife seems to be feeling fewer effects than I did.
Dan e-mailed me again. He and his wife are sick.
The difference between numbers and reactions of government and the public from a week ago are stunning.
Well, between feeling pretty good most of the day and being the procrastinator I am… we never called the hospital to find out about testing. Of course, as the day lengthened, the symptoms increased until I felt foolish for not doing what I’d planned. I woke up this morning feeling pretty good, but after a couple of hours I’ve had some intense coughing bouts that my initial morning feeling good belies. Did I say my wife is feeling less effect than my own? I’ve reevaluated that. She isn’t coughing as much or as deeply, although still intense… but she has had worse runny nose and sneezing. A lot worse.
My wife and I had an interesting conversation this morning. The news was, of course, all about the pandemic. In fact, is there any other news? One segment was about isolating. How people are self-quarantining to avoid other people. It is easy to blame government for the lack of preparedness, the lack of any real strategies. We were talking about it in terms of federal inadequacies and decided that there could be something done at a more local level. If people decide to isolate because they are ill, they should be able to call for a test to be done at their front door. If they test positive there should be county support so they can remain in their homes and not need to go out for any reason. Someone to shop for the essentials until they can say they aren’t contagious. Surely local government could lead the way in this.
I called the closest hospital in the town up the road from us to see if we could get a test done. It almost seemed like they were reluctant. I’m sure they want to save their testing kits for people most likely to be infected, and later they will have plenty of patients. But my first thought is, “Don’t they want to catch the first infection and be sure to isolate and/or treat?” Trusting the professionals is difficult at times.
Last evening, Sunday, my wife had a coughing fit that was scary. She was having a difficult time catching her breath, she was having gagging episodes one after the other, intense and forceful. After she finally got to a place where she could breathe again, she had coughed so strenuously that she had developed a rash-like discoloration over her upper chest and neck. Today we will be going into the clinic or hospital. Enough is enough.
We saw our doctor in the early afternoon. Of course, this is the time of the day when we show the least distress, but our doctor is pretty good at listening. He determined that we have a rather intense cold… and was concerned that it was developing into pneumonia. We’ve been prescribed a course of antibiotics, and we both got a shot in our butts.
After visiting three places, including the pharmacy first, we finally found a thermometer. Somewhere between our kids moving out and the present, our thermometer had disappeared. We also picked up some cough medicine. We were lucky to find it, too. The shelves are unusually bare.
Today is Tuesday, and the news has taken another jump in pandemic intensity. The rate of change is, again, stunning. The stock market has lost close to a third of value as I write this. There is a lot of discussion about shutting it down.
I’m watching the press conference. I think the administration is finally acting like they take this seriously. I’m actually impressed.
Tuesday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day.
I think I’ll end this here. We have been diagnosed as having a bad cold, possibly turning into pneumonia. We will be isolating by staying home as much as possible. If we go out it will be with lists to resupply, and we will make our time in any building as quick as possible.
Take care folks. Be thoughtful…