Covid Not Covid and Other Diagnostics

I’ve been hosting a virus, posing as a walking symptoms checklist, and sicker than [vivid hyperbole] for now going on five days. Thought I’d get down a few notes about what it is, what it isn’t, and what’s ahead, offering as pretext that this is surely the sickest I’ve been in the past decade and perhaps in all of my adult life. Unless that’s just how we remember sickness: today’s blergh always outmeasures those blerghs who thrashed us but whose thrashings are only accessible through undocumented recall. Allowing for recency bias, I’ll say it anyway. This is a solid multiple more severe than the worst flus and about even with the walking pneumonia I hosted for a few weeks in my late 20s.

Here’s something of a timeline: Last Sunday, drive to Michigan, tired but steady. Monday, typical workday of email and meetings, all remote, but not feeling especially much like myself insofar as energy goes. Tuesday, had a shower and afterward noticed spots on my torso. I’m not prone to rashes, besides poison ivy, and this was very faint, not especially itchy. I made sense of it by imagining that Ph. had picked up some Dollar Store Gain knock off washing powder for soccer gear and used it to “clean” the towel I’d happened to use. Therein something didn’t agree with my delicate porcelain skin. (No, I was wrong; sorry for even thinking such a thing was possible, Ph.!). Went to Is.’s volleyball match at Northville, masked the entire time. On Wednesday, the rash had expanded, and I was beginning to feel symptomatic: sniffles, achiness, acute fatigue, intense headache, shortness of breath. There was more rash around my torso–stomach, kidneys, upper glutes–and appearing but somewhat lesser on my arms. I picked Is. up from school and learned there that volleyball practice was cancelled for 9th grade and varsity teams due to a positive Covid result for a player. JV (that’s Is.’s team), however, would have practice. As my own symptoms expanded and intensified, I decided to schedule a PCR test for Thursday afternoon; Is. already had one at approximately the same time, and although she was feeling pretty much fine and although she would be able to get an antigen test on Thursday, we had a plan. Based on my symptoms, including the rash, erratic fever, and muted/masked sensations of smell and taste, I anticipated a positive result from the test.

On Thursday, I had just one meeting, an interview with a colleague doing research, and I was able to show up for it and keep things on track. But outside of the meeting, I was increasingly waylaid by and concerned about intensifying headaches, deepening fatigue, an expanding rash (about 30% of my body by this time), and more trouble breathing. The breathing issues were all dry, for the most part, like lung capacity is being slowly drawn down until you are only able to fill what feels like half or one-third of normal capacity. There’s a parallel anxiety in this, right?, due to the known respiratory challenges faced by Covid hosts. Being vaccinated (Moderna, April 6 and May 6) and otherwise healthy leading up to the moment of infection, I was visited by thoughts (to say nothing of readily accessible news clips) about those who don’t make it through the night. I was also reading up on morbilliform rashes and hoping for a quick return on the PCR results.

On Friday, I also had just one meeting. Third day significantly symptomatic, with everything intensifying. Utterly unpleasant. I sat through the meeting and even spoke up a time or two but noticed that utterances were clipped and quakey due to irregular and unreliable lungwork. Sententia, don’t we know it, need wind or there’s no setting sail (aside: I think I remember Crowley and Hawhee noting that sentences as units of thought were also units of breath, the lengths of which were determined by lung capacity; up next for me, much shorter sentences). Nobody could tell because Zoom, but I was drenched with fever sweat by the end of the one hour call. Good times. I decided then that I’m taking some time in the week ahead just to find footing with whatever in hell is going on. On Friday night I couldn’t sleep because lungs were all kinds of unpredictable and unreliable and uncomfortable. At 12:45 a.m., the text arrived saying the PCR results were in. I checked the CVS portal: negative.

By this point in the week, the few people prone to worrying about me were really starting to be concerned. A. very graciously had sent via Instacart a bounty of deliverables that arrived on Saturday–Vernors, Gatorade, stuff for grilled cheese and soup, so much of what I needed. And in a second order, a Pulse Oximeter, which is a jimmy jammy whose function is to readout pulse and blood O2 levels. I was so far fogged by this point that I couldn’t even set the thing up because I couldn’t figure out how to get the batteries lined up in it. When I did, pulse was 83, O2 was 92. That’s low. Not quite rush-to-the-hospital low, but quite low. I timed the number of inhalations I was getting in one minute: 14. That was solidly where it should be, between 12-16 on average. And then I also called my primary care physician in Blacksburg and found the number then called the on-call physician at Carillion to ask a few questions: If this isn’t a breakthrough Covid case, what is it? And how compromised does my breathing need to be before I go in? The answers, with all due respect, were very textbook, along the lines of how I am in good health and how I am not at risk of dying, so it’s best to rest and hydrate and wait it out. Two telltale indicators backing this stance: 1) my fever only went as high as 101 F and it hadn’t locked in at that point for long, so there wasn’t a steady, prolonged, or especially alarming fever associated with this, and 2) I didn’t have any throat soreness, so although the cough and shortness of breath were serious, this didn’t sound like strep or measles or scarlet fever or Covid.

Today’s Sunday, Day Five of this round of symptoms. The rash is fading, but seriously, folks, let me tell you that if you’d seen the rash, it’s alarming. I took photos. I won’t post them here yet, not today. But I thought I should have them in case they prove relevant for anyone else trying to sleuth through whatever this is. Whatever this is. That’s the other significant issues weighing on me now: I don’t know what it is. Not even a family of possibly associated diseases. Cold? Flu? God help us all. Rubella? Measles? Doesn’t add up. I’ll call my doctor tomorrow to talk through this, but I don’t know that anyone will care because by then I will be more definitively on the mend. About the mend: for the past 48 hours, the worst of the symptoms are that I have coughing fits and related headaches. I can’t sleep at night because of this shortness of breath. I also can’t talk. Every utterance beyond four words is followed by a painfully intense coughing fit.

I have more to say about all of this and also a to be continued. I’ll try to return and write through more of this on Monday or Tuesday.