Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pandemic: When You Feel Sick, The Beginning

So I've started journaling about my experiences during the pandemic of 2020. This is the second post and covers the period I became sick.

I started the second week off work about the same as the first week, cleaning. People at home were either cooking or cleaning. I'd picked cleaning and had already washed all the throw rugs and the downstairs curtains. There had been some changes in our state. The governor had closed schools officially on March 19th. At this point they were shut down until May 1st. Of course, that didn't last either.

Everything was up in the air during this time. It was the time of rapid changes. Governor Holcomb announced on Friday, March 20th (my daughter's birthday) that all nonessential businesses would close on the upcoming Tuesday. Nobody knew for sure what an essential business was. Some things were obvious: healthcare providers, grocery stores, and pharmacy. But it included a lot of other things, including building trades. My husband and his boss and co-workers were trying to decide whether that included them. 

Together, they voted to work on Tuesday, the day of the closures. Parts of the county were closed down to all but essential travel, other parts were open. People were learning slowly what they should do and what they shouldn't. Could we go for drives if we stayed in our cars? Could we go to the parks if we kept apart? Playgrounds were closed. State parks became free as nobody now manned the gate.

Our school preschool playground taped closed.

The term social distancing became a thing. What had been allowable, groups of fifty became groups of ten and then no groups at all. Stay six feet apart. Grocery stores put marks on the floor to show us where to line up to keep apart. 

Everything was uncertainty and fear. Stories of covid-19 survivors had yet to float around social media to remind us that most people weren't going to die. If you caught the disease at this point, everyone assumed the worst would happen.

Tests seemed to be things for famous people. Actors like Tom Hanks got tested. NBA stars got tested. Politicians got tested. Ordinary people not so much. As I found out first hand.

Tuesday March 24 we started shelter at home. My husband, as an essential worker, went to work.  I read the paper and started washing the bedroom curtains. I worked a puzzle. I ate lunch. At home. Alone.

Soon after lunch, I felt different. I got that feeling behind my eyes, my head felt hot. How do you describe a fever? You just know when you have one. We'd thrown out our digital thermometer a few weeks ago. It just wasn't accurate. I put in a new battery, but it was too hard to use. Too hard to get an accurate reading because you had to hit the exact right spot on your temple. Impossible.

Instead we had an ancient mercury thermometer I inherited from my parents. There weren't any left in stores.

I got out that blast from my past and checked. Well, waited three minutes for the reading to take and then checked. That little silver line had shot up to the 1 in 100. 

I had a fever. 

I texted my husband as I considered what to do. Feeling sick not just from the fever. I'd had a dry cough all winter. I always have a dry cough all winter when I first get up. That cough had lately been kind of an all-day thing. Just there. Not really bothersome. Now with a new meaning. 

I'd felt a weight on my chest for a few days. Probably everyone had. It was stress; it was panic; it was too much time listening to the news. Or was it.

Those were the three symptoms given at that time to watch for. Fever. Cough. Shortness of breath or pressure in the chest. I had all three. 

My husband texted me back. The frantic fear coming through the three short words: On my way.

All his co-workers packed up. That's what the word "fever" did. It had power. They got their tools and went home. They would stay home for the next two weeks, even though they had never been near me.

News reports said symptoms began to show from five to twelve days from point of contact. It had been eleven days since I worked in an elementary school full of children.

As our doctor had retired this year and we hadn't found another, I called one of the three hotlines for our county for those without providers. They answered promptly. I wasn't put on hold. Things went fast and I had a tele-medicine appointment with a doctor for three o'clock. I'd get an email with a link.

I put on some zen meditation music and went back to my puzzle. I got the curtains from the dryer and hung them up. My husband came home and felt my head, hugged me. I took my temp another million times, using the oven timer to record when three minutes had passed. The silver line stayed at 100. (I remembered you did have to shake the thing down and it still went to 100.)

Three o'clock came and I followed the link and clicked the prompts. I waited for the doctor to show. Words can't describe the emotions. Nerves. Fear. I was hot and cold at the same time, another symptom. My head and body hot. My hands, arms, and back cold.

The doctor came on. Asked about my symptoms. I could obviously carry on a conversation at this point. I had the breath to speak in complete sentences. The video showed my cheeks were red. More signs of the fever. I coughed a little. Told them it was dry cough. No, I hadn't coughed anything up. No, I didn't have any phlegm or congestion. No vomiting or diarrhea. 

He asked if I'd traveled. No. Had I been in contact with anyone who tested positive for Covid-19? Not that I knew, but I did work in a school. He told me tests results were taking five days to return. He said I would be well before the results came back. He said call back if I have trouble breathing. That was it. No test for me.

Honestly, I didn't want to be a bother. I didn't want to be around the health workers who were risking their lives and maybe make them sick. Take their time away from sicker patients. I let it go and took some Tylenol. 

I was feverish all day and evening. I stayed on the couch with a blanket and watched Love Island and then probably a movie. My husband kept me company. That night, I woke feeling hot, yet craving more blankets. It was the kind of hot that felt good. I wanted to be hot to kill the virus. I remember being sweaty. I slept well.

The next morning and all day Wednesday no fever. I began to notice that I felt winded after talking. I could still have conversations but now I felt breathy. The pressure on my chest was still there. It didn't come and go as my stress levels grew or diminished. It stayed constant. The cough didn't get worse. It really never bothered me.

We stayed home. We did some things. I got up and showered and acted like normal. I had more appetite than normal. I felt hungry all the time. I wandered around the yard and looked at the plants starting to poke up from the dirt. My husband cleaned up leaves and I picked up a few.

That night I woke at 3 am feeling like I couldn't breathe. I was breathing but it didn't feel like it was doing any good. There wasn't enough air. The panic I felt certainly didn't help. The humidifier running in the room wasn't helping. I got some water, walked around. It didn't get better. I have a history of stuffy nose at night. It is something that happens to me every night. Having plugged-up nostrils didn't help either. I tried counting my breaths and paying attention to each one. Telling myself I was obviously breathing. It didn't help.

Then I remembered we had a full bottle of Vicks VapoRub. The home medicine my grandmother had put on us when we were little. She used to rub it on our chest at night and then safety pin a wash cloth to our nightgowns to keep them clean. My mother would put it under our noses when we were sick. We had a bottle my daughter had bought for a cold and left here. She liked to take off the lid and sniff the vapors. 

I got the bottle. Put some under my nose. My stuffy nose opened. I started to relax. The scent of Vicks VapoRub was safety. It was home. It was family. I thank God for that bottle of Vicks. I have used it every night for the last weeks and still use it as my symptoms sometimes persist even three weeks later. Somehow with that and counting my breathing I got back to sleep.  

Then next day, Thursday the fever returned in the morning. It stuck around all day and that night. It was under 100. I decide to call the hotline again. This time I got a different doctor and I didn't have to wait two hours. She video chatted with me inside of 15 minutes. She had a lot more sympathy. I admit I broke down describing how I had felt unable to breath the night before. How I felt winded when talking. Admitted it was scary. She asked the same questions. What was my cough like? Had I traveled? Had I been in contact with anyone positive. Same answers. She said it was now taking eight days to get results. Same script. I would be well before results came in. I appeared to be mild. How many deep breaths could I draw in fifteen seconds. I did four. She said that was good. Call back if it gets worse. 

That was the last time I tried to get tested. 

The fever kept on all Thursday. Just noticeable. Not as bad as Tuesday but ever present. Again I moved around my house as normal. Got dressed. Followed my routine but staying inside. Rested on the couch. Watched TV. Several times I woke in the night feeling unable to breath, but not as bad as the first time. I had my Vicks now.

Friday morning started out with more fever. That vanished by lunch. The doctor had said to isolate until my symptoms disappeared. That seemed too vague now. Until my cough went away? But I had a cough all winter. It always lasted until the furnace got turned off and the air had more humidity. Turning off the furnace was weeks away where we lived. We were getting short on food.

My sister risked herself to go to the store and get us some groceries. She left them outside our door and we talked to her through the window as she stood way back. 

Saturday the fatigue hit. No fever. Little cough. Still a weight on my chest. Still sort of breathless when I talked. We tried to take our dogs for a walk. Something safe to do as the streets were deserted and there's lots of open space. Something we usually do two or three times a day for at least a mile. We are big walkers. I'm not in bad shape. The elementary school a block away was always deserted now. We headed there. I began to get tired. My heart beat faster than normal. I struggled. I couldn't talk. We headed back and I wondered if I could make it. Inside our gate, I dropped into a deck chair, exhausted. I would sit there ten minutes before I recovered enough to go inside. I had gained a new symptom.

Another came a few hours later as we watched a movie. I didn't share it with my husband as it was too scary to talk about. My neck felt thick and tender. It gradually occurred to me I had swollen glands in my neck now. Not going to lie, that freaked me out all over again.

The fever never came back, my swollen neck was mostly gone the next morning, but the drastic fatigue lasted several more days. I continued to wake up at night, feeling like I couldn't breathe enough. It wasn't until like a week later that I drew in some really deep breaths and realized that I hadn't been doing that for days and days. I hadn't noticed that I really wasn't able to breath deeply. When the doctor had me count my deep breaths that first week, they were actually pretty shallow. Breathing is something you take so much for granted that I wasn't able to compare how I used to breathe to how I was now breathing. 

The shallow breathing was gone and I hadn't figured it out until the deep breathing came back. 

Day five and then day eight passed, days when people's breathing often got worse as reported on the news. Mine didn't. I was able to remind myself this must be a mild case. I wasn't going to die. That was a big thing toward my recovery.

The pressure vanished from my chest. When I woke with a stuffy nose, I was able to go back to sleep quickly. I could take our lonely isolated walks without needing to rest afterward. I felt almost normal at times.

But it didn't leave entirely. Whether it is from stress or from whatever I had, I still have episodes when the pressure comes back. When I feel winded. Even over three weeks out, where we are now, it still happens.

Now I wonder about anti-body testing. Would it show I have anti-bodies if I could get one? Am I maybe immune now? As far as I know, there aren't any tests for that in our part of Indiana yet. Or only for critical care workers. Will I ever know? I don't know. I could be out helping, possibly immune.

When I think about it now I feel angry. Really angry and I don't get angry often. I had all the symptoms and still was denied a test. Because there weren't enough tests. Now I am left to constantly wonder. 

Am I immune and don't know it? Though no one really knows how immunity works or even if it truly exists yet. People in South Korea had relapses after testing positive and became positive again. Nobody knows. Maybe immunity only lasts a week. Maybe I have it. Maybe I don't. Maybe I'll never know.

In the three weeks since I got sick, the world has spun out of control and also stabilized. Staying home and hearing bad news has become the normal. Events unfold a little more slowly without all the drastic closings, though the Summer Olympics were rescheduled for a year from now. Indiana schools lost the entire rest of the 2019/2020 year. All the stores except essential services are closed now. Basically that means just the retail clothing stores are closed. Hardware stores are still open. Car repair. Oil changes. I did a drive-up drop-off for my dog to get his shots. No contact. Just a masked worker taking my dog away, pay over the phone and talk to the vet, and then my pet returned. We wash our hands after getting the mail. We wash our hands after getting the newspaper. We put packages in the basement for a few days to "cool" off. 

We go to get groceries once a week (try to only go once anyway) and pick up my mom's prescriptions by drive through. We wipe down the ATM with Clorox wipes before inserting our checks.

After two weeks we considered my symptoms gone. My husband's small group of four went back to work, nervously, but they started a new house. 

Wisconsin was forced to vote in person by the Supreme Court and stood in long lines to exercise their rights. I cried for them. I cried for essential workers and medicals experts. I cried for our mail woman. I cried for the people on Twitter announcing they lost family members. I told grocery workers thank you with new feeling. It is easy to cry during these weeks. Not just for me. For a lot of people.

The state park campgrounds closed and I will miss camping. Seniors lost their graduations and their proms.

Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race by video and Biden stands alone. Democrats talk about voting by mail in November. The president refused to fund a failing postal system--at least at this point. Bad news after bad news, though we still share good news. 500,000 recovered, maybe including me. I enjoy people sharing their Animal Crossing stories (Can't get my own game. There are no Switch to be found.) Christopher Walken reading Where the Wild Things Are as only he can. A singalong show of stars singing Disney songs. Those are the things that entertain us.  

Stimulus money of $1200 per person is starting to arrive. I pray for the people suffering without jobs and the people suffering who have lost loved ones. The people who have gotten sick and the people who will get sick.   

The numbers have risen drastically. Over 600,000 infected in the U.S. Over two million world wide. Deaths nearing 30,000 in the U.S. New York maybe reaching their plateau. The virus is in two local nursing homes and the retirement convent of nuns at the college I attended thirty years ago. There are six deaths in our county and over 300 who have tested positive. 

Protesters march in Michigan who want to get their hair done and buy fertilizer, virus be damned. 5.5 million more unemployment claims. Over 6 million unemployed in the week before this. So many I can't keep track of the totals. The stock market is up and then down. It's April 16th and everywhere is talk of re-opening, despite not having testing. 

For me, I don't want to re-open yet. It's too soon. I want an anti-body test. I want to know. Perhaps I should have tried harder. Perhaps I did the right thing by staying home. We are in the nobody really knows stage. Nobody really knows if they are sick. If they are immune. What will happen next. I don't think this world will get any easier anytime soon.

They are also studies that we will have to social distance until 2021. That there will be no concerts or in-person sports events for a year or more. That this could last a long, long time. I don't want that either.  

It snowed yesterday in the middle of April. Today the snow is gone and the sun is shining. The sky is a summer blue. The grass is growing and will need mowed soon. The flowers are coming up despite the cold. I think our cold snap will pass and we will stand up again someday, too.   


Friday, April 10, 2020

Pandemic: The Beginning, A Story of Three Polls

The covid-19 epidemic of spring 2020, it seems that everything happened in a blur of speed, yet at the same time crept up as a series of gradual changes. Somehow the days now feel like both were true. We saw it coming and yet we didn't. For me what stands out wasn't being furloughed from my job--first for two weeks, then for two months, then for the rest of the school year, but the results of three polls.

It all started with short news stories of a sickness in China in January and February. Barely a thing to be marveled at. Entirely too far away to be meaningful to people going about their lives or concentrating on the impeachment of the president. But then the sickness hit in other countries. Iran. South Korea. Italy. And the story got bigger. We began to hear wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowds.

By the time we thought to buy hand sanitizer, the stores were all out of them. After working at a school for year and years, I searched my dresser, my desk, my purse, and came up five travel-size bottles. Some still full. I had friends who are kindergarten teachers with stock piles of the stuff in their classrooms and borrowed a pump-sized bottle. We felt rich, but most people hadn't noticed the disease yet.

At work, school went on as normal. Co-workers were beginning to wonder if they should cancel their plans for Spring Break in April, to skip that trip to Florida. I saw a tweet from Hillary Clinton in late February from Scientific America that mentioned stocking up for two weeks of groceries. We stopped going out except to the grocery store. I bought frozen food, canned chicken, extra snack, and paper towels. I grabbed one of the last containers of Clorox Wipes. Notably: I didn't grab toilet paper.

There were cases popping up in the U.S. in some states, but not everywhere.

And on Friday, March 6th, I created my first Twitter poll. 

It asked one simple question: How often are you going out? Are you moving about as usual? Taking only needed trips? Or have you become the world's newest hermit? It was funny. A joke. I never thought it would get real.

Here were the results from March 6th:

72.2% Going out as usual
24.4% Only taking needed trips
3.3% Were hermits

As most of my followers are writers and writers are often introverts, I thought the poll might have a slight lean toward hermits. I was surprised most people were going out as usual. After all, coronavirus had hit the US now. People were dying in Washington state. It was starting to appear in other states. Testing had started and was entirely too limited. Many people hadn't notice. The president had called it a hoax. Had said it would disappear. My stuffed pantry said I wasn't so sure.

The week of March 9th we made more visits to the groceries stores. Three or four people wore masks. We had been using hand sanitizer heavily after we left any public place. We washed our hands when we got home. We stocked up, more. Shelves began to empty. I got one of the last packages of toilet paper at Meijers--Angel Soft Lavender Scent. I just took one because this is America. Why would I need to keep extra in my basement when someone else might need it?

Italy went on lock down. The epicenter had moved from China to Italy. 

This is the week colleges told students to go home. They pulled classes and put them online. University after university followed suit. They'd brought foreign students home the weeks before, from China, from Europe. I remember Purdue closing, then Indiana University, followed by Michigan State, our own local Notre Dame went next, followed by Saint Marys. All closed within days. Public schools in other states began to close for two weeks. Our school librarian had grandchildren in Portland and there was a case at their school. Another co-worker had her sister's Indianapolis school close for cleaning after a case.

Events closed: the NBA shut down their season, high school sports went without an audience, spring training stopped, concerts cancelled. The local theater stopped the Broadway showing of the Lion King. Movie theaters tried to spread out patrons and then gave up and closed. Sport after sport cancelled. No more, college basketball, no March Madness, goodbye hockey, everything but some golf events shut down. Writing conferences were cancelled. Music concerts gone. On and on. So many cancellations.

Another co-worker came in and said stores were empty, no toilet paper to be found. We hurried to the store yet again and found this:

Ramon Aisle

It began to hit home that normal was out the window. When we went to the store I took pictures of the empty shelves. Frozen fruit, vegetables all gone. Nothing in the water aisle. Little flour, sugar, and no yeast, few eggs. Some cleaning supplies were gone but others plentiful. Few tissues, paper towels, and little toilet paper. Canned food gone. Feeling scared or anxious became the normal state.

Water Aisle


Paper products

Last time we saw cleaning wipes
On one bright spot our son in Chicago got a work from home notice from his company. Something he could easily do as it's a software design company.

The next day, Thursday, March 12 Governor Holcomb gave schools a 20 day waiver. They could miss 20 of our required 180 days and not have to make them up. Our first local school system closed that afternoon. It wasn't mine. We had our first positive test case in our county. I spent the evening texting my boss with the closing I was seeing on Twitter because she wasn't on social media. Ohio closing all their schools. Michigan closing all their schools. We were still open.

Friday, March 13, I was afraid to go to school for the first time. We had cases here, in our county. Not just in Indianapolis. Teachers didn't follow their regular schedule. We expected to be closed at any moment. They were instructed to send all math and reading work books home with students. All Chrome books for the 6th graders to go home. Teachers were frantically copying packets of worksheets to send home. Our media tech frantically printed up step-by-step instructions on logging into important learning systems for parents and then stapled every child's password and login to the back, an incredible task that I don't know how she managed. Word was we weren't closed because we had so many at risk kids. Kids who needed our lunch and breakfast services. They were working on a solution.

At 2:00 they called all time card staff to the office. Fill out your time card for the rest of the two weeks and bring it down. We were told not to report on Monday. Only the cafeteria staff and custodians would now be the only ones working. Students would be expected to do two online learning days a week. They could drive up between 11 am and 1 to pick up a hot lunch. The plan was to close for two weeks. That wouldn't last.

All evening we got emails from administration, sometimes with conflicting information. We would all be paid during the closure. (Huge sigh of relief) Teachers would switch to on-line learning. Students would be required to complete assignments and report attendance two days a week. 

That night, I did my second twitter poll. There were around 1700 cases in the U.S. The same poll as before. Just one week from the last. The results were a lifetime of difference. We were the same, but everything around us had changed.

23.9% Going out as usual
59.7% Only taking needed trips
16.5% World's newest hermits

Several people said their usual was being a hermit or only needed trips so the results are what they are--unscientific. Still the difference from the last week was stark.

The week of March 16th is the week Governor Holcomb finally closed all schools--just for two weeks. It was my first week at home. My husband's work was slow and the weather uncertain so he stayed home. We made quick trips to the store to get what we could. Everyone now sheltering at home was cleaning A LOT. Doing puzzles. Baking. People posted funny memes about being home. Our pets became our co-workers. People learned how to use Zoom to teleconference and laughed as pets and kids wandered though. We shared our favorite isolation movies. Celebrities did videos of singing from their basements. Nobody wore pants and we laughed about changing from day pajamas to evening pajamas. We were scared, but still had our sense of humor.

We also went to the local craft store and bought two puzzles. We were the only ones in the store and used hand sanitizer and washed as soon as we got home. We put the puzzles aside for days in a sort of quarantine because no one knew for sure how long germs could stay on surfaces. We washed our hands after handling the newspaper or the mail. Oh, and gas prices dropped under $2 a gallon. Way under. First down to $1.80 area and then lower. 

A week and a new escalation. The governor closed restaurants and bars on March 16th. My daughter's fiance lost his chef job. They fired everyone the moment the announcement went live. Most restaurants did. Those with drive-thru or carry out stayed open, but dine-in options were gone. Unemployment was huge, but just getting started. We already hadn't eaten out for weeks. We went nowhere but the grocery store and that one trip for puzzles.

That Friday I did my third and last poll. People were no longer unaware. They were scared. There were 18,000 cases in the U.S. California had gone on lock down. Deaths were being reported. Congress was trying to come up with a relief plan to help. The changes in the poll results again were drastic.

1% Going out as usual
54% Only taking needed trips
45% World's newest hermits

Things had changed, but the worst hadn't begun. Not even close.

The next week I got a fever.