COVID19 Exposure and Symptoms and Illness 2020

I flew to Tucson, AZ, on March 7, three airports and two airplanes, Eugene to San Francisco to Tucson for an Integrative Medicine Fellowship residential week with approximately 70 medical doctor fellows. We spent the residential week in relative proximity, in classrooms and at meals, and maintaining only a small amount of social distance as there was no real structure to social distancing mandates or anything at that time. This experience was just prior to any lockdown and our fellowship class was the last to be allowed to meet in person for our residential week. We had several MDs who were forbidden to attend due to their employers or travel bans already in place en route.

On March 13 I flew home from Tucson through LAX to Eugene airport and drove home to the Southern Oregon Coast for three hours. I stopped at the Coos Bay Natural Grocers to check for zinc and vitamin C.  On the way, per suggestions through the fellowship, I stopped at the Coos Bay Natural Grocers to check for zinc and vitamin C. I was not able to find either, as they were sold out. I was able to obtain quercitin and freeze-dried stinging nettles. I already had on hand vitamin D3, melatonin and some homeopathic remedies for cold and flu on hand at home. During the fellowship I was eating the delicious nutritious food that was provided and was prophylactically taking Yin Qiao, a Chinese herbal remedy to help prevent infection and/or greatly reduce the symptoms if infection does take place. I knew I was susceptible. The only indication on the flights both to and from, that anything was amiss, was one person on EUG-TUC who was my seatmate wiped down EVERYTHING. I thought he was going to wipe me down. Maybe I ought to have been more cautious myself. There was only one mask being worn, and the planes were packed. On the way home a week later, the LAX-EUG flight was half-full, and still very few masks on faces.

I was unable to find zinc and vitamin C at Natural Grocers on my way home, as they were already sold out. But I was able to find freeze-dried stinging nettles, quercetin, DGL and a few other quarantine items.

On March 14 I went in early morning to do my pharmacist duties at the local hospital and to shop for two weeks for my self-imposed quarantine. Several of the Dr. fellows were required to do a 14 day quarantine as part of their return home as required by their employer, so I felt it prudent to follow suit, work from home and wait and see if any symptoms appeared.

That weekend, the 14th and 15th of March, I had what could have been slight chills and slight fever, but it was difficult to differentiate if it was solely a result being back on the chilly coast alternating with my regular hot flashes in addition to experiencing significant fatigue which could have been attributed to the intense fellowship week and travel recovery.  In addition, that weekend, my ears were extremely painful and felt very congested.  Around this time several of the MD fellows in the Integrative Medicine Program were beginning to report symptoms.

That Monday morning March 16, I awakened and I felt so much better. Well enough to consider going for a walk that afternoon when it was supposed to be a bit warmer on the coast without rain. When the time came, I bundled up, covering my ears, wearing a scarf, and put on my socks and shoes. I was still feeling pretty well, and I stepped outside the door and went down my two front steps. I immediately turned around and stepped back inside, as there was a slight chilly breeze, and I knew I was too vulnerable to be outside. I hunkered down inside some more.

Sure enough, I awakened the next morning with severe chills and fever, and a dry cough developing.  Plus, for the next few days, several times a day, I would spend a few minutes coughing up deep and copious phlegm, thankfully it was clear and or white, if profuse and felt as though it was coming from deep within my lungs.

The second morning and day of chills and fever, I awakened with a blister at the acupuncture point of Lung 11 on my thumb at the corner of the thumbnail.  I proceeded to puncture the blister and then bleed the point per my training in Chinese medicine. This was the first sign for myself that my body was fighting something completely different than it has before.  I continued to cough throughout the days with the intermittent phlegm incidents.

During this initial acute chills and fever and coughing period, the other prevailing symptom was my gooey eyes, which felt like conjunctivitis that I’ve had in the past. Throughout the illness in contrast to others’ reports of insomnia, I would sleep a solid nine hours every night. 

In those first few days of illness, aside from the blister on the acupuncture point, I had one other symptom that was quite alarming.  I was awakened from a deep sleep around 2am with intense severe and painful hiccups every 15 seconds. This lasted about 30 minutes.  That only happened that one time, but it was quite scary and almost prompted me to the emergency room.

By the end of the week on March 20, our hospital, my employer, had tests available to check for SARS-COV2. After I spoke with my supervisor she recommended coming in to get the test and she let the emergency room know that I would be driving up so they could be prepared. I was one of their first tests. I packed myself in the car and made the 7 minute drive, feverish, chilled and still coughing, and was tested first for for influenza A and B. I waited the 15 minutes for results, which were negative. Then I was tested for SARS-COV-2 as one of the first swabbed, which was sent off to Seattle and told me there would be a three day turnaround.  At this point I was handed 20 tablets of hydroxychloroquine and a Z-pack to begin taking immediately.  I did not take these medications, since I did not feel comfortable with it at the time, as the hospital’s pharmacist, and the lack of knowledge of the “prescribing” MD’s of my personal health history and potential increased risk for cardiac adverse side effects.

Meanwhile, the chills and fever persisted as well as the severe fatigue. The test results came back negative the following Tuesday, however the physician who ordered the test and who saw me at the ER drive up indicated that there was a 40% false negative test and to treat this as if it is the COVID-19 due to my symptomology and to continue isolating away from the other inhabitants of the town (many elderly and retired folks) and my work. My nurse practitioner concurred.  

Eventually the chills/fever subsided as did the cough, slightly. The eye “goo” continued for the next 3 weeks and became my prevailing symptom even after the cough. Every time my symptoms seem to subside, I would begin to count the days of “symptom-free“, and inevitably beginning day 2 1/2, I would begin to feel chills and fever and then the coughing again. I was also beginning to experience severe anxiety, and resurging PTSD from the drowning incident from Summer 2019. I had spent the entire fall in shock and trauma, and finally receiving treatment and getting a grip on the PTSD and the anxiety and up until the COVID-19 illness was feeling far calmer and better. More on the river rafting event can be experienced at Darkening of the Light. The quarantine and isolation intensified to a frightening level and I was experiencing rolling bouts of depression, loss of connection with my loved ones which improved as we began daily Facebook Live meetings with my kids in Boston and central Oregon, as well as my mother in Colorado – these meetings continued nightly through mid-May. As I was able to return to work on a limited basis and end my quarantine by early April, by then the rest of the world was in lock down.

In the two months after “recovery”, I developed severe anxiety, heart palpitations and arrythmia, continued fatigue, plus severe neuropathy in both lower legs and feet.  These symptoms would roll through every 3-4 days, abating enough to pack and move back to Colorado at the beginning of May.  Just prior to leaving Oregon, the next small town inland obtained some non-FDA approved antibody tests. I hoped to confirm the diagnosis, and possibly help others by donating plasma, but the result was also negative, as it is possible I tested too soon.

By early June the arrythmia was severe enough for me to consider visiting urgent care, but at the time, with the move, I had no primary doctor, and was utilizing many of my “alternative” modalities to continue my healing, including self-acupuncture, Chinese herbs, the supplements plus C and Zinc once I could get hold of them, as well as intense ongoing meditation and guided imagery focused on the heart and lungs.  

As a result of the intense integrative work, in late May, I awakened one morning with my heart chakra buzzing in a good way, a healed way, and I haven’t experienced the palpitations and arythmic beating since then, much to my great relief.  While still in Bandon on the coast in early April after the heart begin doing its weird things, I had one scary afternoon that escalated into again almost going to the ER, but instead I laid down on my couch and my cat immediately jumped on my neck and chest areas and purred like crazy.  I immediately fell asleep, and a few minutes later, I woke up and felt like a new person with calm heart and abundant energy.  I’m not sure if that was “kitty cardioversion” or what? 

The leg and foot (and sometimes hands/fingers) neuropathy has taken a bit longer to heal, but the severity of it has greatly decreased since early June, and abates as long as I keep the inflammation down in my body through nutrition, supplements, acupuncture, mindfulness and meditation.  I am experiencing fewer and fewer flares as time goes by and have noted specific things that will definitely trigger, so am adjusting my life accordingly. If I overexert, I have to rest. When I first got to Colorado I could schedule one appointment a week, and after that appointment, e.g. the DMV for registration, I’d come home and sleep solid for 3 hours to recover. At this point, my energy is much better, though I cannot imagine, still, having enough energy to begin an acupuncture practice or stand and focus for 10-12 hours in a retail pharmacy setting.

I am grateful for this continued opportunity to write and heal in this personal pandemic pause. Finally I feel as though I have enough energy and can share my story with humanity and connect with others who are also recovering, and provide some support via my consulting practice and my personal experiences.

I offer this free meditation to those who are recovering from acute or ongoing infection, and plan to provide a platform for COVID19 group support.

COVID19 Recovery Meditation