Why I Didn’t See Covid Coming for Me

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Covid snuck up on me. And because I feel like there isn’t enough REAL information out there, I feel it is imperative to share with you in as much detail as possible, an unfiltered look at what happened in our experience with the much dreaded Covid-19.

As I said, Covid snuck up on me. I mean, I was doing ALL the things. My family was social distancing. We were only seeing friends outside and staying 6′ away almost all the time at that. We were wearing masks everywhere we went, though we really didn’t leave the house very often. I haven’t been inside a grocery store since March. (Thank the Lord for Instacart.) I’m doing curbside pickup everywhere that I can and doing Amazon delivery for the rest. We aren’t eating out in restaurants unless it’s outside and even at that, I don’t recall that we’ve done it more than once. We have done some takeout and food delivery, but it hasn’t been very often and when we do, my husband is crazy stringent about it. Only he is allowed to touch the items. He transfers the food to our own dishes, reheats it when possible and throws away all of the containers the food came in moments after transferring it. My kids have done no sports camps or day camps or anything in large groups. And yet, Covid came…right through our back door.

Our nanny showed up to work nearly a month ago feeling fine. Over the course of that day, she developed a bad headache. Of course, we both thought that was a migraine or allergies. I took her temperature, just to be safe and she had none. Little did we know what was to come. She developed a bit of sinus pressure and the next morning when she showed up, she told me that the headache had not let up all night long and she felt a bit chilly on her drive over to my house. Again, I checked and she had no fever, but in an attempt to be overly cautious, I immediately canceled our family’s plans for the day and sent her home after being here for five minutes and asked her to check in with her doctor and get a Covid test. Though her initial symptoms didn’t really line up with Covid, I wanted to be certain. Lesson #1: Go with your gut/listen to your intuition. Lesson #2: Be overly cautious if you need to when it comes to this virus.

Over the next few days, she began to feel worse. Our family took precautions against being around people in any close capacity, just in case, but at this point, we really didn’t think she had it. I had yet to know anyone in Houston who did have it, so we were lulled into a bit of a false sense of security with the passage of time. We celebrated our son’s second birthday without my mom or any extended family, out of an abundance of caution. We amped up the immune-boosting supplements and got extra sleep and prayed that she didn’t actually have it. She received a positive test result nearly one week after her first symptom appeared. As you can imagine, I panicked. Big time.

Now it was real. Covid had actually been INSIDE my home. The home that I have been safeguarding for over three months. Our safe place. The place where we hunkered down, stocking up on food and supplies, skipping Spring Break travel, homeschooling my kids while schools were deemed unsafe by the governor. The place where we had our pared-down celebrations of Easter and Mother’s Day and multiple birthdays within our little family, all celebrated here and without any extended family members or friends in an attempt to stay safe and slow the spread. And yet, the thing that we had been hiding from in the safety of our own home had literally walked right in my back door.  I nearly had a breakdown at the thought of it.

I immediately went to be tested at BreatheMD. I did both their saliva test and their antibody test, just in case. (We had been  sick in Tahoe back in February and I had always wondered if that was Covid.) Both came back negative the next day. I also called our pediatrician, who is affiliated with the world-famous Texas Childrens Hospital in an attempt to get the baby tested, since he had the most exposure to our nanny, being up in her arms a lot. The pediatrician told me that they aren’t allowed to test asymptomatic children even if they have direct exposure with a Covid positive person, due to a lack of available tests. I was furious. The system we all worked so hard to support had let us down with a lack of testing now during this spike, when we needed it most.

Late that night, our baby came down with a fever. At first, it was 99.5 and I was all kinds of panicked. Then, it shot up to 101.5 and I really panicked. Did we actually have Covid? At this point, we were six days out from our last contact with our nanny. We gave the baby Tylenol and put him down to bed. He slept through the night and when he woke up, he seemed fine. And no fever, praise the Lord.

That day (the day after the baby’s fever), I felt a little bit of a sore throat. It came and went throughout the day. I would feel it for an hour and then it would be gone for 3-4 hours. Strange. I didn’t take any Tylenol or pain medicine because I didn’t want to mask any symptoms. I did amp up my Vitamin C and we all took Elderberry in an attempt to boost our immune systems. I also gargled with hot water, salt and baking soda. In hindsight, I consider that to be day one of my symptoms, though at the time, I wasn’t convinced that we even had it. As it turns out, so much of this virus is viewed through the 20/20 lens of hindsight, which is extremely frustrating. On this day, I called our pediatrician to let him know that we could now test the baby, since he was both symptomatic with the fever of 101.5 and had direct exposure to someone who tested positive for Covid. We did a telemedicine appointment with him and he ordered the test for us. Unfortunately, there was now also a wait to be tested. We took the first available appointment four days out. At the time, that truly felt like an eternity.

The following day (now day two of my symptoms), I felt a little bit of tightness in my chest and a little bit of a sore throat, but again, both came and went in a very strange way. I would have them for an hour or two and then not again for five or six hours. I literally thought I was losing my mind and that maybe I hadn’t even felt them. I thought I was psychosomatic and imagining things because of our nanny’s positive result. And I felt like that was confirmed by my negative test result. Right? (Spoiler alert: Wrong.) Around late morning, our second oldest boy (out of four) told me that he “felt strange and that water tastes funny” and then proceeded to vomit all over the floor. Jesus, be near. I am not a fan of cleaning up vomit. He proceeded to throw up for the rest of that afternoon, but never had a fever. He took a long nap and when he woke up, he requested sushi for dinner. Go figure. I guess he felt back to normal!

That afternoon, my eye started bothering me a little bit and when I looked at it, it was bloodshot in one corner. It hurt when I blinked and felt like maybe I had a stye or something. My husband took a quick look at it and told me that it was episcleritis or a conjunctivitis (but not the same one as what people refer to as “pink eye” – he made that very clear). He told me that this was a symptom in literally less than one percent of people with Covid. At this point, I started to think it was more likely that I had the virus, since I’ve always been special in statistics like that. I called the pediatrician and asked if we could get my second son tested as well, since he now also had symptoms, but he said that they were only allowing one test per family of children right now. If one child tested positive, they were all presumed positive and no more testing needed to be done. Again, not enough tests.

The next day was pretty much status quo. I had random symptoms like a sore throat, some sinus pressure and a slight feeling of tightness on my chest – almost like a child was sitting on my chest. Not an elephant, mind you, but a small child. And it would come and go. It was never really bothersome and if I didn’t know that I had been around a Covid positive person, I really wouldn’t have paid it much mind. I would have definitely thought it was allergies or the like. (As a side note, we were doing some work outside of our house that involved cement dust and I sort of thought maybe I just inhaled some of that and made my throat angry – who knows?) I was feeling a bit more run down that usual, but I had also been parenting four boys aged nine and under completely solo for nearly two weeks while my husband worked really long days seeing patients. That’s enough to wear anyone down! Since we couldn’t get tested any faster, I did my best to just put the whole thing out of my head.

The following morning, I took the baby to get tested at one of the Texas Children’s Hospital testing sites, just South of the medical center. It was SUPER easy and efficient and although I was terrified for him, I don’t think that it hurt him very much, because he only cried for maybe 15 seconds. (The nurse who did it said that the ones for babies and toddlers are much smaller than for adults.) We pulled up in my car, confirmed his name and birthdate, rolled down his window and the testing person leaned in and did it right there in his carseat. Easy peasy. Aside from the long wait to get in to be tested, I was super pleased with the whole experience. The rest of that day was more of the same. I remember feeling quite run down, but I chalked that up to stress over this whole situation. A few minor symptoms would come and go for me, but really, nothing of note. How could this possibly be the Covid I had been reading about?

Just before 5pm that same day, our pediatrician called. The baby had tested positive for Covid-19. For just a few seconds, my world stopped spinning. How could this be happening?

I immediately called my husband to warn him and he had just finished seeing patients for the day. Once he came home, we began the process of trying to get him tested. Little did we know what an absolute cluster of a mess that would be. Before I get to that, I want to pause here to tell you that it took me several days to wrap my head around the fact that my youngest child had actually tested positive for Covid. It rocked my world. It was so surreal, because we had been hiding from this “novel virus” for so long at this point. We had been running from this very thing for what feels like so, so long. We had given up MONTHS of going to school, for one. We had given up little league, swim team, school plays, preschool graduation, play dates, vacations, time with family, socialization with friends, playgrounds, airplane travel, sleep away camp, day camps, vacation Bible school, charity fundraisers, eating out and so much more. And now, we actually HAVE the uber-scary thing that convinced us to give up so very much of life? Seriously? It almost felt like it wasn’t possible. Except that it was.

All of the terrible things that I had read about this coronavirus came flooding back to me over the next few days. Every description of each horrible symptom that I had read about, every story about a young person being put on a ventilator because of it, every story about loved ones dying while separated from their families, every single story about this virus that I had consumed from the media over the past few months came flooding back to my memory like an overwhelming tidal surge of information. And it very nearly pulled me under. But, God. All of the fear (and there was a LOT) was fought solely by His grace and mercy throughout this ordeal. I felt like I was swimming alone in a deep, dark ocean. It was the deep abyss of the unknown that kept me awake at night and when it came, I had no choice but to pray and trust God and then continue walking right through it. Lesson #3: This is a mental battle as much as a physical one. Be prepared for that.

We spent all of the following day, Saturday, trying to get my husband tested, to determine whether or not he could safely return to work. He had a telemedicine appointment through Methodist Hospital that morning and the physician placed an order for a test. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any openings for five full days. How can that be? How is it possible that a physician cannot get tested faster than that? No one could give us an answer. If Harris County has failed in one area, I believe that it is certainly our lack of priority testing. I still cannot believe that this is how the fourth largest city in the United States of America is operating. After over three months of dealing with Covid, I really thought we had things together better than this. When Texas decided to reopen our state and to allow 70,000 protestors to gather together in insanely close proximity in downtown Houston, I really thought that we had a more solid plan for the spike that we all knew was inevitable upon reopening this state. Obviously, I was gravely mistaken and had misplaced my trust in our “system.” Since we were apparently on our own to get my husband tested, we called every number on our county’s public health website. All of them either had no answer, had a prerecorded message to try back tomorrow morning or were booked solid. We drove to several urgent care centers around town who claimed to take walk-ins, but none of them actually did. A few of them told us that they hand out 100 wristbands for that day’s allotment of tests at 5am each morning and that lines begin to form around 2am. It felt to me like we had been transported back to March, when this entire process was new and untested. But, no, it was mid-June. We made countless phone calls and begged everyone involved to test my husband. No one could help us. Finally, that night, my husband put on his scrubs and grabbed his medical badges/IDs and checked himself into the emergency room to be tested. He had no symptoms, but we were in desperate need of a test to make the difficult decisions about whether or not he should see patients and this seemed like the only way to get that test done. What a ridiculous use of resources. Lesson #4: Do what you need to do for your own family, even if it involves “thinking outside the box”. You are in charge of your own health and cannot depend on a system to handle this for you.

Saturday and Sunday (days 5 and 6 for me) were the days when my symptoms came and did not leave again. While days 1-4 were random and strange symptoms that came and went, these were here to stay. My chief complaints were intense sinus pressure (but without actual mucus or drainage), tightness in my chest (with an occasional dry cough), feeling feverish (though I haven’t actually HAD a fever) and being very, very tired. At this point, I figured that I was positive. Our pediatrician had told me there was almost no chance that the mother of a two year old who had Covid didn’t also have it herself, especially considering the insanely close proximity that most little ones have with their mamas and mine is definitely no exception to that. (Hello, sweet baby kisses, I’m looking at you!) He also told me that they are estimating that people are contagious about two days before they develop symptoms. This made me feel a little better, because our family hadn’t actually seen any other families during that window of time, but I still called everyone who I had seen since we had contact with our nanny a week before, just in case his timing window wasn’t accurate. As an aside, to date, not one of those people has had any symptoms and a few even tested negative (though they weren’t testing based on their exposure to us.) Lesson #5: As you make your decisions about where to go and who to see, know that you will need to call the people you had contact with to inform them if you do end up testing positive. One tip that I have for other families is to keep a pretty up-to-date calendar of your daily activities, especially if you’re seeing other people, to make it easier for you to notify people if you do get sick. My tendency to put everything on the calendar on my phone (because I tend to forget things!) proved to be really helpful in this part of the ordeal. Reaching out to people took some time since most of them wanted to talk about what went down. In hindsight, it might have been easier to just send one mass email explaining, but I sort of felt like I owed people a personal conversation. This may be because I was the first person in our friend group to get it, though.

Prior to getting this virus, 100% of my information on it had come from the media. I have never been a big media consumer. I recognize the bias in almost everything written and I’m generally not a person who watches the news or reads newspapers, etc. I just don’t have the time or emotional energy and I’m very turned off by the biases that skew every single piece of information they share. However, much like after 9/11, I fell victim to the media’s “panic porn” in this instance. In a desperate search for ANY information about this coronavirus, I started reading all of the articles I could. When I would get overwhelmed, I cut off my news intake and felt a lot better. But overall, I’ve read more news stories in the past three months than I have in the decade prior. I’m going to say what most of us are thinking – the media is not in this game to help us. The media is in this to keep our attention. Our attention is their source of revenue, be it subscriptions or advertising. I have no doubt that some people in the media want to get information out and tell true stories, but overall, it is a machine that profits from our giving them attention. Having now actually had Covid, I am more acutely aware of the slant of the stories in the media towards death and despair. I am not in ANY way saying that this is not a dangerous virus that is killing people. It certainly is. But, I have not been able to find very much encouraging information out there and when you actually HAVE the virus, that is a really scary thing. That is my “why” for spending countless hours of time posting on Instagram and IGTV, responding to the direct messages of both strangers and friends and now writing these blog posts in an effort to share my story. Sharing our stories gives a face to a faceless virus and enables us to process the information in a different and far less scary way. That is my sole goal in sharing with you. If I can help anyone at all with their fear about this virus or help people better prepare for it or help anyone walk through it, then I will feel like I’ve done the right thing.

So, that’s the first part of our story – how the virus snuck up on me because I wasn’t looking for the symptoms that we ended up having, especially in our nanny’s case. I think it is super important for people to know what other people’s experiences with Covid are so that they can be more aware and to know what to look for when it comes to symptoms. If you’d like to hear more from me personally about this journey, check out this video on my Instagram feed.

I’ll share the next part of our story in my next blog post, so stay tuned. And please, feel free to leave comments or questions below. Thanks for reading!

xoxoAndrea