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A mild breakthrough case presents unexpected challenges as well as emotions

FILE PHOTO - CHANEYI will admit right off the bat that I am a bit reluctant to share my COVID experience. Not because I have a problem with people knowing that I had it, but because my experience was pretty mild compared to what others have faced. As I type these words, there are people in hospitals throughout the country, struggling to breathe, facing horrible impacts from this illness, which is still new and seemingly in a constant state of flux. What we know now could frustratingly change in a matter of weeks if not days.

At the same time, I see some value in sharing because when I was in the midst of it, dealing with some familiar symptoms and some symptoms that were new and frankly a little scary, it helped to know what other people have experienced. It helped to know that they not only dealt with this weird new virus, they had come out the other side and managed to move forward. Also, mine was a breakthrough case – I got vaccinated this spring – so it might give people a glimpse into how they differ from regular cases.

Moving on to the story, it began innocently enough with my daughter getting what we believed was a mild cold. Of course, in this pandemic era in which we live, no sickness involving a sore throat or congestion should be taken lightly – but common colds still exist and when she rebounded in a matter of three days back to normal health, having never had a fever, COVID seemed unlikely. But a couple days after she got back to normal, my son, wife and I came down with the same "cold." Again, there was little cause for alarm – the symptoms were the same mild ones my daughter had just faced. It was just our turn to suffer through a couple days of common cold.

That view changed the next morning when I was sitting in my living room and made an accidental discovery. We have an essential oil diffuser and I had loaded it up with peppermint – I like that scent because it always makes our house smell like a candy cane. As I sat there, a couple feet from the diffuser, I started to wonder why I didn't smell anything. Was I sitting too far away? – sometimes that's the case. But when I scooted closer, I still got nothing. I then put my head over the diffuser and directly inhaled the vapors – no peppermint. Uh oh.

I tried a few other sniff tests, but I soon realized that even things like Vicks VapoRub and the cat's litter box (I know, that's gross, but a strong smell that's hard to miss) failed to register.

Next thing I knew, us three sickies were on our way to the hospital to get a COVID test. It took a day to get the results, but it came as no surprise that they were positive. This prompted us to get my now symptom-free daughter tested – she was positive as well. Let the quarantine begin – 10 days of house arrest.

I had often wondered what the contact tracing process is like. I found that out shortly after getting test results. It was mostly unremarkable, just a quick quiz on when symptoms started, where we've been and who we've been around during the past few days.

But then we learned that we were eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy. For those who aren't familiar with it, the therapy mimics the immune system's ability to fight back against the virus, essentially speeding up the recovery time and more importantly, preventing the need for hospitalization.

So, the next day, the three of us were back at the hospital where we got the four injections (which were relatively painless). We were told that most people within a day of the therapy start feeling a lot better. They weren't kidding. I went to bed the evening after getting the therapy, still quite congested and a dry cough starting to develop. When I awoke the next morning, the congestion was almost gone and there was no hint of a cough. After feeling rather lethargic for the past three days, I was bursting with energy, heading up and downstairs frequently as I knocked out multiple household chores.

Unfortunately, the lost sense of smell remained -- and it was troubling in a way I could never have imagined before experiencing it first-hand. I think there are certain things that people take for granted until they're taken away. For me, the ability to smell was one such thing. Pleasant aromas that I unknowingly treasured – cooked meals, holiday candles, freshly dried clothes and more were just gone…maybe for days, more likely for weeks and potentially even for months. I remember one night, lying in bed when my mind began to go to a dark place – what if it never comes back? A sense of dread grew, so strong that I couldn't lay still – it wasn't a full-blown feeling of panic, but close to it.

As I wrestled with that worry, guilt would accompany it – "All you lost is your sense of smell! What about people who lost their lives? Get over yourself!" In the end, I think the psychological impact of COVID was greater for me than the physical.

Again, my hesitation to share my experience is because I was blessed with a short illness. The quarantine is over and that sense of smell that I hoped would return is coming back gradually. Each day is a new experience with a familiar sensation that I will never take for granted again. But other people are much sicker, literally trying to survive, and others have tragically lost their lives. For the first time in my life, I feel like I understand survivors' remorse – why was I so fortunate while others were not? It seems so unfair. It's troubling.

But at the same time, if sharing my story has given anybody a reason for hope – either for themself or a loved one currently dealing with COVID – that makes it worthwhile. So, take care of yourselves and each other and let's hope that this pandemic ends soon.


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