Portland bartender, COVID-19 survivor: Being healthy helps
Jonny Wessels is a healthy, soccer-playing, whole-foods choosing and supplement-counting 38-year old who gets the occasional headache.
Headaches are the only hangover from the bout of COVID-19 that caught him by surprise a few days after Father's Day in June.
Wessels and his buddy and their two young sons had been out on a boat to celebrate Father's Day. A bartender in Portland, Wessels says he was fully used to masking up, washing hands and keeping a safe distance from patrons at the bar. On the boat, however, he let his guard down, since his friend was effectively part of his pod.
Three or four days later, Wessels woke up with a headache and backache. He also felt congested, but not in a cold or flu way: "It felt like a hangover, but I hadn't had a drink for a year. Then I lost my sense of smell. I have this really strong body wash, and I noticed the smell was gone."
Three little birdies
That day he got a call from his friend's girlfriend. "She said, 'I just tested positive, you should get tested immediately.' She didn't know if she gave it to him or he gave it to her," Wessels said. "But it seemed that the people that were around him all tested positive."
Wessels went to get the two-day test, but the wait was five hours, so he got the 20-minute test (which is less accurate) and tested negative.
The doctor told him to quarantine for 10 days after the onset of symptoms, so he shut himself in his apartment, alone, for two weeks. He only went out twice — once to a follow-up doctor appointment and once to the bank to cover his rent.
Being alone on the couch all day, he noticed the illness affecting his mind: "I don't know if it was just being isolated and watching news, but I felt like there was definitely some sort of neurological effects. I was having weird thoughts." This was three or four days into his illness.
"There was a bird sitting on my tree outside my window, and I felt like this bird kept looking at me," he said. "The news was saying there's a link from COVID to the bat. I'm not really a big conspiracy person, but I started having these weird thoughts."
The bird kept returning to the exact same spot and staring at him.
"For some reason, it completely made sense to me that this bird can be controlled by somebody," he said.
He was not on any prescription medications and this new paranoia surprised him. The 10 days passed uneventfully.
Once he tested negative, he could see his mother and young son again.
His sense of smell slowly began to return, first with sweet things, after three weeks.
Now every time he's exposed to someone who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, he gets tested. His total so far: six tests.
Much of what lies ahead is unknown. He's heard that immunity can last as little as three months, so he has to behave as though he's never had COVID-19.
"Honestly, I haven't had any advice for my doctors," he said. "Even when I got it, they gave me a piece of paper, which is a printout from the CDC, and they shrugged their shoulders. Unless you're one of the top doctors, we're all just as knowledgeable as the information that gets put out there from the CDC."
Wessels has a hunch that people with weaker immune systems or certain blood types are more likely to spread the virus than people like himself, since he was with his family for a few days before he realized he had it.
As for getting the vaccine, that's a big yes.
"I definitely will would like to protect ourselves. I don't know about my son quite yet, but hopefully my mother would get vaccinated," he said.
He fully expects the guidelines to keep changing, as they have been this year, around masks, medical treatment and the vaccine. A Tom Hanks interview can be just as influential as a Dr. Anthony Fauci pronouncement. People ask to hear his story because they want to know what might happen to them, and there are so many variables in how people react.
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