The following is Allison Page’s COVID diary. Day one was March 19.
When reached by phone on April 2, Page was still experiencing shortness of breath and planned to head down to Mammoth Hospital to get her oxygen levels checked. “Hoping I come home.”
She texted later to indicate she was fine. “I am good. Back home. Just a fun, new symptom.”
Day 1, 4 a.m: I wake up with a fever. I can feel the ache in my bones and sweat on my forehead. This is what the flu feels like. Typically, I would grab some water and Advil and go back to sleep, but this is a new age: the age of coronavirus and a fever is the first sign. My temperature is 100.5.
I tell my husband, David, to sleep in the other room. He does. He will sleep there for the next 12 days, perhaps longer.
I take my temperature almost every hour. It goes up and down. I stay in bed and read everything I can about this new disease that is changing the world. I am looking for symptoms, for stories, for tell-tale signs. “The flu is still going around,” my doctor friend tells me via text. There are still no confirmed positives in the county. Fever, cough, shortness of breath. I’m good, I think: only one symptom out of three.
I text everyone I know that I’ve had contact with that I have a fever. I worry that others are sick and may get sicker. I’ve already been quarantining for a week now, washing hands obsessively, remaining 6 feet away at all times. I don’t know how I could have gotten this thing, whom I could have gotten it from, or whom I could have given it to.
Day 2: My temperature is 96.5. This is low but better than high. I am drinking fluids, taking Tylenol (I read that Advil can be harmful). I realize I must eat. I’m vaguely hungry but nothing sounds good. I read that some people lose their sense of smell and taste, so I spray perfume up my nose. I smell it, sort of. I sense that the orange juice is sweet and the broccoli is salty but would not know it was broccoli or orange juice if I was blindfolded.
Day 3: My fever has not returned. What is left is a headache and a dizzy, woozy, vertigo feeling that I cannot shake. When I stand up, I feel like I’m two feet tall and my body in space doesn’t make any sense. The world isn’t spinning precisely but seems to be pressing down on me. I read accounts from a series of COVID 19 patients describing their symptoms and find the words I’m searching for: “I felt spongy;” “I felt like this is what it must feel like to be 80 years old.”
Day 4: I’m wondering if I’m going crazy, if this dizzy feeling is just my anxiety and my loss of energy is depression. I take a walk out my front door and walk slowly, deliberately, not wanting
to get winded, hoping fresh air will recharge me. I believe once outside I will sprint up the street like usual and go for a run. Instead I walk slowly back to my bed and stay there.
This is not something I’ve ever done before. I’ve never had to text my husband to bring me food, drink, Tylenol, space heater. I’ve never not tucked in my 12 year old, Beckett, to sleep, a ritual that he makes sure occurs each and every night. I’ve never before not wanted to get out of my bed for hours or days. I’m used to exercise and multi-tasking, taking care of my two (three) boys, socializing, and going to work. I typically bound out of bed in the morning to start my day with a jolt to avoid looking back and to not delay the day ahead. Now I feel like if I get up and go to the bathroom it might be too much of an ordeal, too much to ask of my body. I feel like gravity has won.
Day 5: It’s 10 a.m. and my husband is on a work call and has not had time to bring me breakfast. I should not contaminate the upstairs space with my existence, so I wait. It is only Day 5 and I’m already a chore, the lady downstairs the family has to feed and water. I am the banished dog that is not allowed on the family furniture. I’ve been forgotten. Beckett, my 12 year old, is mad at me. I think he feels I’ve deserted him. I have. I call him on the landline upstairs—the one we basically have reserved for incoming robo calls for cheap vacations—and tell him to come down and bring backgammon. He would have to sit across the room and roll for me and move the pieces, but we could play. He grunts and hangs up. I call again and tell him I’m doing a political poll and is he the man of the house? He hangs up on me, but chuckles a little this time.
I check Facebook and find out that a friend’s father has COVID-19 and is in critical condition. I close my eyes and hope the doctors will heal him. I hear about a second homeowner in a coma. I feel the soothing air float in and out through my lungs and go to sleep.
Day 6: I wake up and feel less dizzy. My headache has dulled and I feel like I want to move a little. I do some yoga but don’t like the feeling of my heart racing because I’m afraid it won’t stop. I read about the people dying in NY. We’ve passed Wuhan in terms of number of confirmed cases. I search for ways to keep my family safe. I imagine David getting sick too and wonder how our kids would get through it. Where would they go if we both have to be admitted to the hospital? Would Jasper, my 14 year old, step up and take command? Would my friends let them stay with them knowing they had been exposed? I find a video of an ICU doctor in NYC that is helpful. Wash hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay six feet apart. I decide I’m going to have some wine tonight to see if that will help with the headache. I wake up feeling hungover every morning anyway, so I may as well drink.
Day 6, 1 p.m: I start feeling super woozy and wonder if this is what a panic attack feels like. I stop reading the news, mark my place in Anna Karenina on my Kindle and turn on Outlander on my laptop as a distraction. I was planning to use all this free time to finish the one-act play I was writing, really tackle that big play I started years ago, read Kant. But right now I can’t even concentrate on this stupid show.
Suddenly I can hardly sit up, stand, talk, or text. I call David. He reminds me he’s out running an errand, getting his ancient truck fixed once again. I call Jasper, my teenager, who is of course in his room next door. I ask him to come in and tell me if my lips look blue. This is a wave of vertigo/dizziness I have not experienced before. He says I look fine and tells me to go to sleep. I seem to be able to breathe, but it feels like the world is caving in on me. I assume this lightheadedness must be due to lack of oxygen. I call my doctor friend who lives around the corner to see if he has an oxygenator at his house. He doesn’t. When I speak I sound wasted, breathy. He tells me to go to the ER.
I call David again. He’s on the way home, on foot. It’s blizzarding. He runs the 4 miles from across town, in snow boots, then up our steep hill. “I’m coming,” he says. “Meet me in the car.”
I call the ER and tell them we’re on our way. I grab the old plastic mask we have in the garage that is designed for power tools or something, and put it on. I look like I’m in a Mad Max movie. I walk up the stairs taking one step at a time and as casually as possible tell my 12 year old that mommy is going to the doctor to get her oxygen checked. I try to sound chipper. I try not to pass out.
2 p.m: “It’s like when we went to the hospital for Beckett,” my husband says. (My 12 year was born here in Mammoth in a blizzard. That was the last time I sat writhing in the back seat.) We park outside the ER and I call in from the car. Someone asks me questions and tells me to walk in with my mask on and show myself to the nurse behind the glass. He is dressed in some otherworldly Hazmat suit contraption. He asks me more questions. He can’t hear my answers because I am so breathy and weak. He tells me that I don’t seem to be struggling too hard to breathe. I tell him I feel like I am going to pass out. He sends me back to the car. I get a call from the ER doctor this time. He tells us to drive around to the ambulance entrance and park as close as we can to the door. He is going to suit up and come out and check my oxygen and vitals and probably give me a test for COVID-19.
3 p.m: My oxygen is 96%. “Better than mine,” the doctor says. I’m relieved and summon a smile. He says that my wooziness is sometimes a symptom. Some people say it feels like they are going to forget to breathe. “My mind feels foggy,” I tell him. “This headache and the dizziness is insane.” He shoves a foot-long Q-tip up my nose and into my brain. He is impressed how unfazed I am. My husband in the driver’s seat cringes as he watches through the rearview mirror and is impressed too. The doctor says they’ll call me in 5 to 7 days with the results and to not come back unless I’m having trouble breathing.
4 p.m: Back in my room I am relieved that my lungs are still working, pumping me with oxygen instead of filling with water and virus crowns. This is just my symptom. Though it felt worse than when I was 19 years old and near the summit of mount Kenya at 16,000 feet. Disoriented and light-heated, I turned around right before the peak because I felt my mind was not grounded enough to make smart, life saving, big mountain decisions. Back in my bed I am still super out of it, but I am breathing.
Day 8: I wake up feeling energized and enthusiastic. According to the CDC guidelines, which are a little hard to parse—7 days after resolution of symptoms? Or after fever breaks? Or…?— I decide I can end my self-isolation and come back into the family space. I clean my room and bathroom, change the sheets, do the laundry, and venture upstairs. I smile. Beckett smiles back. We do an art project. We bake ricotta cake. I eat dinner with the family and get a much-needed kiss on my cheek from everyone but Jasper, the teenager, who is still a bit afraid of contamination and is staying away. My husband moves back into our bedroom. He snuggles his foot against mine and we both pass out at 8:30.
Day 9: I wake up to a call from the ER doctor. “I feel a bit better,” I say. “Your test was positive,” he answers. Here we go. I’m not surprised. Instead, I’m relieved. I mean if this wasn’t COVID then I probably had cancer or something. Or I’m insane. And if it was something else, like just a bad flu, then I would worry my immune system was now seriously compromised and not at all ready to fight off the real thing if and when I were to get it. The knowing is good.
I tell my family. I tell my friends. I post on Facebook. I’m the 7th positive COVID
19 case in the County. I feel guilty that I got tested when my friend from work who was also sick was not. I feel guilty that another friend who was much sicker than I have been somehow tested negative. In her case, the doctors think it was a false negative, but still. The county has now posted that it will no longer test anyone who does not need to be admitted to the hospital. They need to keep the tests for health care professionals and for those in critical condition. “I didn’t ask for a test,” I reiterate to my husband. He agrees.
I feel lucky, somehow special, to have received a test and passed. Today I no longer need to second-guess my symptoms. I no longer need to wonder. But then I get a response from another doctor to a Facebook post: “You tested positive but you don’t know you have it.” What?!? “Between the doctor checking you out and the accuracy of the test it’s still only 90% certain,” he writes.
So all the numbers, all the graphs, all the information I’ve been reading could be worthless? I was assuming I had it even before symptoms. As I understood it, we’re all supposed to be leading our lives as if we’re infected because we actually might be and still show no symptoms. When I got a fever, I stayed in my room; I self-isolated! I’ve been trying to figure all of this out by reading, learning, listening, so I can act appropriately, follow the rules, keep others safe. And now a doctor is telling me on Facebook that my positive test result may mean nothing. How does this help me? How does this help humanity?
I decide that is crap and that I probably know as much as he does or more. I’ve spent hours, days, reading about it. I have COVID-19. As my friend described it on her voice message, “You’ve been crowned.” Now I just need to figure out what that means, and what to do next.
Day 11: I’ve passed Day 10 so I should be out of the woods in terms of the deadly symptoms, another doctor tells me. Despite the lingering headache I’m relieved.
“Imagine feeling well,” a friend advises. But I’m starting to forget what that feels like. I hear vertigo can last for years and a cough can go on for months; that my lungs could be damaged for life. I always thought doctors would heal me – my breaks, my infections – so that even when things got really painful, I knew I would be okay. I would mend. I would come back to myself again.
This time the doctors don’t know the answers to my questions. The CDC guidelines indicate I’m good to go back upstairs now. But I also read that sometimes infection can stay in your system for 30 days. Another study says 40. Should I stay in my room for 40 days? The ER doctor tells me 72 hours after symptoms end. But what if I feel dizzy and lethargic for months? I find a COVID-19 Facebook group called Survivor Corps and learn that one study found that infected patients no longer shed the virus 8 days after symptoms end. Which symptoms, I wonder? I decide I will come out on the 14th day after onset. I don’t know if my kids, my psyche, or my marriage can take any more isolation than that.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not on a ventilator. I have a beautiful window to look out of from my bed. I can see trees and snow and sky. My family is healthy. My parents are healthy. We have a little money in the bank to get by on, and plenty of supplies in the pantry. We have good friends that bring us fresh vegetables, homemade soup and fresh-squeezed orange juice. And due to my early onset, if I should now take a turn for the worse there is still a bed for me at the hospital, and I know most of the doctors that will risk their lives to save me. I am muted, dulled, weary, but I’m still very much alive.
Day 12: I go for a walk with a friend. We arrive in separate cars and keep far apart from each other. It’s finally sunny with a blue sky and I look at the view and feel so happy to be alive. My husband texts me a thumbs up for being able enough to go on a walk. The Boston Marathon I ran three years ago seems like another lifetime.
Today I am determined to do something with my new superpower. I have told people my story and told everyone to share it: to stay safe and watch for symptoms. People I don’t know are reaching out to me to tell me their sickness stories, to ask me what to do and do I think they have it. Perhaps I’m helping them feel less alone.
I have heard that Mt. Sinai in NYC is are already using the plasma from people who’ve recovered to help the seriously ill. I may not be immune yet, but I will be. And when I am I’ll donate my plasma and save lives. I’ll be one of the first people in my county to be immune to this disease. And with that will come a responsibility to help where help is needed. I’ll do errands, shop, pick up packages. I’ll be the one in the room with the birthing mothers when their husbands are not allowed in. I’ll wear a COVID-19 Survivor hat in front of Vons and give free hugs. I’ll multi-task and be the economy for those who are sheltering in place trying not to get it or spread it. I will hold the hands of your loved ones when they are dying so they won’t have to die alone. Until we have a vaccine, it will be up to us, the survivors, to take the world on and help do what others can’t.
I’ll be more patient with my family and understand that I am not a burden; they just act happier when I am around. I’ll no longer sweat the small stuff. I’ll be more grateful. I’ll say thank you to those who show care, and I will not tolerate those who do not. I’ll realize that my connections with people caused me to get this thing, but will also be the seeds of a cure.
Day 12, 8 p.m: My family “makes a healing howl out the window” to celebrate the health care workers putting themselves in harms way to save us. My friend texts me that she heard us and it made her cry. Beckett sits on the rocking chair across from me in my bedroom. He is smiling but he tells me he has a headache and woke up this morning feeling short of breath.
I know that kids under 14 rarely get this thing, or don’t get it seriously, but please, please let him be fine. Please let my friends, my family, and everyone’s friends and families get through this thing. Please.
I consider staying in my room for the whole 40 days.