Tuesday, January 5, 2021

After COVID-19, Feeling Better But Certainly Not Normal

ETA: This post has been edited to add more info mostly on my stay in the ER and to add stuff about my ambulance ride to the ER. I left that out purposefully at first but to tell the whole story it really needed to be included. I am thinking of filing a complaint against the EMT who rode in the back of the ambulance with me and when you read what happened you will understand why. The thing is I am sure no one else, except maybe the driver would remember what he was saying about me and I doubt the driver would back up my side of things.


Just an update on my condition. I am feeling a lot better but still quite weak & fatigued. I guess that will all pass with time, my doc, yesterday, told me it may take up to another month for me to feel much better. She also told me that my immune system must be stressed to the maximum what with the illnesses I've had over the past several months. I find that quite believable considering I've recently been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (confirmation of earlier suspected diagnoses of RA), had a UTI, had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, was diagnosed with a less than normal heart beat efficiency (it does not pump the normal amount of blood with each beat and that was diagnosed close to the height of my several months illness that was finally diagnosed as RMSF), had oral thrush, have severe osteoarthritis in both hips, have hypothyroidism, have gout, have hypertension, have both types of sleep apnea (obstructive and central nervous system), have GERD, have extremely high PSA (and it's been recommended I get a prostate biopsy) and then atop all of that came down with COVID-19.

As far as anyone thinking this illness is not serious, you are out of your minds. I still think the flu is probably the more dangerous but that is based on the Spanish flu of the early 20th century having killed up to an estimated 15 to 100 million and having infected an estimated 500 million or about 1/3 of the world population at the time (source). It may happen again but the thing is there are polyvalent flu vaccinations that seem to do the job at keeping the flu at bay. As for COVID-19, it also is quite dangerous in my opinion and has the potential to become much worse than any version of the flu to date. Here is why I think that:

I am 65 years old. As far as I can remember, in all of my life I have not personally known even one person who died from the flu. In just one year (more or less) I personally have known 4 people who have died from COVID-19. In addition, as far as I am aware, there have only been two times in my life that there have been outbreaks of different versions of the flu in the same year. The last time was in 2009 when the Swine Flu hit. I had the flu that year while on a work assignment in AZ. It was diagnosed as Swine Flu. I can attest, it was pretty bad. Was it as bad as my current/recent bout of COVID-19? That is hard to determine because of vast differences in my health condition from 2009 through now and because of other considerations such as my age.

In 2009, I was relatively in good health. I had what was diagnosed as a branchial cleft cyst in the right side of my neck. I had hypertension and was diagnosed that year with sleep apnea - both types. Otherwise I was pretty healthy and fairly athletic. I got hit hard by the flu but was able to go out with my son when he visited me in AZ (doc told me I was not contagious any longer when he was there but man was I still sick). Going out meant things like we went fishing one day and I fell asleep in 100 degree or so temps while he fished in a lake that was almost boiling and caught one small sunfish as I recall. We tried hiking too but I could not walk more than maybe 100 feet without almost collapsing. I got over it before he left and we had some fun together and actually got in a nice hike or two in the mountains. If 'd have had COVID-19 at the time, I think I would have been in a similar condition but I think it was different having it now than if I would have had it then - that just as i think the same flu may have totally debilitated me or maybe even killed me if I had it now.

The difference now, in my overall health from then, is huge. Read again what I had then and what I have now and bear in mind I also had stage 4 throat cancer in 2011 and the effects of 7 weeks of radiation a several chemo treatments will be debilitating to me for life. Then again, merely those things I had just before coming down with COVID-19 are enough to knock anyone for a loop as far as your immune system goes. Anyone who says to me - you just have the flu has not been paying attention to what I have already written about my health relative to COVID-19 in prior posts. While this illness knocked the crap out of me much as did the swine flu, it also had some additional effects that the swine flu did not. Be that because of my declined health since 2009, my current age, the actual differences in the two diseases or whatever - I do not know.

The differences between my last bout of the flu and COVID-19 are many (and bear in mind I may forget to include something because there are many differences in my symptoms and this stuff played havoc with my little gray cell's ability to remember things while sick). Here are at least some of the differences between my case of COVID-19 and my bout of Swine Flu as for symptoms:

Flu = slight congestion, rapid onset of other symptoms to include: aches & pains throughout my body, extreme fatigue, medium to high fever for a couple to few days, maybe several days (heck it was 11 years ago and hard to remember but I did have fever). Aches and pains remained fairly constant in degree - very bad throughout from day one.

COVD-19 = first two or three days: runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing up some phlegm. After day three or so - gradual development of aches and pains throughout my entire body, loss of taste & smell (on and off). I developed some pretty bad stomach pains too and then diarrhea. My appetite in the first 12 days or so was almost nonexistent. Someone who saw me outside my apartment, when I took out the pooch, was aghast at how much weight she thought I had lost. Best I can figure (from my weight at doctor yesterday and what I recall it to have been) is I lost about 10 -  12 pounds within the first 10 days or so. I do not think I lost an
y weight when I had the flu but really do not recall for certain. After realizing I was losing weight that was so noticeable to others, I forced myself to eat more and have already gained some back. I am taking probiotics to fight the runs.

The cough continued steadily, though only a few coughs a day most days, through at least day 12. I coughed up blood for at least a few days prior to going into the ER on day 10 (after diagnosis); more on that to come below. Blowing my nose also produced blood in that same time frame, often more than when I coughed. I still have the sniffles (runny nose) just a bit or actually those came back yesterday.

My hip pain increased markedly throughout the first week (then got somewhat better probably because I was sleeping 16 to 20 hours a day throughout the first week and a half or so and was not walking much at all). It has gotten worse now I am up and about again.

I had a fever every day from about day 2 or 3 (after diagnosis) up and through day 13. The fever came and went each day; the highest I recorded was 101.8 but I am certain it got higher at one point when I had forgotten my thermometer downstairs and I was in bed sweating and freezing and shivering at the same time until it broke. Most days, the fever ran between 100.4 and 100.8 degrees - not high but recurrent. Sometimes I  was feverish up to three times in a day separated each time by the fever breaking for a couple or few hours. This was extremely different from the fever with the flu which was more or less constant until it broke and that was it.

On about day 10 (after diagnosis) I was out walking my dog. (I had to walk her because no one would board her because I had COVID-19; in fact two people were extremely nasty toward me because I evidently had the nerve to piss them off by notifying them I had this disease & then asking them to board my dog.) Anyway, while out on that walk, the world started spinning. I do not mean mild light-headedness - I mean spinning like when a very drunk person lays down in bed and tries to sleep and it seems like they are on their way to visit the Wizard of Oz as the tornado picks up the house and spins it wildly. I also had a sudden onset of severe shortness of breath and pain in the center of my chest while breathing (both in an out but more on the inward breath). I more or less collapsed to my knees purposefully because I realized I was about to pass out. I bent over and lowered my head and after several minutes was able to unsteadily regain my footing & wobble over to a park bench and sat down. I sat there for how long only my dog Skye knows as she sat patiently by my side looking at me as if she knew something was not right in our world that day.

At the moment I went down to my knees - with the extreme dizziness, sudden extreme shortness of breath and chest pain while breathing - I was thinking maybe that was it for me! That truly is how bad I felt at that moment and it was scary. The flu never even came close to doing any of that to me. It took me quite the time to regain my willpower to try to walk home and then to continue the 1/4 mile or less to get there. My best guess, is that it took me 20 to 30 minutes after getting up from the bench where I had rested for an unknown amount of time (I will venture a guess of maybe 15 minutes to a half hour or so). 

I was all alone except for my mongrel Skye - there was not another person in sight to look to for help and man I wanted help and wanted it badly; no phone either, I had forgotten it in my living room. That feeling of being on my own, except for Skye, was frightening but I had been there before and was determined to get home no matter what and having Skye with me was somehow comforting and gave me strength of will. I went to the ER that day, via ambulance. (I dread getting the bill for that even though a representative of Blue Cross told me they would pay for it despite charges for an ambulance usually not being allowed under my health plan; she said because it was due to COVID they would pay and I hope she was correct.) That was day 10 or so after diagnosis, and I went to the ER as per the recommendation of my doctor when I called her office that day upon getting home from the dog walk in the park (she apparently had forgotten all about that when I saw her yesterday). 

Let me just say some things about the ambulance ride (and this piece was edited to add all of this on the night of the same day I wrote the rest of it). The EMT who was in the back of the bus with me was a pompous piece of shit - there is no other way to describe him as I see him. He was from McCallen, TX or close to it. He boasted about how he was a special volunteer and how he had been trained to do what he was doing and was sent to northeast TX to save us - yes he said to save us. Then, after a good few minutes of his braggadocio, he finally asked me about my situation. Somewhere in there he remembered to put on his protective gas mask - that is what he donned. I told him I had been out walking Skye and about what happened. He immediately began to berate me in a nasty and condescending tone telling me I was spreading COVID-19 because I went outside. I explained the diagnosing nurse practitioner told me it would be fine to walk my dog so long as I wore a mask and practiced social distancing avoiding other people by at least six feet (quite easy to do in that part at this time of year and considering the whole COVID thing and I did not come within probably 30 to 40 feet of anyone while out with her except the one woman from the apartment complex who said it looked as if I had lost weight and she already had been infected and survived a bout of COVID-19).  

He then implied, almost said it straight out, that I was lying as he actually said no doctor had told me it would be okay to walk my dog (which he was right about because as I said it had been a nurse practitioner but he was wrong in the essence of what he was saying). He then told me that what I was supposed to have done was to have locked myself in my apartment by closing and locking all my windows and doors and then staying inside for two weeks (the urgent care facility I went to when diagnosed recommended 10 days to 14 days and the braggart also said outright that no one told me 10 days even though I have it in writing). 

 hen he lectured me on how it was common sense that I should have done everything he had said because it is the only way to prevent the spread of this disease - locking one's self away in complete isolation. I was going to bring up the study from Europe, I believe by the Dutch, that showed the ineffectiveness of lock-downs but held off. I did tell him no one would care for my dog and thus I had to take her out (figuring he would see the common sense in that being a necessity instead of allowing my dog to answer nature's potty call inside my apartment on the carpeting) and was about to ask him what he thought I should have done when my dog needed to defecate or urinate.  I again held off because I realized trying to make sense to this guy was like talking to a rock with lips. 

He had an overwhelming sense of self importance and machismo as far as I could tell. He actually kept puffing up his chest while lecturing me and spoke down to me in a rude and nasty manner and kept repeating it was common sense not to walk my dog and to lock both of us up in my apartment. At one point I finally asked him if all of it was common sense why he needed all the training. He finally shut up when I asked that and got to taking my ID. As he did that, he began to talk to the driver. His words, although not exactly as I remember them I am sure, were at least very close to these in what he said and definitely had exactly the same meaning as these I write here: 'Hey you want to hear what this guy says. He says his doctor told him he could go out and walk his dog and spread the virus. Can you believe that. No one told him that, can you believe he walked his dog and spread the virus...' On and on he went along that line of arrogantly putting me down.

When he gave me my ID back, holding it in a piece of paper towel (and not wearing gloves - so much for his supposed training) I asked him if he would like my health insurance information. I said, and I quote as best I can recall: "Your insurance information is the least of my worries."  and he refused taking it. Then he ranted on again about how foolish it had been for me to walk my dog. When we got to the hospital a few minutes later, after some radio communication with the ER, he opened the side door of the ambulance and guess what I heard - he immediately started to say to someone something to the effect of: 'Hey do you want to know what this guy said. He said his doctor told him it was okay for him to walk his dog and spread the virus.' He told that, in sum & substance, to at least two other people. One as he wheeled me into the ER - an orderly or whatever you call them who tried to assist him (and he puffed up is chest again and nastily told the guy he did not want or need his help) and then he told the first nurse who attended to me the same thing in essence as he had told the others. I am almost willing to bet he is still telling that to folks today.

Allow me to get to the ER and normal medical personnel. I got immediate attention while there. They ran lots of blood tests (had to do them over because my blood coagulated while waiting to be tested), they also did a EKG, took chest x-rays in my room and hours later finally did a CT Scan of my chest. I saw the same doctor there two or three times, saw the nurse on the afternoon shift several times (his name was Andrew and he is from Las Vegas - he was also a volunteer) and I saw the nurse on the night shift even more than Andrew. By the way, did I mention it already - her name was Lucy and she was rather cute and very personable and quite caring - certainly one of the best nurses I have ever met in an ER. She spent quite a bit of time caring for me. She too was from or near McCallen, TX and right after I described the pompous buffoon from the ambulance to her, I realized I may have screwed up and hoped he was not her husband. As it was, I got the idea she knew the guy and that she thought likewise about him as did I (maybe she was his wife after all and knew him to be just as I described).

While there I was diagnosed with what they told me was COVID Pneumonia but not bad enough to require a ventilator. After spending most of the day and night there, I was sent home either very late that night or very early next morning (I do not know the exact time) with a tank of oxygen. They called a cab for me. I protested that and the nurse Lucy told me there would be an approximate 10-12 hour wait for an ambulance and the cost would be approximately $2,000 and I would have to pay because ambulance rides home were not considered a medical necessity. That blew my mind (man I hope Blue cross comes through on the ambulance ride to the ER). Lucy was able to talk me into taking a cab. She gave me an N-95 tight fitting face mask for the ride. She also instructed me not to talk to the driver more than absolutely necessary and said everything would be fine because as she put it, they unknowingly transport COVID positive people all the time (I swear she told me all of this). Being pretty debilitated physically and mentally at the time, I was not thinking straight or would have refused the taxi and instead would have demanded some other form of non-ambulance but medical transport. As it turned out,I took the cab.

Anyway, the window was open for the ride home, I made sure of that. As for the driver, being I had the tank of oxygen and such and looked half dead, I am pretty sure he guessed what I had. It is truly unthinkable that hospitals, after about a year of this, would not have set up a transportation system for patients that did not involve ambulances or risking a taxi driver getting this illness. We were at my place in about 10 minutes so at least we were not together long in the cab. I gave him about an $8.00 tip, the ride was $12 or so. He was amazed; he said he usually is happy if the passenger has the whole fare that is due him let alone gives him any tip at all - such is life in Texarkana.

Home and on oxygen. When the oxygen tank ran out a day or two later it was replaced with a machine that evidently extracts oxygen from the air and I have been using that since. That was delivered to my apartment and set up by a technician. He was not concerned that I had COVID-19 and was fully aware of the fact I had it as I told him as soon as he arrived and before he came into my apartment. He said that is mostly with whom he had dealt lately - COVID patients. 

One other note on the ER. Why they did not hydrate me at the hospital is a mystery. I was obviously dehydrated that particular day and passed maybe an ounce of urine when asked for a sample and it was very dark. It took at least an hour or two to get even a sip of water from them at first. I thought I had been hydrating okay at home but must have slacked off due to sleeping so much. Once they finally gave me a couple of small cups of water and then a huge one (by the nurse on the night shift - quite the cutie did I say already and just outright very attentive) that cleared up but the night nurse told me my kidney function (usually excellent) was not very good that day. My regular doc explained to me yesterday that merely could have been because of dehydration alone as my kidney function, tested shortly before I was diagnosed with COVID, had been excellent as usual. Hopefully it is back to the same already or will be soon.

Moving on to the now: I have continued to be very fatigued since I passed the recommended number of quarantine days - 10 days (or 14 if the patient has a fever beyond that). I went longer than even the 14 days, I think it was 17 days in quarantine because my fever was still present on day 13 after diagnosis. Then I went to see my doctor, that was yesterday. I feel much better now but still not very good, in fact still pretty fatigued and ill in that regard. I still have the sniffles and a bit of a cough (when I wake up) but am no longer coughing up blood, no longer have a fever, and most of my aches and pains are gone.

As to the flu symptoms, back in 2009, as best I can remember, once the flu's fever passed the flu and ll its aches & pains and such itself cleared up fairly quickly. I am guessing a week after the fever was gone. Right now, I still feel very fatigued from COVID-19; my doc told me I may feel this way for another month. I do not look forward to feeling out of it for that much longer but do look forward to being completely rid of the symptoms of COVID-19.

That is what COVID-19 has done to me so far. As they say, your mileage may vary - some folks suffer almost nothing, others much worse than me and of course hundreds of thousands has died from it.

And to think, now they say there is a new strain out already in a year or so after the first and it makes it easier to catch the disease. I don't remember the flu ever doing that - not that it changes from year to year but that it remains in full force throughout the year, ravaging the the community & continuing to claim new victims while it changes itself into a new version before the preexisting one has disappeared. Besides all that, I truly believe this to be a man-made virus, as in for use in germ warfare or population control and believe in my heart that the chi-coms either unleashed it purposefully (my bet) or accidentally but what does either matter now that it has been released? (That was rhetorical question -retribution and responsibility is why it matters now.) Here is hoping the vaccinations work and that as many people as possible get them. You don't want one - fine by me but don't start an argument with me because I hope they work and that people get them.

Stay healthy my friends,
Glenn B

PS: give me a few days and I may actually read all of what I wrote  & proof read this.(ETA: well it took less than a day.)