COVID Diary, Part 4: 'I refuse to let this define me'

  • Alix, left, Bridget, Rory and Andy Atwell of Barrington have all struggled with the effects of COVID-19.

    Alix, left, Bridget, Rory and Andy Atwell of Barrington have all struggled with the effects of COVID-19. Courtesy of Alix Atwell

 
By Alix Atwell
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 11/29/2020 9:36 AM
Editor's note: Alix Atwell of Barrington, a registered nurse and aspiring writer, wrote a three-part series in July about her and her family's experiences after each contracted COVID-19.

Eleven months into 2020, the world has yet to be able to clearly define COVID-19. Five months into my personal struggle with it, I refuse to let this define me.

Some of you may recall reading my story back in July. On his only COVID-era shopping trip, my husband unknowingly contracted the virus.

 

Two weeks later, he turned blue right before my eyes, and I deposited him at the doorstep of our local emergency room. He was in that dreaded cytokine storm.

Before he was discharged five days later, my two kids started showing symptoms -- one with nausea, nasal drainage and a sore throat; the other -- who has a history of pneumonia and asthma -- complaining of air hunger.

She knew that feeling well.

Within weeks, I too showed signs: silent hypoxia followed by myriad vague transient ailments that still randomly haunt me: headaches, weak knees, shooting pain in my legs and feet, odd bruising, rashes, ringing in the ears, rapid heartbeat, lethargy, vision changes, strange smells ... you name it.

At one point my teeth and hair actually hurt. I used to think patients who said that were crazy. And now I'm saying it.

I forgot to mention: I'm a nurse.

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They say my kids and I had mild cases. We never needed hospitalization. But I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of ER and doctor visits we have all been to since. We've needed home oxygen, nebulizer treatments, epi-pens, the now famous dexamethasone treatment. We've had nasal swabs, blood draws, CT scans, X-rays, EKG's, echocardiograms, pulmonary function tests.

My tests now show normal results, yet my oxygen levels continue to fall into the 80s every time I lie down, requiring oxygen most nights. My daughter's heart rate jumps to 140 and she gets shaky and dizzy with any exertion. She was just diagnosed with POTS, a possibly permanent and debilitating dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system that is often triggered by a serious viral illness.

For both of us, the doctors have no idea why or for how long.

I struggle to reconcile the woman in the mirror with pre-COVID me. She is old, graying, her eyes and skin are dull. She has lost her pep. It seems as if far more than an extra few pounds the steroids and immobility has placed on her weighs her down.

And it does! We are 10 months into this global pandemic but we are no better off than we were in March. Numbers are climbing. Hospitals are filling. It is projected to get worse as the weather changes and all are forced inside, as some who put emotion before common sense gather for the holidays.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Everyone has pandemic fatigue. More and more people are out shopping.

Airports are filled with Thanksgiving travelers this weekend.

What's interesting is that no one wants to come near us. We are pariahs. We had COVID.

In reality, we are likely the safest people to hang out with. We have all had it. We still have antibodies. But since there is so much we still don't know about this novel virus and so little guidance from those in charge, friends steer clear.

Who can blame them, really? It's OK. I'm relieved, really. I'm too exhausted most days anyway to shower or get out of my pajamas, let alone socialize.

Furthermore, doctors are now saying you can contract the virus twice, so we will just hibernate through the winter, waiting it out until a vaccine is ready.

I feel bad for the kids, though. Tik Tok celebrities and Minecraft characters have been their only company, save for their Zoom instructors for months now.

Our school district did attempt to reopen last month. Due to community pressure and a desire for normalcy, they decided to forge ahead with a hybrid learning model despite climbing numbers.

Not two days in, however, they were forced to about face. The metrics kept rising. The county gave the directive to shut back down. Keeping the schools open would create the perfect convergence for catastrophic community spread.

Those two days were just enough time to remind the kids what they had been missing all these months. It was also enough to let the virus do some damage. More than 20 teachers and 30 students contracted the virus in the following few weeks. Hundreds of people had to quarantine.

Two steps forward, three steps back.

We weren't ready.

We all want desperately to move forward. In my attempt to take active steps toward embracing my future, I went for my very first post-COVID run Wednesday. I've been walking every day since contracting the virus. Early on, I barely made it to the bathroom and back. On better days, I dragged my oxygen tank out the front door where I made it all the way to the white house on the corner before having to turn back.

Chris Cuomo's voice kept pushing me on. While sick, I watched the YouTube videos he posted of himself as he fought COVID.

"Push through it! The virus wants you to lie down so it can win. Don't let it. Keep moving," I recall him saying.

Lately, I've been able to walk a couple of miles on good days and have only needed my oxygen on bad nights.

My time for that first one-mile run won't win any medals. With my COVID knees and the lactic acid filling my calves, it took more than 17 minutes.

It took that much time again to hobble back home, stopping to catch my breath more than once. But I will not let this pandemic get the better of me. I will keep putting my COVID-toed feet forward. I will keep looking and forging ahead to better days for us all!

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