“COVID, The Second Time Around” by Frank DeLucia
I admit I was quite angry when I first learned my wife Michelle and I had COVID—angry at Patty for having a birthday party, angry at the guests for arrogantly not wearing masks, angry at whoever it was who infected us, and even angry at Michelle for suggesting going to Florida in the first place. But mostly, I was at angry at myself for being reckless by bringing us to the party, and the world in general because here we were, suffering from COVID, yet again—for the second time.
The first time was a few months back and lasted about ten weeks. My symptoms then were exhausting but not severe. I had headaches, a sinus infection (not unusual for me), a rumbling tummy, and a strange sense of malaise I had never experienced before. Michelle was worse, suffering from bad fevers, a strong cough, and my symptoms. She tested positive for COVID back then. Given our similar symptoms and regular close contact, we had just assumed I had it too. Nevertheless, we survived and, over the ten weeks, slowly regained our energy enough to be able to take our regular exercise walks again. “I’m so grateful to be alive,” I told her.
When Michelle first suggested going to Florida for additional recuperation at my family’s condominium, I thought, “Why not? Europe, our originally planned summer destination, is off limits because of COVID, and almost no one will be at the condominium complex this time of year. It will be hot, but there is the pool and AC, and it will be good to get away from home’s daily routine.”
We scheduled flights and contacted some Florida friends, notifying them we would be in town. One friend, Patty, invited us to her birthday party occurring just a few days after our arrival. We happily went, expecting guests would maintain proper social-distancing and wear masks. I suppose we also believed we were COVID-immune after having had the virus already.
When we reached the party’s address, we first met the homeowner at the door. He was not wearing a mask. In fact, no one was. “Should we wear our masks?” Michelle asked him, while wearing hers. “What’s a mask?” he replied sardonically. Feeling more secure from his (false) sense of security, we removed our masks as well. Not one person wore a mask throughout the entire party.
Four days later Michelle and I both started feeling off-kilter. For me, it started with a seemingly innocuous cough as we were walking back from the beach that night. Then we each had a sore lower back. Each day the symptoms progressively worsened. Post-nasal drip, sinus congestion, nausea, a loss of taste and smell, a fever raging up to 104 degrees, and extreme exhaustion. I had the most egregious sinus pressure ever. Michelle had similar symptoms, albeit a bit less severe (her fever hit only 102 degrees!). The strangest symptom was a feeling that we weren’t directly experiencing our sensed reality in real time. Our conscious minds reacted slowly to our sensed reality, and there seemed to be a veil between them. If I turned my head quickly, it seemed like it still was in its original position, only to catch up slowly in separate visual frames like time-lapsed photography.
I spent the weekend of July 4th in the fetal position, passing in and out of sleep and delirium. Occasionally, I was shocked into consciousness by ice-cold wet towels being placed on my head and body, or a thermometer being placed under my arm. “104 degrees,” “99,”, “102,” “100,” the thermometer displayed at various times.
After two days Michelle woke me and said, “Hey, we need to call the doctor or go to the hospital. I can’t watch you suffering like this any longer. We must do something.”
She was right. I booked an online session with a local urgent-care facility. After the doctor examined me via video conference, he prescribed antibiotics for an upper-respiratory infection, and then said, “You really should get tested for COVID just in case.”
“Not that again,” I thought, and then asked, “But, … I have antibodies from the first time … Don’t I?”
“Studies show they may last only a few weeks,” he replied.
Sure enough, the test results came back five days later, performed at a makeshift testing facility set up in a local park. “POSITIVE” the results stated in large red letters, for us both. I cannot say I was surprised, but there always is that initial shock. “Me? Can’t be. Am I going to die this time?” We immediately canceled plans to see other friends and postponed our trip home in order to stay in isolation.
“I can’t believe how stupid we are,” I told Michelle. “How could Patty have a birthday party during a pandemic? How could we have gone? It wasn’t worth it. Why do we have to suffer so much? Everyone else is enjoying themselves on their boats, water skiing, and swimming at the beach. Why not us?”
Our suffering raged on for another week. Then, to our great relief, most symptoms, including the once-volatile fever, began dissipating and became intermittent. Even my horrible sinuses felt more bearable. The worst was over. I checked the Whats App application on my phone and read a message Michelle had sent me the previous weekend when I was too unconscious to be aware:
“I love you, my sweetheart hubby – I will look after you all my life and I keep you safe during this illness. I love you and always will.”
My eyes welled up. Looking at her through blurred eyes, feeling closer to her than ever before, I said, “We’ve made it through another war together and survived. I love you, you’re a warrior.”
“There were moments when I thought I would lose you,” she replied.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m so grateful we’re alive,” I said. “Just, please, no more parties for now.”