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My painful excursion into the world of dueling infections started on a Tuesday afternoon with a scratchy throat and a mild-yet-annoying cough. I chalked it up to fall in Kentucky, where sunny afternoons in the mid 70s can be followed by freezing temperatures at night. I’m no stranger to respiratory infections, having lived for years with the triple threat of allergies, asthma, and low immunity.

On Wednesday morning, I was having coughing fits that made me dizzy. I went to see my doctor, who assured me that I almost certainly didn’t have Covid-19, even though our county had been considered a “red” one for more than a month and the case count was climbing.

I was a bit suspicious of my doctor’s reassurance because I had learned that morning of a student who had tested positive for Covid-19 the week before in the high school where I am a Spanish and social studies teacher.

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As a precaution, I was tested for strep, influenza, and Covid-19. I was shocked when the nurse let me know that I had tested positive for the flu, and I left with a prescription for Tamiflu and instructions to stay home for a week.

On Thursday, I was tired and achy — both mild flu-like symptoms — but was able to complete all my work virtually. Aside from the occasional coughing fit, one of which brought me to my knees, I believed I just had the flu.

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The next day I got a call that I had also tested positive for Covid-19. I should have expected that news, because the night before I had lit a pumpkin-scented candle but didn’t realize until later that I hadn’t smelled its fragrance.

I was extremely scared. But I was also angry. I was angry at my school for not following state recommendations to keep students home and use remote learning, at my doctor for downplaying the increasing threat of the virus, at my family members and friends who brushed off my concerns, and even angry at myself for creating a false sense of security that using an N95 mask, an air purifier, and a plexiglass shield in my classroom would keep me safe.

I was angry, and still am, that the response to a worldwide pandemic has become so deeply politicized in the U.S. and that even though I took every precaution, it still wasn’t enough. I began taking nebulizer treatments four times a day to keep my lungs clear and began taking zinc and vitamin D.

Over the weekend, it was difficult to know which symptoms were due to Covid-19 and which ones were due to the flu. The coughing began to slowly improve, and I had a temperature above 99.9° only once, though I experienced extreme fatigue, chills, aches, a severe headache, and diarrhea.

By Monday, the coughing had stopped and my fever was down, but I felt even worse than before. I believe that was the point where I was over the flu and Covid-19 was taking over. I slept so much that my sister dropped in on my Alexa because I didn’t answer calls or texts for hours at a time. I didn’t leave my bedroom except to use the bathroom and drank room-temperature orange Gatorade Zero that my mom had bought in bulk and I kept next to my bed. Trips beyond the bathroom were carefully planned for efficiency as they required all of my strength and a nap immediately after.

I watched TV, but found I couldn’t focus or would fall asleep. After trying to watch the first episode of Lovecraft Country four times, I resorted to browsing TikTok or re-watching The Office as I couldn’t keep up with the simplest plot. I had several rounds of severe abdominal pain and experienced a completely new sensation: small tingles that would randomly move throughout my lower and upper abdomen.

Over the next few days, I constantly checked my oxygen saturation, knowing that if it dropped below 93% I would need to go to the hospital. From a starting point of 98%, the pulse oximeter readings crept down to 93% on Wednesday, at which point I was having mild shortness of breath and chest pain when I took a full breath. That said, I was feeling a little better. My doctor ordered a chest X-ray, which I got at a hospital a three-minute drive from where I live. It was normal. I started to take oral steroids, which helped immensely.

It wasn’t until Friday — a full week after I first learned that I had Covid-19 plus the flu — that I made the move from my bed to the couch. It felt like a momentous occasion.

During that week, I had lost 12 pounds. After a few bites of food, I would feel nauseous and completely full, and there were days when I ate nothing even though my family and friends delivered food to my porch. It took me two full days to eat one donut, taking just one or two bites at a time.

During the time when I felt the worst, anxiety compounded my physical symptoms. I wondered every time I fell asleep if I would wake up wheezing or unable to breathe. I am incredibly grateful that my respiratory symptoms were mild and that I was able to get through it without hospitalization.

The day I was diagnosed with Covid-19, the news was full of the record-breaking number of cases: more than 85,000 that day. Now, the record is nearly 140,000, and increasing by the day.

I still don’t know for sure how or when or where I contracted Covid-19 or the flu, though I suspect it was at school. I haven’t been in a grocery store or eaten in a restaurant since March because of my low immunity and asthma. My only close contacts have been my mother and my sister, both of whom tested negative for Covid-19 and have had no symptoms. I always wear a mask and use an N95 respirator at school.

The simple fact is that we still have a lot to learn about this airborne virus: how it is transmitted, how it is best treated, what its long-term effects are, and more.

Now that I’m on the other side, I’m feeling better physically and am far less anxious. I take no pride in knowing that I’m special: it’s rare to be diagnosed with both Covid-19 and the flu, especially when taking significant precautions for Covid-19 and receiving a flu shot. While I am teaching virtually for the rest of the semester and still am following public health guidance, I have a sense of relief — for now. I can’t wait to be back in the physical classroom with my students, and I am hoping that any immunity will last long enough until I can get vaccinated.

No one knows how long immunity to Covid-19 lasts, whether it is 90 days or a year or longer, and I am still worried about potential long-term effects. The fatigue and digestive issues lasted long after quarantine, and I have experienced worrisome chest pain.

To me, the bottom line from my experience is that all of us must be serious about protecting the people around us who need and deserve extra precautions, since protective measures are no guarantee (as I learned the hard way), especially in the face of what looks to be a serious spike in Covid-19 this winter.

Lauren Hines teaches Spanish and social studies in Kentucky.

  • A lot of the commenters missed the fact the author says she got a flu shot.
    The protection conferred by the flu shot is perfect but we are told it helps a lot. But we are also told, the vaccines are designed to protect against the variant projected to be the worst in the coming season, and it takes months to make all the vaccines needed – so, we are stuck with whatever shots were made, even if a different strain is most prevalent, more dangerous, etc.

    So, maybe it is time, (primarily with all the folks who due to age are vulnerable to flu) to spend a few billion more every year and make up a lot more shots – to include tens of millions not thought to be the dominant strain – and if that strain gets common enough, give the shots for both – or, give both to most people in the country – and certainly to high risk people, routinely.
    I am willing to pay $50 to $100 for that – I am very unlikely to get very sick from flu, always get the shot and never get very sick – but even reducing the chance of a mild case causing to spend a few days in bed is worth $100.

  • Yes my wife and I back on March 1st
    Same thing,but my long haulers appeared with a sinus infection 3 times since and I never had problems til covid,now possibly sibo!yea my gut ruined as well.get on a great probiotic and don’t stop the zinc n vit d.im also waiting for a miracle powder for leaky gut..yea life’s been crazy..I see primary md,ent,gi dr,and now a psych dr because I’ve lost my mind dealing with long haulers.(the fluctuating anxiety,stomach issues,post nasal drip(and been tested for allergies that cane back negative😳) all the dr blame it on anxiety and wanna treat with anxiety meds instead of getting to diet and holistic meds..I’m taking the holistic way and ready to fire all the drs..hopefully you won’t fall into my category,but caution it slowly week to week month to month I got this way.it creeps on you..I force myself everyday to do tai chi n yoga,and walk if I can..I’ll keep you posted,I just started a life journal because I could write a book.

  • The N95 does protect to a certain extent, otherwise all the doctors/nurses working with covid patients would have been infected.

    I think the author lack some knowledge about the how one can get infected with the covid19 virus, given some wrong assumptions she made on the article. It is a bit surprising, if she writes for a medical news outlet like statnews, one would assume she had done enough research. There are many people going to work everyday, but they don’t get infected. So I think blaming the school is pointless. A lot of people thought flex glass will protect you. That is only for face to face contact, the virus is all over the air which can flow in every direction. Once the droplets dries on the surface, the virus can go back up on the air once the surface was disturb, and at cold temperature it can retain in structural integrity for days.

    So I think the author made too many wrong assumptions, causing her to lax her guards on situation where she assume it is safe.

    But N95 does not protect 100%, but should world okay if virus is attached to bigger droplets and fitted properly. It is not easy to fit N95 esp around the nose brigde where it is easy to have a leak. She also did not realized that eyes is also a point of entry and made an assumption that she is on the other side of the fence because she already got infected. People can get reinfected especially if the antibodies had no effect on the antibodies one have.

    She is in school where the students are the same, there are people who work on close space where people they deal with are not the same everyday.

    The current covid test is not 100% accurate.

    I would advised the author to look at how she protect herself and do some research. Obviously she think she is protecting herself but obviously not if she get both flu and covid19 at the same time. Virus can stay infectious on surface of mask for hours or even days depending on temperatures.

    Somehow, there must be a hole in how she protects herself. There are already a lot of articles of how it can be transmitted, don’t go to main media to look for this articles. Most of their information are wrong like the CNN article that tells you to bring snack on a flight. You cannot take of your mask on a plane if you want to be totally safe.

    Once also have to be careful of reusing N95 mask. Without following the proper steps, it is easy to contaminated the inside of the mask with covid19 virus. Improper handling on N95 for reuse can also damage it and make it ineffective.

  • Dear Lauren, I am so sorry to hear about your suffering. Your story is very helpful to warn of the dangers of the disease, even of a so-called “mild” manifestation. You are a teacher and it shows that you care about others by sharing your story, a very heroic act. But let me reassure you that your protective measures and wearing a mask were not in vain. Mask and physical distancing reduce the viral dose to which you were exposed and infected you; inhaling a higher viral dose without a mask could have resulted in catastrophic consequences. Masks do not provide 100% protection but prevent the wearer from getting a virus dose that causes the severe disease. Wishing you a full recovery.

    • I mean no offense, and I know that theory is widely promoted but is there any actual evidence for it? The fact that sicker people ( in some age groups) have more virus does not mean people who get less when first infected will not get as sick.
      It seems like the “You need a certain minimum amount to get infected at all” theory, which to me has no good theoretical basis and AFAIK is unproven

    • The doctors was saying that you need a certain amount of virus to get infected, because not all the covid19 virus will successfully attached to the cell. Some spikes will not open, which is need to attach to the cell. But with the news mutated dominant virus, it has more spikes, therefore it is more contagious. You need less virus to get infected with the new mutations.

      It takes days for the body to recognized and build the antibodies. Therefore it makes sense that the more virus you got, the sicker you can get, because by the time your body create the antivirus, you already have a great number of virus on your body.

      Once it invade the cell, the cell create a tentacles to directly poke the virus on the other cell, therefore rate of the destructions of cell and creation of new virus becomes increases.

      Theory supports that the more virus you get the sicker you will get, because, each virus will multiply exponentialy. with the comparison using the same person.

  • The writer has every right to be angry at her doctor (for underplaying possible infection) and her work environment (for failing to curb spread after Covid diagnosis in the school). It is NOT ok to just have to absorb pain and suffering due to ignorance at work. And it is NOT ok to be expected to just deal with the long-time aftermath. This is yet another story of yet another innocent Covid victim. How many more will be victimized before all Americans accept the merit of easy, simple, painless spread-curbing measures??

  • Another entity to be angry with could be CDC. Though it seemed clear this was easily transmitted by air, CDC de emphasized that while keeping all the N95s for medical folks.
    I saw a quote from a foreign doctor, “Sounds like CDC is talking out of both sides of their mouth” and he was quite right.
    I fully understand they have long since corrected it and can not be blamed for people who will not listen even now but how much early exponential growth in the epidemic occurred becaue of that?

    • Yes, it was like “you have to sanitized your hand but you do not have to wear mask”, is the message given at the beginning.

      During the second week of Feb, it was very difficult to find disposable mask unless you want to pay a highly inflated price. People were buying them and shipping them out of the country. Some countries had prohibited exporting locally made disposal masks. This cause the local supplies of disposable mask to be depleted.

      It is kind of stupid keeping N95 only for medical use. If you use it together with surgical mask, you can extend the life of N95 several times. If you don’t have patients getting infected with covid19 because they are properly masked, then there won’t be a lot of need for N95 for medical workers since there will be less covid19 patients.

      The problem is around Feb and March, mask and testing was so difficult to get access to, causing the covid19 to spread. The contaminated testing kit failure was a CDC failure.

      There there was the message of that wearing any kind of face covering was okay, that you have to protect others. That is a very stupid message. If you tell people that they have to wear proper mask in a proper way then they will much more motivated in wearing mask.

      Then there are message that young people will not have serious health damage if they got Covid, but how many younger than 50 years old died because of the wrong message from Brix, Fauci, CDC, etc. Worst even young people can have brain damage and blood clot.

      Virus can infect brain cells, the long term consequence of this is unknown for now. But there are history that some brain cancer are cause by virus that travels from other part of the body. For people who survived covid19, the long term effects are not yet fully known. That is the scary part.

      So the lesson, protect yourself properly. Do not depend that other people will protect you by wearing a mask.

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