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.
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.
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.
How about being mad at FDA for not going with human challenge testing for vaccines available in March and April? The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are reported to have been produced way back then.
The Moderna trial of same vaccine formula was reported to begin in Seattle on March 16. I realize 8 months is record time for a vaccine but if the medical establishment had OKd challenge testing on a large scale, one would think it could have been many months shorter.
This is not just venting on my part. The next severe zoonotic virus may emerge at any time and run a similar course. A similar response by the Western medical establishment may be similarly disastrous.
I recognize Americans did not follow Doctor’s Orders and if they had this would have been far less damging but the medical estsblihment’s rules are wrong for true emergencies.
First, congratulations for surviving getting flu and covid19 at the same time. You must have a very strong immune system to surviced both.
Just wearing N95 is not enough, you have to make sure it is properly fitted. You need to disinfect or wash your face if you are in the habit of taking it off and on. Make sure the inside of the mask was not contaminated when you are putting in on and off.
There is also the eyes as a point of entry. If seems you are not wearing eye protections.
Then, are you students wearing mask properly so that their aerosols and droplets does not escape the mask.
Last, you could have been infected in other location aside from your classroom.
But you did right, never entrust your life on other people. It is good you follow your own instincts instead of the incompetent doctors of yours. Maybe it is time to change doctors.
Now that you had covid19, remember that people can can reinfected with covid19, most become asymptomatic. But that doesn’t mean you brain will not suffer damage because you are asymptomatic.
But if you are teaching in a class, why did you not get the flu shot.
She said she did.
Please excuse me, if seems you got a flu shot. Did you asked them what strain of flu you got ? You flu shots properly helps, otherwise you could end up worst.
I think you are a bit misguided about immunity. The antibodies you have will help to fight It faster but it does not mean you will not get reinfected. Some people get reinfected in less than 3 months. On teenager in Nevada got reinfected within two month and was hospitalized the second time.
You immunity will also be useless if there are mutations on the coronavirus renders your antibodies useless.
I suggest you do research as I get implies that you have assumptions that are incorrect from you narrative. But it is good that you are active about seeking treatment. Many people just take it for granted that it was due to other issues, some have died from making the wrong assumptions.
You must be also aware that you can walk in over people “droplets bubble” esp if you are in a line.
Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad to hear that you are better. As a physician in The Bluegrass State, I, and the majority of my colleagues, hope everyone can follow the public health guidelines and slow things down to the point that everyone has a shot at getting the care they need for their level of illness associated with Covid-19. We will learn a lot from this pandemic, but as always it will be a bit of a “postmortem” experience; knowledge gained after it has been well over for some time. In the meantime, we must endeavor to protect our loved ones, ourselves, and our frontline workers. I hope you stay well.
Thank you for sharing. I am 74, and have been hospitalized twice for asthma, twice for pneumonia, and have been treated for bronchiectasis since 2014. Fortunately, since I am retired and live in a rural location, isolation is neither difficult nor onerous.
Contracting COVID is something I am trying to avoid; I really can’t afford to lose any more lung capacity.
…per your response below, if then there was no choice, then the title of the article should be changed. It gives the illusion that a person truly did not put themselves in harms way and yet contracted COVID. That isn’t the case here.
Thank you very much for sharing and congratulations on being free of COVID-19. You mentioned that you go to few public places, but do you live or work in a central ventilation system, please tell me if there were other people who were infected during the time period you were infected?
HEPA Air Purifiers work more than any other method, but they need to be sized for the room accordingly. Schools are utilizing units designed for two people in a small bedroom for a large classroom with twenty plus students, — it is ill-equipped, and therein non-functional. Two open windows with an exhaust fan in one of the windows would be more effective.
Living in KY and going to school as normal is not working hard at not getting COVID.
Thanks for sharing your ordeal. Am happy that your are on the road to recovery, and am quite taken aback by the vitriol and insensitive comments berating you. What suffocating spirits!
I have researched and come up with a herbal remedy that will build immunity as well as treat the illness from this Covid-19 virus, the Influenza virus which you had concurrently, and just about any respiratory virus. It has been uploaded to the NIH ‘Covid-19 emerging treatment portal’ at their request. However I don’t expect much, as I think our medical/health/research system is riddled with big-money interest.
Thank you for sharing your story. We need to hear more stories.
What a drama queen! “I was ANGRY!” Paraphrase: I don’t know where I got it but it was from the school children.
Paraphrase:I have asthma and low immunity but I had COVID-19 and Influenza at the same time and I was ultimately fine.
You get sick sometimes, my mom broke her back in a car accident, a universally known “very painful injury” and then got influenza which was HORRIBLE and painful and she wasn’t a victim about it like this twit. And there is a lot of information out there about how long immunity lasts, it’s at least 8 months because that’s the data that’s available for study. People had SARS cross-immunity from 2003 so odds are your immunity is going to last years or decades especially if it’s as prevalent as media acts like it is and we keep getting exposed continuously.
Please treat others with respect and recognize that clearly you are not a person skilled in critical medical analysis. So I politely implore you to not spread misinformation regarding immunity.
Wow! That was impressively rude! What a wonderful skill to see exposed in times like these. Yes. People get sick. People get injured. I care for them daily.
But never have I once had a comment like you made run through my head.
CoViD is obviously real – based on the fact you shared data on it. And a simultaneous infection with Influenza can double ones risk of death – notably in the elderly.
Thank you for reminding me to be kind and to love my neighbor – through your unkind words.
Sometimes learning from others actions is the best way to not hurt others.
There are recent papers claiming immunity will be well over 8 months for most people. I do not know that it is crucial the general public know everything about the virus but if you tell them they are only immune a few months, and that is false, you are sowing despair.
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