Guest Post by Dr. Jackie Fowler
Faculty Director and Associate Professor, School of Arts and Humanities, American Public University System
Dr. Jackie Fowler is the English Program Director for our School of Arts and Humanities at APUS. In this guest post, Jackie describes her personal experience with the coronavirus during the current pandemic. She also promotes the need for self-care and advocates the maintenance of social relationships.
In January, I went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning, unable to breathe. I was literally gasping for breath. I had a dry cough, no sense of smell, a throbbing headache, and a low-grade fever.
Yet I had no symptoms the day before: no cold, no cough, not even the sniffles. Although I’m more inclined to rely on over-the-counter medicine than going to a doctor’s office, I broke down a couple of hours into the morning and decided an emergency room trip was necessary, really necessary.
As I walked through the sliding glass doors, the nurse rushed to placed a mask on my face and surgical gloves on my hands. She isolated me in a room and asked me to cough into the crook of my arm.
Within minutes, I was on a machine that helped me breathe. Blood was pulled. Meds were given, and X-rays were taken as a series of nurses and doctors poured through my room. A few hours later, I was breathing a little better.
It took me weeks to recover. Every effort produced a bone-deep fatigue, and I found myself napping in 15- to 20-minute increments throughout the day. Although my lungs remain congested and I have a persistent dry cough, I have, it seems, beat the novel coronavirus.
Now, you might think I’d be happy to be one of those people who contracted the virus and survived. And I am.
But I was diagnosed as “COVID-19 presumed.” Because there was no ready supply of tests, doctors were unable to clearly and definitively diagnose me.
“You definitely had it,” the doctor pronounced, “but you still need to be careful because you were not tested.” My lungs are weak. Scarred. It worries my doctor. And me. Since there is no serum test to check for antibodies, I live in this weird, in-between “COVID-19 presumed” world.
In early January, Colorado saw a spike in unexplained pneumonia. It was an anomaly, the experts thought. However, when I returned to the doctor’s office in March with fatigue, rolling low-grade fevers, and a high, dry cough, I fit the pattern of others who had had pneumonia in January. I was reassessed as COVID-19 presumed and quarantined for 14 days, out of an abundance of caution.
Tracing has revealed two possible infection pathways for a woman who works from home and engages pretty sparingly with the outside world. My son studies in Paris at American University. He flew from Paris to Iceland to JFK to Denver for Christmas.
My daughter’s roommate and her husband’s roommate from college are Chinese. They both visited the epicenter of Wuhan in early December and returned to the U.S. with low-grade fevers. Both had dinner with my daughter and son-in-law, but their return to the U.S. would have been later than the onset of my illness. So it appears the culprit was my son’s flight through the U.S. epicenter in New York City.
Because of the reemergence of my symptoms in March, I now shelter in place without my husband, who lives and works outside of the United Arab Emirates’ most famous city, Dubai. And I made the heartbreaking decision to allow my son to shelter in place in his little Parisian apartment above a grocery store, just blocks from the Eiffel Tower. It was better for both of them not to return in early March (when they still could), because I was showing symptoms again.
I have been lucky. My COVID-19 odyssey was brutal but, compared to others, it was relatively mild.
However, I understand firsthand the loneliness of being quarantined during the current coronavirus pandemic. This is a time when we need to reach out to each other. Make a phone call. FaceTime with someone. Check in with the elderly (from a distance, of course). Call your mom, your siblings, a best friend, your neighbor. Send a text.
Take care of yourself by taking care of others. Wash your hands. Drink lots of water and get lots of rest. Take a walk. Sit in the sun. Make plans for a few months down the road, so you have something to look forward to, something that will sustain you. And know we will get through this coronavirus pandemic. Together.