Bob Branstrom: A birthday with COVID-19
Is that how I wanted to spend my birthday? Yes and no. The original plan was to take a weekend trip to the coast for a few days of relaxation.
However, 17 days before my birthday and two hours after my usual Saturday morning walk to the farmers market, I was facing a fever of 102 degrees. I immediately suspected COVID-19, which was confirmed by a positive test result three days later.
The purpose of my comments here is neither to elicit sympathy, nor to make an argument about masks or vaccinations. It is simply to share my personal experience with COVID-19. There are plenty of statistics, arguments, and pleas from medical personnel available. What I haven’t seen is a first-person, human account of the virus’ impact. I think that is an important and necessary part of the discussion, so I am sharing my personal experience. I hope it provides useful food for thought.
Today, as I write this, it is my Day 21 of COVID-19. I am now out of isolation. This has been the worst sickness of my life physically and has been emotionally difficult and stressful, as well.
After two days of high fever, and the resulting exhaustion, my fever moderated a few degrees. I was then hit with several days of wrenching headache, an every-30-seconds jolt of debilitating pain shooting across the back of my head. My attention completely focused on the anticipation and experience of the next jolt. Fortunately, a neighbor advised me how to treat this with alternating doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which brought the headache under control after a few days.
The worst impact has been the loss of breathing capacity. The phrase “shortness of breath” doesn’t come close to describing the short, choppy breathing, the hyperventilating, or the spasms in my diaphragm when trying to talk. Conversation was not possible most of the time. Even today, three weeks later, my breathing remains weak and I’m doing daily exercises to try to improve my lung capacity. I can now have short conversations.
Along with the breathing difficulty has been regular coughing, striking every time I take too deep a breath. Fortunately, once past my worst day, Day 10, the coughing reduced enough that my chest muscles were no longer sore.
Emotionally, it was very difficult, primarily due to the uncertainty. How long would this last? How bad could it get? Medical personnel had little to offer in the way of answers, just generalities, because of the wide range of responses to the virus.
Doctors and nurses explained the possible complications of blood clots, low blood oxygen saturation, and pneumonia. While helpful to know, and to know signs to watch for, these possibilities added to the stress.
Then there was that horrible night when the uncertainty got to me. After turning my bedside light off, I turned it back on and scribbled a brief set of bullet points headed by the phrase “If I should die in my sleep.”
Recovery has been slow and not straightforward. Some days were better, giving me hope, usually followed by a difficult day, draining that hope from me. But I knew things were getting better, day by day, when one day I cracked a joke. The next day I had the energy and mental focus to clip my fingernails. Another day, with more energy available, I was able to clean the accumulated dirty dishes from my kitchen counter and sink. Finally, my desire for a morning cup of coffee returned.
In short, this has been brutal and exhausting. Despite two visits to the emergency room, I was never hospitalized. For that, I thank the vaccinations I received in March. Without those, I certainly would have been hospitalized, perhaps worse.
Throughout all of this, I am grateful for the support received from friends and neighbors, medical staff, and my cell phone. Being unable to speak meant communicating by text and email for a couple of weeks.
Throughout this experience, I have continued to follow the ongoing and endless debates about masking and vaccination on Facebook. It’s clear that there is a widespread lack of understanding about what this virus actually does to a person.
If I have any wish from what I’ve written above, it is that people would lighten up for a bit. The name calling, vitriol, and arguing isn’t changing anyone’s mind. But it is certainly putting us in a less compassionate mindset. And compassion is what is needed right now, especially for those — vaccinated or not — currently suffering from this disease.
I also hope if you are someone who has yet to be vaccinated that you seriously consider taking that step. I’m one of the lucky ones, because I wasn’t hospitalized, and my experience was horrible. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, much less hospitalization. I’d be thrilled if my words convinced just one person to get vaccinated.
Having COVID-19 wasn’t my first choice for how to spend my birthday. But, given my COVID-19 infection, I was happy to be recovering at home and not in the hospital. And that trip to the coast? It’s been rescheduled.
Bob Branstrom is a Grass Valley resident and a member of the Grass Valley City Council. The opinion is the personal viewpoint of the author and does not reflect any official city view.
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My spouse, Mary, is a checkers junkie. Yes, a checkers junkie.