I Have COVID-19 -- Here's What It Felt Like For Me

by Dava Murray
Originally Published: 
Mother and her three sons wearing protective masks for COVID-19 with different designs while taking ...
Author photo courtesy of Dava Murray

Editor’s note: It is important to remember that signs and symptoms vary from person to person; this is the experience of the author, and not intended as medical advice.

A few days ago, during the peak of my symptoms, I mustered up a little energy to talk to my mom over the phone. I reassured her that what I was experiencing was probably just another severe allergic reaction, similar to what I get every year that turns into bronchitis or worse. I had been waiting for it to hit this year and, “Just my luck,” I think, it strikes at the same time as COVID-19. I ended the conversation, trying to bring her some peace of mind from 2,000 miles away (and probably trying to relax my own subconscious a bit) with, “Honestly, there is NO WAY I have coronavirus. I have done everything right to make sure we don’t get sick.”

Fast forward to Sunday morning, when I opened up my test results at 2 am, and found out that did, in fact, test positive for COVID-19. I cannot even type that sentence without crying. It’s devastating to be a part of this scary pandemic, especially as a mom who has been interacting with her children all day, every day since March 13th.

Here is what we experienced.

Day 1 – March 21st

  • Deep cough – similar to bronchitis – attempting to dislodge mucus
  • Runny nose – dark green mucus
  • Sinus pressure and headache
  • Full lung capacity – no issues breathing
  • No fever

All of the above have been my textbook list of severe allergy symptoms in the past.

Day 10 – March 31st

After a full course of antibiotics combined with Mucinex-D, symptoms continued … and worsened.

Day 11 – April 1st

I called my primary care physician (PCP) to discuss other treatment options (for allergies) and she requested to see me. To sing Penn Medicine’s praise, I was met at the door by a nurse giving me a mask and gloves to wear. I wasn’t asked to sign anything, show any cards, nor did I touch a single surface until the examination room. They are doing it right and keeping their staff safe!

Remember, I did not go to the doctor with COVID-19 concerns. I went to the doctor’s office to get help with my allergies, which have — annually, for the past six years — led to upper respiratory infections, then progressed into bronchitis and pneumonia. I truly thought my symptoms were all allergy-based. But when my PCP listened to my lungs, she recommended we do a COVID-19 swab.

I began to self-isolate in our home in the guest bedroom immediately upon return — because I’m a rule follower and my PCP told me to. All of the previous symptoms above listed were still present.

Day 12 – April 2nd

Total change for the worse! Symptoms now included:

  • Deeper cough – similar to bronchitis – attempting to dislodge mucus
  • Runny nose – dark green mucus
  • Sinus pressure and headache
  • Still at full lung capacity
  • No fever; however, I was using a decongestant plus acetaminophen product for congestion that could have masked the fever unknowingly
  • Flu-like body aches
  • Fatigue (severe)
  • Body temperature fluctuations
  • Rigors – if you don’t know, Google it, it’s unreal – but also probably indicated a fever at some point
  • No appetite
  • Tooth pain and sensitivity

Day 13 – April 3rd

Repeat of day 12. Just think, I was swabbed for COVID-19 two days earlier and I still thought there was no way it would be positive because a) I still hadn’t experienced a fever (due to medication) and b) although congested, I still had full use of my lungs and never felt the “restriction” that was being described as a key symptom to COVID-19.

Day 14 – April 4th

  • Small improvement to the symptoms above, and increased energy.
  • Able to add saltine crackers to my mostly water-based diet from days 12-13.

Day 15 – April 5th

  • Test results returned via online medical portal – SARS-CoV-2 Detected at 2:04 am. I was told testing would take a week; it took four days.
  • Devastation, heartbreak, sadness.
  • Experienced adrenaline rush (think nesting on steroids) to disinfect every surface of the house before the family woke up. I relocated necessary items to the guest room for inevitable longer quarantine.
  • I will be in guest room quarantine (which may be a bit of a technicality at this point but again — rule follower!) for 72 hours and will be considered “recovered” if during that time 1) I don’t have a fever, 2) my other symptoms improve, and 3) at least seven days have passed since my symptoms first appeared.

Day 16 – April 6th

  • Sinus infection most prominent symptom still
  • Body still weak
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Balance issues – inner ear

Day 17 – April 7th

  • Sinus infection remains and feels slightly worse
  • Overwhelming head pain from pressure and congestion
  • Mucus is still an opaque, green/gray color that I have never seen before when being sick.

My husband was also ill, but — much like me — confident his had been something else, an untimely flu perhaps. Note that we had both received our flu shots in the fall. He did not experience the prominent symptoms (fever, chest restriction, shortness of breath) of COVID-19, either. I think this is important! For those of us who, thank goodness, will not end up in the ICU with COVID-19, we need to look beyond just the well-advertised symptoms. I wish I would have, but hindsight is … well, you know.

Steve Prezant/Getty

Our timelines are very different, but we both experienced the severe symptoms simultaneously. The doctors have told us that my husband will not be tested because he is no longer symptomatic, but we should assume he was COVID-19 positive, as well.

His Day 1 – March 31st

  • Fatigue (severe)
  • Nausea – he threw up multiple times
  • Deep cough with heavy mucus
  • Full lung capacity
  • No fever
  • Volatile, vivid dreams – he hated sleeping due to the dreams

Day 2 – April 1st

Above five symptoms, plus

  • Chills (he was also medicating for comfort)
  • Rigors/hallucinations
  • No appetite
  • Gas pains and reflux

Day 3 – April 2nd

Increase in severity of day 2 symptoms

Day 4 – April 3rd

Similar to day 3 – no improvement

Day 5 – April 4th

Improvement all around, but still tired and weak

Day 6 – April 5th

  • Annoying cough remains
  • Still tired and weak
  • Other symptoms gone

Day 7 – April 6th

  • Coughing up mucus
  • Body still fatigued
  • Vivid dreams continue

Now when I say “we did everything right,” let me explain, because there is plenty I don’t do “right” on a daily basis — but for the quarantine, I really, really tried:

  • We locked down our house on March 13th. That morning (5 am) was my last in-store shopping trip.
  • We did not go to any previously-planned social engagements over the weekend, including two of our nieces’ birthday parties – this was before closures even started.
  • We did all shopping via Instacart (delivery or contactless pick-up), Target Drive-Up, and Amazon
  • I disinfected everything that came into the house and, when possible, I left packages outside for two to three days to decontaminate if needed.
  • We struggled with the idea of takeout – wanting to support our local restaurants, but risking the germs coming into the house – so we opted to only cook at home.
  • We stayed home to stay safe. My kids have not been in a vehicle for over three weeks!
  • I had an emergency kit in my basement that I restock every October that had extra Clorox wipes, a huge bottle of hand sanitizer, even N95 masks.
  • We wore gloves to collect the mail each day, recycled anything we didn’t need immediately, and quickly opened the rest so we could dispose of the outside envelopes.
  • I even added “Clorox Frequently Touched Surfaces” to the chore wheel.
  • We. Washed. Our. Hands. Relentlessly!

The maddening part of this was trying to see how we could have, after all of that, let COVID-19 into our home. Then I thought further back.

On March 10th, my seven-year-old came home early from school with pinkeye. He only had it in one eye and he didn’t have the normal “gunk” that usually accompanies a hearty case of conjunctivitis. It just looked different. His pediatrician wanted to first treat him for allergies to see if that worked, also not convinced it was pinkeye.

When that didn’t work, we moved to pinkeye protocol. Simultaneously, he developed a horrible runny nose with lime green mucus and a nagging cough. While he was home with me, waiting the 24 hours (again, rule follower!) for pink eye to not be contagious, I let him sleep and rest, which he did more than he usually does. He was also having a hard time sleeping (nightmares), threw up twice out of nowhere in the middle of the night, and was “too hot” in his pajamas, then suddenly too cold. Luckily, it was teacher conference week and he only had half-days, so I decided to just keep him home to rest. Thank goodness! School closed after that, so he hasn’t been back since.

Our 11-year-old and five-year-old both experienced congestion and fatigue during the next week, but on a smaller scale.

From the CDC: Children may have mild symptoms. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally shown mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. And from WebMD: Besides causing COVID-19, the new coronavirus can also lead to “pinkeye.”

The reality is that we don’t know if that’s how we got it, or if our seven-year-old’s infection was COVID-19. None of our children will be tested, but are assumed positive based on symptoms, timeline, and now proximity to a confirmed positive. Why I have mentioned all of this is to help others look at these symptoms I labeled “pinkeye,” “cold,” and “allergies” in a different way during this pandemic. My positive diagnosis will be public knowledge and is not something we are hiding, especially if it can help someone.

The bad news is, this virus sucks! During days 12-14, I felt horrible, and we would be considered a mild case relative to those with complications leading to hospitalization. For those who are next, I hope that days after your onset, you will also find yourself well enough to be searching for more information and creating your own health timelines rather than being pulled deeper into a devastating viral attack, like the thousands of patients we see on the news. We truly hope you and your family avoid this horrible virus. We know we are some of the lucky ones who have made it out the other side.

The good news is, we are working with our county’s health department, providing all of the information we can about the timelines, symptoms, and our experience (the information about this virus is changing daily!) to hopefully help the many other people who will, no doubt, be experiencing this in the upcoming weeks. If I can give plasma for antibodies, I will! If I can provide more clarity to how this virus behaves based on our experience, I’ll do it! The doctor reassured me that all studies are suggesting that reinfection is not likely, and I am grateful that if we did need to fight this battle, we did so early in the war on COVID-19 in our area.

I also grateful that my family is moving toward healthy. We are going to continue to stay home, and stay safe to help protect everyone else. There will be many more COVID-19 positive results in our area during the upcoming days and weeks – but we will not be contributing to the spread. We will continue to watch a lot of movies, play many board games, complete the Harry Potter castle and Old Trafford Stadium LEGO sets, eat s’mores, zoom…Zoom…ZOOM to classes and virtual happy hours, and try to make this scary time for our family one that doesn’t leave such a massive emotional scar.

Now that we finally have a diagnosis, I am humbled to know that no matter how prepared I was or how vigilant I tried to be, COVID-19 was keener. It was probably already here before I adopted the disciplined techniques that I thought would keep it at bay.

So now, my family’s job is to keep doing what we have been doing: staying home! The current recommendation is 14 days after symptom onset, which for us is April 15th. With the shelter-in-place order running through April 30, as of now, I am relieved to have two extra weeks as a buffer. We can keep this away from all of you; our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, so you can keep it away from all of the people you love.

Then, and only then, will we truly have done everything right.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

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