DMT Beauty Transformation: What Coronavirus Feels Like, According To 5 Women
featured Khareem Sudlow

What Coronavirus Feels Like, According To 5 Women

April 13, 2020DMT Beauty

#DMTBeautySpot #beauty

Much of what makes the coronavirus pandemic scary is how much we don’t know. We don’t know how long we’ll be forced to stay indoors. We don’t know if social distancing is working. We don’t know when a vaccine will be available. And we don’t even know exactly what the symptoms look like. As many as 50% of people with COVID-19 remain asymptomatic. Some sufferers report enduring what felt like a mild cold, while others are dying alone in hospitals on ventilators. 

The more we know about coronavirus, the better prepared we can be to fight it. So we asked five women of different ages from across the U.S. who contracted COVID-19 to tell us about their experiences. Here, they lay out what COVID-19 felt like for them — and how they got through it.

Erika Owen 
Age: 29 
Location: Brooklyn, New York 
Occupation: Associate director of audience development 
"It started as a little, dry cough. On the second Wednesday in March, I called in sick. By that Friday, I couldn’t sit up for more than five minutes. The fatigue threw me off. I even felt faint in the shower, I had to lean over and take a break. I had no appetite, I was coughing this really heavy, deep cough. I’ve had bronchitis before, but [unlike that] this cough wasn’t “productive,” meaning I wasn’t coughing anything up. It was almost airy. My lungs made a crinkly noise when I would breathe — it sounded like a piece of paper was being crumpled up. 
I went a few days without eating, and I slept so much. A week into my illness, my fiance, who lives with me in our Brooklyn apartment, started picking up symptoms, but his were different than mine. He was nauseous and lost his sense of taste and smell. That’s when we thought: it seems like it could be COVID
My insurance company was offering free telehealth appointments, but the wait time was insane. I’d heard a local hospital was offering $25 appointments, so I tried them instead. I spoke to someone there within an hour, which was worth the extra money to me. He framed my case as “a mystery viral infection,” but he told me they were treating anyone with symptoms similar to mine as “presumed COVID-19.” He just told me to isolate and drink fluids. 
It wasn’t so helpful, so I sought out a second opinion and went through my health insurance. It took seven hours to talk to a doctor. This one confirmed that everything I was saying sounded like COVID, but he told me not to get tested because there was a shortage, and because I should avoid contact with others. He refilled my inhaler that I used for asthma years ago, and gave me benzonatate pills that are supposed to tame your lungs and take away the cough reflex. I never took them because I was scared — I felt like there was a reason I was coughing. It was my body’s natural response. 
I got sick before they were sharing widely that millennials were being impacted too, as well as older people. The first person who told me that age wasn’t a prerequisite for this illness was the first doctor I talked to. 

While I was sick, I didn’t really look after my mental health. It was not a good time. I couldn’t have gotten through it without my mom’s care packages. She sent candles to help me relax, and since I was sleeping so much while I was sick, I had a horrible kink in my neck, so she sent Biofreeze. My partner is vegetarian and I’m not — I normally do a lot of power lifting and need protein — so she also sent me an order from Omaha Steaks.

I’m a Virgo, so I don’t normally speak loudly when I’m not feeling good. This was one of the first times I really complained: This is crappy and something is wrong. I originally thought about sharing this story anonymously because there is just so much shame out there for people who have gotten coronavirus. Mainly people are accusing [those who get sick] of not taking the social distancing seriously or ignoring recommended safety practices. I've been quarantining for weeks and also take proper precautions when I go outside, but at first I wanted to avoid one more stressful thing that could come from sharing this story, on top of everything going on. But on the flip side, I thought my story could wake people up who aren’t taking this thing seriously. I know it had that effect on my parents, who are now being super careful after seeing what I went through. 
Also, one thing I think is important for people to know right now: Yes, there are people dying, but there’s also people recovering."
Shania Collins
Age: 19 
Location: Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada
Occupation: Residential building cleaner 
"I was on my lunch break at work on March 31 when my body temperature went sky high out of nowhere. It was alarming. I had been feeling fine. When I got home and checked my temperature, my fever was 102.2°F. It lasted two days.
I also developed some other coronavirus symptoms: I had a headache, vomiting, body aches, and I couldn’t smell or taste. The worst part: The chest pain, cough, and shortness in breath. During the day everything would be okay because I’d try and keep myself occupied. But, when I slept, I struggled with breathing — it felt like an elephant was lying on my chest. 
I got tested on April 2 and my results came back positive on April 4. On April 6, I went to the doctor at 4 a.m. when the pain of breathing became unbearable. The doctor did a checkup, which involved clipping something to my finger, and asking me to run from one end of an isolation room to another. She said there wasn’t anything that she could do for me, because my oxygen levels were okay and I wasn’t on the verge of being put on a ventilator.
The only advice that they gave me was to rest my body and to take care of myself as I would if I had the flu. I’ve been advised to keep myself hydrated with water and tea, and I’ve been doing some research to see what I can take to boost my immune system.
Now, I’m just waiting to get better. I live with my mom and right now I’m quarantining alone in my room. I stay in my room and only come out to shower or to use the restroom. There’s only one bathroom in my house, so I have to disinfect it after every use. I'm technically an essential worker, but I'm not going in because I'm sick.
My only solace is my mom’s cooking — she’s been making meals for me, since I can’t go in the kitchen because I could spread germs to our family. Some days I use UberEats, but I always tell the delivery people that I was positive and to simply leave my food on the doorstep.
Other than resting, right now I’m just trying to focus on the positive messages my friends and my boyfriend have been sending me. They hope I feel better soon. Frankly, so do I."
Rachel Napoleon
Age: 30 
Location: Brooklyn, New York 
Occupation: Actress, podcaster, and former restaurant manager 
"Watery eyes and sinus pressure. These seasonal allergy-like symptoms began for me on Friday, March 13. The next morning, I woke up with an insane headache. I couldn't breathe through my nose, and the drainage in my throat felt unbearable. That's when I noticed I couldn't smell or taste. The following Monday, on March 16, I woke up early with a dry cough and felt like I couldn't breathe. I kept telling people: It feels like I have cotton balls in my lungs. Like there’s something in there, but I can't cough it up. 
That lasted for about five days. The worst was the pressure in my face and sinuses. I would have to wake up every morning and put a heating pad on my face to relieve the pressure. After about nine days of that, I felt better. The lack of taste and smell lasted about 13 days. 
I went home to my parents in Michigan before I realized I was sick (I lost my job in the midst of all this, and I went home before shelter-in-place measures were put in place). So, I got tested at a drive-through testing center at a hospital there. It took six hours. I was exhausted and so sick, and my poor mom waited with me the entire time. We just had gloves and masks on, trying to entertain each other. Someone in the line ordered pizza. When I finally got to talk to someone, it was very quick, in and out. The swab up the nose was excruciating because my sinuses were already so swollen. I cried and accused this young guy of puncturing my brain. I didn't get much advice, because at this point there were only like 50 confirmed cases in Michigan, and the line was about 90 cars, so I think the healthcare workers were just assuming everyone was overreacting. 
My test came back positive, and I got a phone call from the hospital and a follow-up from The Department of Health. They gave me two very different timelines for how long to isolate. The DHS said seven to 10 days, but the hospital said 14.
While I was ill, I had to stay in my room and my own little corner of the house with a TV and table to do puzzles on. That was hard. It's very lonely. Luckily, my parents didn’t get sick. 
Now that I've had coronavirus and I've recovered, I can't make sense of why I'm stuck inside. Before, it made sense: I didn't feel good. I couldn't go out and see anyone. But now that I'm better, and I have no fear of catching it, all I want to do is get my life back. I'm trying to stay creative, and exercise during this quarantine. I've been cooking like crazy. But honestly, the puzzles are kind of saving my life. It gives me a very simple task that keeps my mind busy, and I can sit for hours. I dream about puzzle pieces. Aside from that, I’m just looking forward to the first hug I get from my boyfriend after all of this is over. I miss him so much, and I haven't been touched by another person in almost a month. I think the first time I get to kiss him, I'll weep."
Brittany Shepherd
Age: 25 
Location: Washington D.C.
Occupation: National politics reporter 

“I began feeling symptoms in early March, just after coming back from weeks of campaign travel. Most recently, I was on the road covering the South Carolina primary through Super Tuesday, where I was in many a plane, train, and automobile. It wouldn't be out of the question that I picked up COVID-19 in one of the many airports or train stations I visited during that time. 

The nature of the campaign means that I'm in a constant state of being "on," which is oftentimes exhausting. I'm used to a low-level, ever-present hum of fatigue. 

So when I first started feeling especially fatigued, I didn't really pay it much mind, since I’d been traveling for weeks on end. Once I returned home to Washington, I found out that a close friend I came into contact with had tested positive for coronavirus; that's when I realized this was more than just a reporting bug.

COVID crept up on me the way an ex tends to orbit his way into your life. First, it's gradual, then all of a sudden you're completely inundated. Thankfully, unlike some of my exes, I was able to fight this one off without having to block anybody. I was lucky to develop low-grade COVID — I lost my taste and smell for about two weeks, had some difficulty breathing, and couldn't function for long periods of time without frequent naps.

I was able to get a test at an urgent care center downtown. I don't have a car, so “drive-through testing” looks more like a walk-up for me. I was asked to stay outside on the sidewalk, and a healthcare provider wearing head-to-toe protective gear greeted me and swabbed my nose. Folks who were just taking a stroll or walking their dogs in the area could watch the procedure being done on me. About seven days later, I was called with a result: Positive. 

You hear all about the physical issues this illness creates, but it was the mental toll that surprised me the most. Although, that’s second to the guilt you feel when you accidentally transfer it to someone else. Much of our tone online right now leans – rightfully — towards scolding. I counted myself among the reporters who would tweet out the latest Johns Hopkins numbers and urge folks to stay inside. You try your best — stay far away, attempt to not get too panicked, believe the guidelines that say your symptoms don't quite line up with the disease — and you can still give it to someone. It’s hard to tell whether I got one of my friends sick or not — she also could have given it to me, or we could have picked it up separately. There’s also the knowledge that I was traveling thinking that I had a cold — you interact with baristas, flight attendants, the like. I don't think I can adequately articulate that feeling of guilt, no matter how irrationally displaced it may be. I'll carry that feeling with me for a while, I think. 

It took me about three weeks from the onset of my first symptoms to feel "back to normal." Though I use that phrase hesitantly — it’s difficult for me to conceive what normal is anymore. With that said, I find hope and normalcy in the tireless work of my industry colleagues, the relentless spirit of healthcare workers, the sound of a friends' voice slightly cracking when we laugh on FaceTime. 

There's a quote from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that I hold dear in times like these: “I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just start on a new 10 seconds. All you’ve got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”  Ten seconds sounds doable."
Kim Persse
Age: 39 
Location: Brooklyn
Occupation: Chief of Staff to CEO and COO*

"My experience with coronavirus was like a rollercoaster with three distinct phases marked by specific symptoms. 

Phase One: I developed flu-like symptoms (I had a fever, and felt very rundown). 
Phase Two: I had chest congestion, extreme fatigue, and loss of taste and smell.
Phase Three: Just incredible muscle and joint aches.

It all started on March 13 and lasted for two and a half weeks. Some of these phases overlapped. 

As far as treatment goes, I did what I read online that I was supposed to do: call my general practitioner. They told me to go to a local urgent care and get tested, so I made an appointment. About 30 minutes before my appointment, the urgent care office called to tell me that as of 10 p.m. the night prior, they were no longer testing unless one could prove they were an essential worker (a cop, firefighter, or healthcare worker). That was... tough news. The same urgent care office told me to treat my symptoms with painkillers such as Tylenol, to feel better, and to go to the hospital if I became substantially worse. 

When I look back on being sick, what stands out was how alien it all felt. When you get a cold, you sort of get it — you know what's coming and about how long it will last. Waking up with the undulating and unpredictable symptoms of COVID-19 was scary (especially the aches, which would wake me from my sleep) and really unsettling. In addition to feeling unwell, I didn't feel like myself. Paired with what was (and still is) going on in the world and adjusting to working from home, it was all a real bummer. 

From there, it was figuring out logistics of cohabiting when sick. My husband and I kept to separate spaces, and I disinfected surfaces constantly. I changed pillow cases. I didn’t kiss him.  He took care of everything from groceries to keeping our apartment in order, even doing laundry in the sink to avoid the laundry mat. 

Despite my experience, I feel extremely grateful. While I was sick, my all-star husband was there for me, and didn't judge me for eating every meal in bed. My cats were by my side as I battled coronavirus, always. Those furballs could tell what was going on. I could go on, but so many people are in such dire situations economically and from a health standpoint, that I tried (and try now) to pause frequently to recognize the moment in time, donate to relevant organizations, and meaningfully check in with people in my life."   

*Persse works at VMG, the parent company of Refinery29.

Responses were edited for clarity and brevity.

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