I’ve come to believe that what I had thought to be a vicious bout of both acid reflux and one of my lifelong afflictions, bronchitis, was really some form of Covid. By the time it occurred to me that it might be, it was too late for a conclusive test; so I cannot say for certain, but logic suggests it.
It started very aggressively. I came awake with the familiar sensations of acid reflux, all up my throat and jawline, and a rattling cough yielding dark brown sputum. I was sneezing a lot too, and my throat was sore, and very red. There was no fever.
I consulted a doctor virtually, my niece, and got some meds, and spent the next week in a state of absolute lassitude. The coughing alone left me feeling weak and like my insides were being battered.
My nose was like a WASA leak on the main road. I could barely breathe.
Since childhood, I have suffered with bronchitis and asthma, triggered by stressful situations. They began when I was around ten, such regular monthly affairs that the doctor pointed out to my mother that something was triggering it.
My parents were going through an extremely hostile break-up. Anyway, over time, the attacks were less frequent (replaced by headaches), and I estimate I must have had maybe three or four bronchial episodes in the last decade. But when they came, they would be far more severe and last longer. So this time I recognised the symptoms immediately and tried to act decisively.
It was complicated by the fact that I had fallen a couple of weeks before, and my lower back was painful, so sitting up was excruciating. If you are having trouble breathing, or you have acid reflux, an upright position is recommended. I could not find any sustainable way to manage the range of discomforts.
The only reprieve was that I was drifting in and out of sleep like nothing. I coughed, wheezed, blew my nose, and slept in between, oblivious to the world. For once, I didn’t try to plough through the illness, I simply succumbed.
Yes, I wrote my columns—maybe two or three came out while I was under the influence—I don’t really know how I did it, but I suppose it is a result of how my brain is wired.
In fact, I am writing this today feeling like I am inside some cloudy mass with just a hazy view of the outside. But I chose to write about this experience, not because I want to put my often bizarre medical history and misadventures out there, but because I realised something from what Debbie Jacob had described in the Facebook post I cited last week.
It occurred to me that had it not been for her description of her post-Covid symptoms, I might not have connected my illness with it. And I thought I would share my experience because while we have a lot of clinical descriptions, there are few first-hand ones about the actual thing. At least, not to my knowledge, although I suppose social media must be full of them.
Debbie had written that although she had a mild Covid experience, the aftermath was really depleting her, emotionally and physically. She described the way her energy levels were dropping frequently, the constant bouts of fatigue, and the brain fog.
It hit me that those were precisely the things I have been feeling. I had not made any connection, because I just thought I was now rundown, and the fact that I was having these almost hourly bouts of flagging energy was a sign that I should just cool my inherently driven nature.
I was actually feeling a bit smug that I was finally showing the wisdom of self-care and dropping into my bed when it happened. But I was aware it was unusually frequent.
The brain fog—the way my thoughts are just screeching to a halt; the way I am floundering to remember what I am about; how many times I am finding myself paused in mid-action, wondering what I had set off to do—all of this I attributed to ageing.
So, when two other friends complained that they were experiencing the same thing following their Covid illness, it seemed likely that I was among the crowd. I had also observed that my sense of taste and smell had been considerably diminished. I feel that has improved, but I am not convinced they have returned entirely.
It’s been a month since the onset, and I can feel the daily improvement, but I am still finding my plans interrupted by sudden lethargy. How is it possible to leave my bedroom feeling all fired up and ready to go, and moments later—having busted on the short walk to the kitchen—hobbling back to crawl into the bed, and more surprisingly, drifting right back off to sleep?
I am setting out these details because I would never have thought to ask about some of the things until I experienced them, and the shared stories have helped me to make connections and to better understand the reality of the changes that have affected countless lives because of the virus.
I told my friend in India, soon the world will be populated by people living with brain fog and constant fatigue. We’ll be an addled, tired species. Sigh.