My experience with COVID-19: It started with a small cough

On Saturday, July 4, I cycled 15 miles with a large group. It was the longest ride I’d been on all season. I rode with people I had not seen in weeks, others in years and some I knew from social media but met in person that day for the first time. We were not masked, but we were practicing social distancing. The single cough that had occasionally come out of nowhere since Thursday was so mild and so rare that I thought nothing of it.

After the ride, I got a call from my parents that some relatives were in town. So, I altered my plans and went straight to their house for what turned out to be a short July Fourth visit — just a few hours with family.

The following day I met up with a group at the lake. I did a little fishing from the shore, keeping my distance as much as possible. I love to swim any chance I get, so I came prepared with my bathing suit. I mean, you can’t go to the lake without getting in the water. When an opportunity to paddleboard came up, I seized it. The weekend was ending well. And the weather was truly amazing. The skies were blue, and the clouds looked like puffy cotton balls spread all across the sky. Picture perfect.

While still at the lake, shortly after paddleboarding, I noticed I was feeling a bit tired, but I assumed it was due to the heat and all the paddleboarding. When I arrived home, I immediately headed to the pharmacy for over-the-counter cold medicine. My cold-like symptoms were worsening, and I wanted to stay on top of it.

In my mind this all made sense. I had increased my workout routine. I was consistently in and out of the heat and the air conditioning. Plus, I had begun to ramp up my running mileage and incorporate cycling, another passion of mine. I had taken a bad bike fall in the summer of 2017 that left me with, among other things, a sore left arm and a sprained left pinky. As a left-handed person, this was problematic, but I took it in stride at the time and allowed myself time to heal. It made sense now that my increased activity might account for the soreness I soon noticed in my left arm and pinky finger.

Case of the Mondays

Monday morning would be a different story. I awoke feeling like someone had opened a box that I had been crammed into for 24 hours. I had muscle aches, coughing, nasal congestion, fever and a runny nose, and I was lethargic. My left arm and pinky were sore, like I had reinjured myself. I realized I couldn’t taste anything. “Goodness,” I thought, “this cold is terrible. Or is it the flu? Or both?”

A friend had a different idea: He encouraged me to get tested. He said, “If you don’t get tested, just think of all the people that may be potentially affected by the spread of COVID-19.” That conversation changed the course of my day. I thought of all the people I’d been in contact with. I got tested that day.

Hey 19

By Wednesday morning, I had already made up my optimistic mind that what I was experiencing was just a common cold — even after spending the two previous days practically bedridden and realizing on Tuesday that my sense of smell was not working, either. But Wednesday was different. I was feeling a bit recharged. I took my oral temperature and got excited. It read 98.5. I had started to lace up my running shoes when I received a call at 8:36 a.m.

The lady on the other end said, “You’ve tested positive for COVID-19.”

I paused. I stood up from where I was seated and asked her to repeat what she’d said because I couldn’t believe the news. She calmly and slowly repeated back to me the test results. I immediately grabbed a pen and began taking notes. From there I devised a plan for who to contact first. It made logical sense to begin with my parents.

Let the Tracing Begin

Knowing that they were working at their respective jobs, I initially sent a text that read, “Please call me now.” Then I thought, “To hell with texting. I need to call them.” I was able to reach my dad first. Trying not to create alarm, I kept the information simple. I let him know that I had mild symptoms and that it was important for him and the rest of the family to get tested. They knew I hadn’t been feeling well on Sunday, but what they didn’t know was that I’d had symptoms as early as seven days prior to testing positive.

From there, I contacted the relatives who were in town to visit. I recalled walking into my parents’ home on July 4, donning my mask and greeting everyone with a smile they couldn’t see behind it. These relatives I hadn’t seen in several years. And of course, the most natural thing to do was hug. Before doing so, I had held my arms tightly by my sides, saying, “Are you sure it’s OK to hug you?” My cousin responded, “Girl, get over here and hug me.” And so I did. With everyone.

I spent the remainder of Wednesday contacting everyone I knowingly came in contact with during the week prior to being tested. Everyone I informed took the news well. Part of me thinks it’s because I sounded so upbeat and calm. I didn’t sound sick. I wasn’t gasping for air, and I didn’t sound like I was experiencing trouble breathing. Everyone wished me well, offered some home remedies and advice on how to stay well. Though I appreciated their concern, I knew I had to do what was best for me.

The Day After

Thursday I wasn’t feeling like myself. It was day four in isolation, and I already had a self-care routine, but today was a little different. I was experiencing slight shortness of breath, and it was difficult to take complete deep breaths. Yawning felt like being stabbed in the center of my chest. The muscle aches in my calves were starting to creep me out a bit. Just when I was about to take a needed nap, I received a call from the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. I had to give them the names and telephone numbers of everyone that I had come in contact with when I first began exhibiting symptoms. Luckily, the call was an easy one because I had made calls to everyone shortly after my results call the previous morning. The call with the public health department lasted a little over an hour, and when it was over, I was quite exhausted.

Let the Sun In

Saturday morning I finally went out onto my balcony, mostly to breathe in the fresh air that I still couldn’t smell. I tried not to take deep breaths to avoid the chest pain and the cough it caused.

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Let The Church Say Amen

Sunday morning, July 12, I woke up to the sound of rain. I opened the blinds and took my oral temperature, which by then was my daily routine. It read 98.3.

“Finally!” I said to myself. “A temperature that’s trending in the right direction.”

The goal was to stay in that range or slightly lower. But it was short-lived; it jumped back up to 100.1 before I watched Mass via livestream. After Mass, I conducted a smell test of all my spices and extracts to see if my sense of smell was coming back. Out of all the spices, I could faintly smell only one — cumin — although it didn’t smell like cumin. It smelled like burnt cigarette ash. I sprinkled a little bit onto the palm of my right hand, tasted it and waited.

Nothing.

New Week

Monday through Wednesday were my biggest progress days — all of my symptoms had subsided, and the cloud of fatigue had been lifted. Not much advancement in the taste or smell department, but as of Wednesday, cumin was a little more pronounced and still the only spice I could taste. And my appetite had improved. I was getting me back, back in my own skin.

Who I am

When I began this account of my experience with COVID-19, I purposely did not share my age, race, gender or health condition. I wanted you to read my story. Because this can happen to anyone. What has taken you minutes to read or skim has taken me 13 days — 312 hours, or 1,123,200 seconds — to muster the courage to share with complete strangers. I was lucky. I had mild symptoms. The COVID-19 experience is unique, like a fingerprint. And, like a fingerprint, you never know how the virus will leave its impression on you.

As a healthy fitness enthusiast, an African American female in my early 40s, this experience has reminded me that anyone can get this virus. While there is so much information hitting us at every turn about who can and cannot be affected, I encourage everyone to invest in yourself. Take time to educate yourself about the dangers. Rely on reputable medical sources, not on the well-intended information of friends, family, or others. “I heard that…” is not expertise. When you hear a phrase such as “There is little risk,” please understand that the important word in that sentence is risk. There is risk with every activity in which you engage. When this is over for me, I will continue to wear my mask and be even more consciously aware of maintaining six feet of social distance. Like the chorus in the Steely Dan song “Hey Nineteen” goes,

We’ve got nothing in common

No, we can’t dance together

No, we can’t talk at all.

I want to keep it this way moving forward.

I have fully recovered from almost all of the symptoms related to COVID-19 but continue to experience anosmia or loss of taste and smell. However, I am optimistic it will return.

If I could leave you with some wisdom from this experience, it would be that it isn’t a cold or the flu — it is COVID-19. It has a name for a reason. It will sneak up on you and beat you up. The beat down is better for some and not for others. I got beat, but it didn’t take me down like it has others.

Nothing will prepare you for this experience. Don’t shrug off a little cough. Think enough of yourself, your loved ones, and those you interact with regularly and remember that  “little” risk is still a risk nonetheless. Be smart, wear your mask and social distance responsibly. You may be spreading the virus without even knowing it. And that’s what’s so scary.

Kenya Turner is a Louisville resident, small business owner, author and fitness enthusiast. 

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