Many say it’s not a matter of if you’ll get COVID, but when. And chances are that when you do, you won’t be prepared.
After two years of following the rules, increasing supplements and trimming our social schedule, my husband, Tommy, and I thought we were playing it safe. Then last November, when events returned and masks were waved, we attended a large indoor dinner where five of us at the same table – all vaccinated – contracted the virus. Fortunately, none were hospitalized and all have recovered from the worst of it. Through it all, I learned a lot – surprising symptoms, where to go if you’re sick, obtaining monoclonal antibodies – and I am eager to share our experience with you.
Symptoms can be strange
Doctors are still perplexed that a single virus can have such diverse effects on people.1 I had no idea my onset of symptoms were COVID. It was Saturday night, we were barbecuing and I had one cocktail. After sitting awhile, I got up to find my feet and calves heavy and tingly, like I had run a marathon. I chalked it up to training and was fine the next morning. By late afternoon, I was sick: 101+ degree fever, dizziness, shortness of breath, body aches and overwhelming fatigue.
Over the next 10 days, I lost my sense of taste and smell, was very congested and got quite a few unusual symptoms including what felt like pink eye and a mild rash on my ribcage. Other odd symptoms listed by The Mayo Clinic include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, confusion and discolored areas on the fingers and toes (called “COVID toes” which is more common in children and young adults).2
The following day, Tommy started having flu-like symptoms, and sure enough… We quarantined for 10 days and missed our Thanksgiving gathering, but fortunately, made it through. Tommy’s symptoms are gone; fatigue, congestion and shortness of breath linger for me.
Where do you go to test when you have symptoms?
At first, I was so sick I could hardly stand, so I wanted a medical diagnosis. We went to urgent care where my COVID rapid test came back negative, however, they also took a three-day test which eventually came back positive. My blood pressure was extremely low and the doctor encouraged me to go to the emergency room for further testing. The ER ran a full respiratory panel checking for close to 20 different viruses and I tested positive for COVID. An x-ray also showed a patchy spot on my upper right lung.
Based on my experience, when Tom got sick, I recommended he go straight to the ER. His symptoms were not as bad as mine (“I feel fine!”), and in hindsight, he would have been fine with a home test. Our lack of knowledge and preparation had us figuring it all out while sick, which wasn’t the best plan. We are still figuring out insurance billing, so know that visiting the ER may cost you.
Monoclonal antibodies therapy (Trump’s secret potion) is here and available
Remember Regeneron and the praise they received in aiding President Trump’s speedy recovery? Their product, Regen-COV, is one of three forms of monoclonal antibodies (MA) approved by the FDA for emergency use in those with mild to moderate cases and at higher risk of disease progression. Studies have shown that those treated with MA had a 56 percent lower risk of hospitalization or death compared to those who didn’t receive the therapy.3
MA are synthetic proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses and help to reduce disease progression, hospitalization and death.4 The treatment, administered intravenously or subcutaneously (shots), is offered locally through private facilities such as Eisenhower Health and Younes Medical where it is covered by insurance. It is also offered free to the public through the Riverside University Health System (RUHS) Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
MA supercharge your body to fight the virus, and if you can get the treatment, you should consider it. But when, who, where and how is very specific, and your primary care physician may know little about them, so you need to be your own advocate.
When: Within the first 10 days of symptoms and the closer to onset the better.
Who: COVID positive people ages 12+ with mild-to-moderate cases who qualify with one of the following:
- 65 years or older
- 55 years or older with one of the following: cardiovascular disease, hypertension or COPD/other chronic respiratory illness
- A body mass index greater than or equal to 25 (this number is relatively low, so search BMI calculator at cdc.gov to determine yours)
- Chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, immunosuppressive disease, or are receiving immunosuppressive treatment
Where: This is interesting. The hospitals and private entities are very strict on who receives MA. A doctor’s order is required and they closely follow the guidelines above, which is understandable. The County, however, wants to offer the therapy to as many candidates as possible and will ask further questions to aid you in qualifying. Not enough patients, or doctors, know about the program and they were thankful we are helping to spread the word.
Though I was more ill, Tommy was able to get his infusion at Eisenhower whereas I was not. The County reached out to me and granted the treatment based on the fact I previously had pneumonia (30 years ago). The drive to Moreno Valley (about an hour from Palm Desert) was challenging, but getting better was my only goal at the time, and I felt blessed with the opportunity. Here is the contact information for the locations we know about:
- Eisenhower Health Infusion Center and Clinic: (760) 834.3516
- Younes Medical Center (up to 5 days from testing): (760) 636.1336
- RUHS MAB Clinic: (951) 486.6520
How: Most offer the therapy intravenously. The drip takes approximately 20 minutes and you remain at the location for an hour or so to ensure no reactions. The County offers IVs and subcutaneously via four shots: one in the back of each arm and two in the stomach. Tommy received the IV; I received the shots as my appointment was late on Wednesday before Thanksgiving (I didn’t want to wait until Friday as my symptoms began Sunday). Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center report that injections work just as well as IVs,3 although IV absorption may be quicker and some people, including Tommy, felt better the same day. The shots were uncomfortable, but didn’t hurt; I had no reaction and didn’t feel any differently afterwards.
Hit it early and hit it hard
Several doctors advised doing as many therapies as possible. This was my protocol with input from our integrative team:
- Z-Pak antibiotics (Zithromax) prescribed by the hospital at diagnosis and supplemented with Bio-K probiotics daily for five days;
- inhaler as needed for shortness of breath (Albuterol HFA Proair Inhaler);
- Tylenol as needed for pain.
Supplements daily for two weeks:
- 5,000-8,000 mg vitamin C (powder form in our veggie shakes); work up to what your body can handle;
- 10,000 iu vitamin D;
- 50 mg zinc;
- 800 mg quercetin (all in addition to our standard daily vitamins).
I used a neti pot saline nasal rinse daily and a nebulizer with three percent hypertonic saline as needed. Both felt good as they helped clear my sinuses and lungs. We were told to wait three months for the booster.
What else did we learn? How to use Instacart, how much we love each other, and how grateful we are to have family close. Thank you, Mom, for all your support.
One last thing to note. My BFF, who attended the same event, also got sick. We both experienced a feeling like no other that is hard to explain, but demonstrates the effect COVID has on your mental state. It was an overwhelming sense that it would be ok to die. It wasn’t a desperate or scary feeling at the time, but more solace, as in “I’ve had a good life, I’m ready to go.” Many survivors share this sentiment, but you never think it would happen to you. When you do recover, you look back in disbelief. Is this loss of will a reason many never leave the hospital? If so, I can assure you, it is a strange, yet very peaceful feeling.
While we wish you nothing but good health in 2022, we hope this information is helpful should you need it. If you have any questions or experiences you’d like to share, please leave comments under this article on our website and I’ll be sure to get back to you promptly. Until then, keep masking up and get your booster!
References: 1) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/10-unusual-symptoms-of-covid-19/; 2) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/coronavirus-unusual-symptoms/faq-20487367; 3) https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.11.30.21266756v1; 4) https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Monoclonal-Antibody-Treatment-Information-for-Providers-and-Facilities.aspx