Some of the Whys and Whats of COVID: From a Survivor’s Vantage Point

written August 10-11, 2021

Since contracting COVID, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I don’t know why your body is reacting the way it is. Must be one of those crazy COVID symptoms. All I can tell you is by looking at your oxygen saturation and normal heart rate you appear to be fine.” That’s when I’ve wished for just TEN SECONDS they could feel the tightness in my chest, the panic I’m barely suppressing (because I might as well be sucking air through a coffee straw), and the suffocating pressure coming from what they believe is an imaginary lump in my throat–no matter that it’s nearly impossible to swallow over this made up symptom.  Do you know how hard it is to breathe if you can’t swallow? I hope you never have to find out. It’s terrifying!

Something else that’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around while dealing with COVID: if you can’t tell me why my body is doing the bizarre things it’s doing, then how can you tell me I’m going to survive it–especially when you send me home (me, without any medical training) to care for myself?  “It’s just COVID” doesn’t make my life a lick of a bit safer. It’s also not going to help me keep breathing when my brain is receiving signals that I’m going into distress.  Don’t treat me like I’m paranoid, crazy, or being extreme. What I’m feeling is very real, and “It’s just COVID” gives me no assurance that I’m going to live to see the next moment. I’ve seen the news. I know how many people are dying from this. I want to scream “YOU’VE GOT TO DO BETTER THAN THIS!” But sadly, they can’t. They don’t want to tell you this, but they don’t know the whys. That’s why I’m going to venture out and tell you what I’ve learned by being thrown into the deep end of this pool.  Hopefully, when it’s your sink or swim time, you’ll feel better equipped to doggie paddle your way out of the deep end and live, because you’ll know more than what I did going into this.

Something you should know about me: my entire life I have been put down for being able to see, taste, touch, smell, feel, and hear just about everything on a magnified scale.  “No one can POSSIBLY know their body as well as you do,” I’ve been mocked. “Nothing is as bad as you make it. Stop being so sensitive!” But a person can’t stop acute sensory input from happening. It’s part of how I was made. And while I was struggling to breathe last week, begging God to make the sensations go away, He reminded me that He made me for a time such as this. (Esther 4:14.) I’ve been given a gift to help pinpoint details about this virus doctors normally glaze over or consider unimportant in the fight. I have a personal, up close look at this beast. I hope maybe some of my terrifying moments can spare you a little grief and desperation when it’s your time to fight.

When COVID hit my system, it flipped all my senses into hyperdrive. These are the survival techniques I learned in the first five days of having symptoms:

1.) DRINK LOOOOOTS OF WATER!! It’s the only way to conquer phlegm and flush toxins out of your system. If you’re not peeing every 15-30 minutes, you’re prolly not drinking enough. No joke. COVID attacks everything respiratory. You’re going to want to keep mucus as thin as possible! It’ll also help keep your fever down and make the aches less intense.

2.) Fevers aren’t necessarily bad for you.  The heat kills off the dangerous stuff.  BUT…alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen every (3) hours will keep the insane sensations, chills, and headaches from trumping your brain. Your sanity is vitally important to beating COVID. Safely do what needs to be done to keep the full-on anxiety attacks away. Those will only exacerbate your problem. Be aware: your mind is not going to know how to process what’s coming, and controlling the fever will drastically reduce unwanted sensations that can make breathing exponentially more difficult—especially if you have a history of anxiety issues. Use your grounding techniques. Touch things around you, call them by name. Let your brain hear you and know your surroundings are real. It’s not uncommon to feel backwards, distorted, or confused with this disease. That doesn’t mean you’re dying. It only feels that way.

3.) Watch your pulse oximeter so you can visually tell your brain you are getting enough air.  This may be one of your most effective tools in battling the crazy feelings. If your oxygen saturation is above 94 percent, you’re good—even if you don’t feel good.  No real concern is needed unless that number drops below 90–and it may come close, but you’re in a great place if that number is 90 or above.  Stand up, stretch out, take slow, deep breaths. If your numbers go back up, that’s a good thing. Your brain may try telling you this is really, really bad; but assure yourself that the pulse oximeter is your best friend right now. Trust those numbers. Don’t go by feelings. Feelings are VERY deceiving during COVID. Don’t let your mind run away with false input. Talk aloud so your brain also hears, “I’m ok. I can do this. This feeling isn’t real.”  I’m going to say this again: ground yourself by touching items around you and identifying them. SPEAK THE WORDS SO YOUR BRAIN HEARS THEM. This gives you a better chance of disengaging with those overwhelming sensations that want to override the moment. You are NOT going crazy!  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. Groan. Grunt. Make vibrating sounds.  Get out of the vicious mental spiral! God is bigger than this moment..and the next one…and the one after that. Don’t let go of Him! He’s got you!! Claim His promises. My favorite has become Psalm 118:5,17: “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.”

4.) I don’t care what you’ve heard. Know the facts. DM in cough syrups is a SUPPRESSANT. It will calm the cough, but it’ll suppress everything else, increasing your chances of pneumonia. Regular Mucinex or generic guaifenesin without the DM will loosen the phlegm, dry up the mucus, but not keep it in your chest. You need to cough it up, but not at the extent of gagging, vomiting, or going into acute respiratory distress–like when COVID turns on the snot faucet full volume and you can’t swallow to breathe.  Find what safely works for you. DM is also dangerous for heart patients. It will raise your heart rate and possibly your blood pressure. This will cause jitteriness and additional sensations your body doesn’t need to be contending with.

5.) Know that what works for the common cold will not necessarily work with COVID.  This is an illness like none other. Be willing to try what you haven’t tried before. Just because it didn’t work then doesn’t mean it won’t work now.

6.) Use a really hot thermophore (moist heat that is super hot but doesn’t burn you) followed by ice packs on your chest and back. This will help loosen phlegm. The moist heat also helps kill bacteria and the virus while “moving things along.” Hot showers followed by cold water helps, too. I’ve talken 2-3 a day, as needed. Do more if necessary.  Heads up: right before dawn has always been the worst time of day for me. That’s when my extreme symptoms liked to surface most. Everyone is different, but nighttimes are usually the hardest on most people I’ve talked to about COVID. Cry out to God, claim His promises, tell the devil you WILL NOT curse God’s name. The agony and pain IS NOT FROM GOD!!!! My tears have come mostly in the shower when my chest is loose enough to have an authentic moment without suffocating. It’s ok to admit that you’re terrified and that this hurts. Jesus endured the cross. He understands the fear of facing death. He knows you’re terrified of dying from COVID. Remember: He’s never more present than your darkest moment. You can be real with God. Give Him ALL your anxious thoughts. He can handle it. He conquered death, and so can you!  Hold onto Him for dear life.  He’s gotcha!

7.) NEVER LIE DOWN if you have COVID. To sleep, sit straight up in a reclining chair and support your back with pillows. A travel pillow worked best for my neck, as I struggled against neck pain from a December 2020 car accident.  If you have to, lie face down on a solid surface like the floor.  This is called “prone position.”  It keeps your lungs from being suppressed or fluids and COVID from setting into areas they don’t belong.  Only lie on your stomach, though, if you can breathe while doing so.  Don’t risk respiratory distress. Lying on your side is also a better option than lying on your back. God will help you do what’s required to live. I wasn’t able to lie down in any position for the first 10 days with my symptoms, and I’m still here to tell about it. You can do it. You’re going to be tired. Sleep when you can. Nap often. My husband and I took shifts with who was going to stay awake to make sure I kept breathing. It was touch and go.

8.) Seek professional guidance and support immediately with the onset of any new symptoms or sudden changes in your health.  It won’t make you a hero to get more sick first. Actually, it may cost you your life. Remember: COVID doesn’t have to be a death sentence–even though your feelings might have you thinking otherwise.  Fight to live!

9.) On a very intimate note: if you start coughing, wear a pad–doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.  You will not be able to control your bladder or leakage when coughing fits become insane. I don’t care how many kegel exercises you’ve done in the past.  COVID has several humiliating side effects. This is one of them. Wearing a pad—even if you have to change it frequently—will prevent you from having some embarrassing moments or needing to deal with constant clean up. Disease doesn’t care about your pride. Do what you have to do to make life easier on yourself and lessen the spread of this virus.

10.) Even before you have a positive test result, it would NOT hurt to start taking high doses of Vit C, Zinc, D3, and probiotics that are recommended after you get sick. Stay away from sugar! Bacteria thrives on it. Don’t give bacteria food where it can become stronger in your system. The healthier you eat, the better your chances of fighting illnesses of any kind. With COVID, you’re going to need everything you’ve got to kick its butt to the curb. Controlling your diet is only hard if you don’t make time for it. If you catch COVID, you will quickly learn what foods are destroying your body. COVID won’t allow them to stay inside you without fierce reactions, so start training yourself to eat right now.

11.) Loose stools, diarrhea, and vomiting are the body’s ways of ridding the virus from your system.  Know right now that your body is going to revolt against COVID like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  Spending a lot of time in the bathroom over several days isn’t uncommon with this disease. (Yes, I said days.) Between constantly blowing my nose and having to use the bathroom, I quickly understood what all the toilet paper fuss was about in 2020.  And I’m just one person!

12.)  It’s important to stay hydrated and maintain healthy nutrients in your body.  By healthy, I mean foods that aren’t going to aggravate your intestines, cause phlegm production to increase, or feed the inflammation your body is fighting.  Fresh fruit smoothies, broth, herbal teas with honey…all great choices. Stay away from milk until sinuses are clear.  That will help you cut back on mucus. Also, make sure you like the texture of all your foods, because when your taste and smell goes, that is LITERALLY all you have left.  Loss of taste and smell with COVID is different than when you lose taste having a normal cold–don’t know HOW, but it is.  Hopefully knowing  this is common with COVID will keep you from freaking out. It doesn’t affect your ability to breathe AT ALL. It’s just simply odd.

13.) Make sure your prescription medications don’t have interactions with anything else you’re needing to take—including supplements.  It may be tricky to space meds far apart to avoid negative responses, so write out a chart with the time you’ll be taking each item. That list also makes for a great check off sheet—or you can program multiple alarms to go off at designated hours on your phone. I’ve used both techniques to keep me on track and properly medicated. You don’t want self medicating to become toxic. Know what you’re taking, how much is ok to take, and why you’re taking it. This will help if you have to add anything else into your daily regimen while getting well.

14.) Get up and move as much as possible—even when you don’t want to. You’ll feel 100x worse and get sicker faster if you let comfort control your actions.  Comfort equals FAST and unexpected terror in COVID world.  REALITY CHECK: this disease flips on a dime—so fast it’ll make your head spin! Try to stay ahead of it. Also, moving lessens the chance of blood clots forming in your legs, joints, chest. Make yourself move. No one can do that part for you. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. You need to get up frequently.  Be realistic with yourself. No one is expecting you to do jumping jacks. Just get your blood flowing so it doesn’t pool and clot.

15.) Focus on resting right now. I know. It’s hard. How do you rest when you can’t relax? Still, try. Quarantine as much as possible right now, and please don’t expose others to COVID. God gave you family and friends for a reason. Allow them to pick up groceries for you, or have Amazon deliver needed items to your door. God has blessed us with resources in 2021. Don’t concern yourself with “running out of necessities.” God ALWAYS provides! Trust Him. If you can’t get the meds or supplements you want or think you need in 1-2 days, maybe God is telling you to hold off for some reason. Timing is everything with COVID. God is also known to make miracles happen and allow the “impossible” to happen if He knows you needs something RIGHT NOW. Keep looking at your pulse oximeter. You’re still breathing.

16.) We had the TV off for 10 full days. I didn’t miss it one bit. Soothing instrumental music playing quietly in the background trumped a lot of my anxious moments. Remind yourself as much as you need to: surviving COVID is a process. You will not be well overnight. But that’s OK. Don’t stress. Stay in the moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. And…again. I will be praying you feel God walking with you through your recovery. You’ve got this.

17.) If you’re one of the fortunate COVID patients who gets to be bored for 2-3 weeks, and you don’t show any major symptoms, be grateful! That doesn’t make COVID any less real or harmful. Nothing to do is better than facing death with every breath!  (I speak from experience.) When you feel well enough, reach out and help others through their COVID crisis. You never know how much your care will mean in calming their nerves. It helps to know others have survived this nightmare. By the grace of God, you will, too!

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