My Personal COVID-19 Story

By Thomas Holt Russell

Like many people, I was surrounded by the coronavirus but was lucky enough to stay COVID-free. I have been working from home for months, as the cyber education program manager and online cyber educator for a nonprofit. I do not really need to be around people, but I have been wearing a mask and keeping my distance when I have gone out. Everything was great until it wasn’t.

COVID-19 entered my home in mid-November. My adult son was the first to display signs, quickly followed by my wife and my pregnant daughter. I first noticed my symptoms four days after my son’s. There were a lot of layers to my worries.

We live in an extended family environment. Along with my wife and I, we have two adult children and four grandchildren living in our home. My daughter was pregnant, and the baby was due in less than two weeks. She was very ill with the classic symptoms such as body aches, sore throat, fever, chills, and throwing up. My wife was plagued by the same symptoms except not the sore throat.

My symptoms are more flu-like, little aches and pains, congested chest, and coughing. I did not notice that I lost my sense of smell until my wife pointed out that she could not smell anything. I held a flower under my nose, then a pot of food that had been cooking for hours, and finally I burned incense and put it directly under my nose. I noticed I too had lost my sense of smell, as well as a bit of my sense of taste. My other family members all lost their appetite, but I never lost mine. 

My wife and I went to take a COVID-19 test at Evans Army Hospital in Fort Carson, Colo. My son took the test earlier, and he came back positive, so we were sure we were going to be positive also, and we were. My biggest worry was contracting pneumonia or some other secondary infection. I already have asthma and diabetes, so there was a chance that I could get very sick.

While I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting, I received a text; one of my former co-workers had just died from COVID-19. He had been struggling for a few weeks, and the last thing I heard about him was that he was on a ventilator. I was not surprised, but his death renewed my worry. We were close to the same age.

Since January 2020, I have been taking vitamins and other health supplements, and my blood sugar levels have been excellent. But I was still concerned. COVID-19 has many faces, and I know of stories where people seemed to be doing well, only to have their health rapidly decrease in just a matter of hours. Of course, I hope that I will make it to the other side of this, but concerns linger. 

I have to admit that I felt depressed and more worried about my wife and pregnant daughter. The toxic political climate made things worse and contributed to my malaise. On the outside, I may have seemed healthy. I was walking and talking. However, I still felt body aches, my breathing had become more labored, and my body seemed to be telling me that something else is coming. The grim reaper seemed to be hanging around every corner. Some days I felt fine in the morning, but body aches, headaches, and labored breathing would return by the evening.

During my quarantine, I did not leave the house and it was much easier to stay away from each other during the quarantine. We remained secluded in our rooms and continued to wipe things down. I read very little and writing was sparse. I was not doing anything with photography or art of any type, and I did not engage in social media at all. I did not listen to music, and surprisingly, I did not miss any of that. I rarely checked email from work, and I knew I most likely missed a couple of deadlines. 

My dreams were more vivid than ever before, and I also noticed that I was more emotional. I also had a tough time concentrating on what I needed to do. My mind would wander, and thoughts would drift. Simple tasks took a long time to complete. I tried to convince myself (without success) that even though the numbers of COVID deaths are astronomically high, most people who contract it will not die.

The mental and emotional aspects of coronavirus cannot be underestimated, but I found a way to combat negative thoughts. On sunny days, I would sit on my back deck. I cleared my mind and was thankful that I did not want or need anything. Thinking this way stills my mind and calms my soul, and gives me peace. My heart rate slows, and I relax. This state of mind is as close to heaven as I can be while living.

The worst part of my COVID infection passed. One night while taking a bath, I was delighted that I could smell the bath salts, the first time I was able to smell anything in two weeks. I sat in the tub holding the canister of bath salts, putting it to my nose, and inhaling deeply. My wife looked at me sideways, but it was a reminder that I was getting much better. This was just a little victory and a small sign that things were getting better. This was good news in a season of bad news. And the good news continued.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby boy, free of COVID, which was a lifting of a significant burden that my wife and I were carrying. As a matter of fact, none of my grandchildren contracted COVID. I cannot express how happy this made me feel.

Hearing about people dying every day, I turn off the news when it gets to be too much. I take nothing for granted. Even though I am feeling much better, I have not stopped being cautious. I still keep my distance, wear masks and wipe down doorknobs and remote controls.

My wife, daughter, and son are all doing better. We may have made it through this! But again, I am very cautious. Since we do not have much data about COVID, we do not know where the line is between a COVID symptom or just the run of the mill ailment. This virus has many faces.

Even now, over two months since I was diagnosed, my sense of smell is selective. Some things I can smell, such as my grandson’s poop, but I can’t smell a flower directly under my nose! Also, I get easily distracted, so my concentration seems to be worse. My short-term memory gives me problems, but maybe that is only a side effect of aging. In the ’90s, gulf war syndrome encompassed many aliments. After it was given a name, the disease increased across the population. I know COVID is real, but I believe there’s a little piggybacking of unrelated symptoms. 

To add another layer of uncertainty to the crisis, many Black people are wary about getting a vaccine against COVID. I am not one of those African Americans. However, I do not blame anyone suspicious of the inoculation. I understand, but when they start giving these vaccinations to the public, I will be the first in line. 

My recovery is not anything to brag about, and it is not miraculous. Just like water naturally flows and goes around everything that obstructs its path, our bodies naturally work to rid themselves of malignant invaders. All of life lives and dies.

I will not make long speeches about the misery I faced for a few weeks. Everybody is going through something during this time. As Lao Tzu’s teachings have taught me, a whirlwind does not last all morning, and a cloudburst doesn’t last all day. This is a very dark time. However, just as everything else, this pandemic will not last forever. By the summer, I believe things will start returning to normal. Until then, I would encourage all people not to give up hope, continue to wear masks, and keep a safe distance away from others. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and soon, we will find ourselves looking at this pandemic through a rearview mirror.