Last week, after 22 months of near-total lockdown, our nanny contracted COVID 10 days after a family gathering. The entire family would fall within a day, though our symptoms and disease course varied a lot. This diary is part 3 of a series designed to share a single real-world experience with COVID. I recommend beginning with the first piece, Omicron Comes for Everyone: My Vaccinated Experience With COVID, since it provides more information about how we got COVID, why our specific COVID infection shows how transmissible the disease is, and the individual health status of each person who got sick. You can read more about the progression of our symptoms in Part 2.
So, how is everyone now and what have I learned?
Our COVID Symptoms After a Week
At some point I decided to stop doing daily updates because with COVID, things don’t really change day to day. The shifts are more sudden, more uncertain, more...weird. All of us had the experience multiple times of feeling completely fine, even healed, then crashing suddenly into bed.
Our symptoms mostly remained consistent with what I listed in my earlier diaries: a super mild cold, fatigue, and then random weird inflammatory symptoms like eczema and eye pain.
More than a week out, my husband is fine. My 5-year-old is fine. The baby is on the mend, but is still very congested with a cough. She’s up crying for several hours every night, but continue to have no breathing difficulties.
Me? I’m typically the healthiest member of the family. I never get sick. And when I do, I get better faster than everyone. But my symptoms are lingering. They’re not bad. But they’re there. Mild congestion. Fatigue. Headache. Muscle aches. Not getting worse, but not getting better either.
Our nanny, too, is struggling. Intense fatigue. She’s still congested with a cough. She’s able to work, able to function, but needs a lot of rest.
It’s not great. And we of course have no idea what level of immunity we’ve gotten, if any at all.
What I’ve Learned From My Experience
No one takes vaccinated COVID seriously
Ok, not no one but a lot of someones.
As soon as we told people we had COVID, they start asking if we were better yet. The expectation was clearly that our cases would be mild. And they were, but folks seem to misunderstand what mild COVID is. Mild simply means you don’t go to the hospital and die. It can still be a disaster, especially if you have children.
You do not want this disease. There’s no good COVID.
We talk endlessly about how much blame the willfully unvaccinated and those who deny the reality of COVID should shoulder.
It’s time for us to also talk about this as a disease many of us are spreading in spite of being vaccinated. Fighting COVID does not begin and end with getting vaccinated. It demands sacrifices from all of us—and given the horrible death toll this disease has already caused, these sacrifices are pretty small.
Start wearing decent masks, over your mouth and nose, every time you go out. Cloth masks are not enough N95s are readily available and highly effective. Donate masks to people you love, people you meet, to random strangers.
Stop going to unnecessary gatherings.
Stop eating indoors at restaurants.
Stop demanding unnecessary work gatherings and meetings.
Do as much virtually and remotely as you can.
It doesn’t matter if you are vaccinated. You can and will spread this. And you may spread it to someone like my baby, who is one of the millions of babies who are both highly vulnerable to COVID and who cannot be vaccinated.
It’s time for all of us to start looking at our own behavior instead of sitting in smug judgment of a small but vocal minority.
Testing is an unreliable disaster
Between the five members of my family—nanny, husband, two kids, and me—we all had symptoms for over a week. Between the five of us, there were two—just two!--positive COVID tests. I’ve read different numbers about COVID testing sensitivity, but everything I have read suggests that these tests are not great at picking up COVID, especially in vaccinated people who have low viral loads.
Here’s what’s really scary about testing, though: how quickly we got a negative result. My nanny tested positive on January 4th, a mere five days after multiple negative PCR tests. Her symptoms began shortly after her positive test. They got progressively more severe. On January 6th, when her symptoms were at their most severe, and at every point thereafter, she tested negative.
A negative COVID test does not mean you do not have COVID.
This is why prevention strategies centering solely around tests, especially home tests which often involve lower quality samples, are so ineffective.
Even if COVID tests were more reliable, though, they are nearly impossible to get right now. Every testing site in my area is booked up for the next 10 days. The only way to get a test is to visit a mass testing site that requires no appointments. The vehicle line outside the testing site closest to me was recently more than a mile long. I waited 2 hours for my test.
This is a lot to ask of anyone. It’s probably a major reason so many people are not testing.
Even more annoying is the fact that rapid tests are still not widely available (and still pretty unreliable), and that PCR tests take multiple days to get a result. This makes it very difficult to use them to make decisions, and extends the quarantine period for many people who have previously tested positive. One of our nanny’s PCR tests took 4 days to get back.
Having COVID is a stark reminder of our broken healthcare system
I got a lot of good advice in the comments. But a lot of that advice was woefully disconnected from the realities of our healthcare system. Calling your doctor is a pipe dream for a lot of us. Many do not have primary care providers at all. Others cannot directly access a doctor, or have no relationship with a doctor who has to see 70+ patients a day.
We, like most people, had to ride out COVID on our own. The choice was either no support or emergency room, and for people with mild COVID, the emergency room is the wrong choice.
CDC guidelines aren’t working
We got COVID 11 days after our nanny’s exposure. We followed CDC guidelines and still got it. So have thousands of others. The push to get people back to work has eclipsed the need to preserve and protect human life. It’s unjust, and has responsible citizens to their own devices, wondering which guidelines to follow and how to stay safe.
Our health providers are exhausted and abused
I’ve been a harsh critic of health system abuses, especially in the world of reproductive health. But health providers are mostly doing what they can within a broken system that abuses them, too. They’re being forced to work with COVID, to see more patients than is possible, to expose themselves to chronic danger and be accountable to corporate overlords who know nothing about the practice of medicine.
Do not add to their burden.
Do not go to the emergency room if you can breathe.
Do not call your doctor to tell them you have COVID. They’re already exhausted and there is nothing they can do. The worried well are eating up time and space in doctor’s offices and emergency departments. Don’t be one of them.
And if you do need care, please be kind. Kindness costs you nothing.
You don’t have to accept bad care or not ask questions or treat doctors like gods. But you have a moral obligation, especially now, to treat healthcare providers as fellow human beings who are doing the very best they can.
Even a very mild case is awful, especially with kids
Can you afford to give up 5 to 20 days of work? Can you function on no sleep? What will your life look like without childcare? How will your house look if you have to spend a week in bed?
Even a mild case of COVID is awful because it takes you out of daily life. Even when you’re feeling better—indeed, even if you never get sick at all—COVID is still a miserable experience because being a responsible COVID carrier means quarantining.
That means no work, no childcare, no help. Which can be difficult for anyone, but especially for those with young children.
The realities of our very mild family COVID experience have included:
- Many nights of literally no sleep because our baby is so sick and cannot breathe well lying down. This is bad in normal times, but it’s especially awful when we are feeling sick.
- Missing many days of work. I cannot even begin to tell you how much work awaits us now that we are back to work. For my husband especially, this has been a nightmare. It’s easy to tell people to take it easy, but certain jobs are not amenable to this. Certain jobs have to be done no matter how sick you feel, and my husband’s is one of them. Meanwhile I’m playing catchup on missed deadline after missed deadline, and it will likely be a month or more before my work life returns to normal.
- A house that is falling apart. Cleaning is mandatory when you have small children. Imagine not being able to do it while also being sick. I’m tempted to just move and start over.
- No childcare. You can’t rely on childcare when anyone in the group has COVID. No childcare means no break, no work, and sometimes not even a spare moment to put down one screaming child to tend to the other.
- Feral children. Children thrive on routine. Our family routine is fairly rigid, and has been very beneficial to our children. Try following a routine when everyone’s sick. Our five year old is effectively a spider monkey at this point.
- Lost wages. Even if you get paid sick leave, stories of employers trying to get around it or pressure workers back early abound. My husband and I are both self-employed business owners. No work, no pay.
- More bills. COVID is expensive. Fortunately we avoided a hospitalization. But we still had to pay our nanny for her time off. We had to order food so we could eat. COVID is expensive in even the best circumstances, and it’s doubly so when you’re not making any money because you are too sick to work.
Finally: I <3 DailyKos
I’ve been writing as a member of this community for the better half of a decade, but the last week has truly solidified my love for all you lovely folks (many of whom I’ve bickered with over politics over the years). Everyone who has commented, without exception, has shown care and concern. No conspiracy theories or blame or dismissive comments or sexism. True human concern. I don’t think I would be able to say that about any other community where I might post this.
So many nights I was up with the baby squalling and reading comments. And the private messages people have sent, often telling stories of babies loved and lost. Just...wow. Please know I will think of each one of these precious babies each of you has shared with me. Their stories will become part of my story. Thank you for reaching across the space and the quiet. There's still meaningful community to be had in this world.