Dance with king Covid: An early chronicle of denial, discovery and recovery
I’m one of the healthy, active ones who got it. I danced with King Covid. It was a tricky, unpredictable dance—one that had no rhythm, timing or well-choreographed steps. It was sneaky in its approach, then came on like a tornado, spun me around, laid me flat and eventually fled, leaving me with decreased lung capacity. I was one of the lucky ones. I am fully recovered.
I’m an athletic woman, a professional figure skater and instructor. I hike, bike, power walk, stretch, rollerblade and have a physically active career. Last winter I was logging quality time at least four mornings a week skiing at resorts in Park City, Sun Valley and Salt Lake as well as some great après ski parties. Here’s my personal story—what happened, and what I did.
February 25: A small thorn seems to be stuck in the bottom of my lungs. At least that’s what it feels like. It’s barely detectable, but I know something is in there. Each day for the following week this curious sensation grows, as if thorns are reproducing and hooking themselves together, taking up space in my lungs. It’s not so severe that it stops me from living my life.
March 2: A tightness in my chest is growing. Salt Lake’s typical bad winter air? Covid-19 is starting to hit some countries hard; a man in Seattle has died, too.
Sunday, March 8: Something is taking over my body. I feel tired and achy. I am not sleeping well.
Monday, March 9: Driving home to Salt Lake from Sun Valley, I know something is amiss. That night I get terrible chills. My body aches so bad that I take 800 mg. of Tylenol. I do not have a fever but I start coughing and sneezing. I barely sleep.
I doubt I have Covid-19; the CDC says the symptoms are fever, shortness of breath and dry cough.
Tuesday, March 10: I force myself to go to work (teaching ice skating) and I keep my hair appointment. I begin to feel a bit paranoid that perhaps I’m spreading something, but I don’t feel bad enough to go to a doctor. Plus, we are being told to not go to the doctor or hospital unless you’re really sick and can’t breathe. By the afternoon, however, whatever it is has flattened me. I am so tired. Achy, coughing, sneezing. I can’t get off my couch but neither can I sleep, even though everything in my body keeps saying sleep… sleep. Rifling through the medicine cabinet, I find my natural sleep remedy and take a small dose.
Wednesday, March 11: I awake to an aching body, tight lungs and a nonstop cough. Whatever this is, it is taking over my entire being.
It’s sunny out and something inside tells me to get into the sun. Soak it up. Drink lots of hot lemon water and dose out on vitamins C, D and A. I bundle up and go out for a power walk, something I do regularly.
As I walk, I can tell that my lung capacity is reduced. It’s clear that I need to exercise my lungs. I breathe deep and steady. My body is telling me to become my own human ventilator. I breathe in deeply, hold my breath and exhale vigorously.
My body also continues to tell me I need the healing power of sleep. That night I take another sleep remedy.
Thursday, March 12: It’s a beautiful, sunny day in SLC. My body still aches and I’m coughing and sneezing. Regardless, I know what I have to do. I force myself on another long hike through the foothills, making my lungs work and forcing whatever’s in there to break itself up. By the end of the day I have also soaked up a few hours of sunlight. I sleep deeply that night.
Friday, March 13: I feel a little better. My niece is hosting a family post-wedding party, a big feast. Still unsure of what I have, I go to two days of family activities. Everyone is having fun, raving about the food. I think the food is bland.
Sunday, March 15: I make myself banana pancakes. I can’t taste them or smell them. My beloved cup of coffee has no flavor. It is then that I realize, seriously, for the first time: I may have Covid-19.
With 19 confirmed cases in the state, Salt Lake County has shut down all the recreation facilities. Every ice rink is closed. Without any work, purpose or schedule and still feeling the effects of being sick, I spend the next two weeks sleeping more than I have in 20 years. The shortness of breath continues and I cannot taste or smell anything.
Friday, March 27: Diagnosed coronavirus cases in Utah are up to 480 and a second person has died. Governor Herbert requests Utahns to stay at home. Mayor Mendenhall directs Salt Lake City residents to stay home except for essential travel.
Four months later, by July 27, diagnosed positive cases will have soared to 38,440 cases in Utah, with 285 dead. For the United States: 4.42 million cases and 151,000 dead.
Wednesday, May 13: Yesterday I had an antibody test from Quest Labs. Today I got an email reporting that I tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies.
The total loss of taste and smell lasted about two months. The majority of those two senses have come back. The most lasting effect was the decrease in lung capacity. It felt as if there was scar tissue in my lungs. Exercise was the one thing that seemed to reduce that sensation.
It’s unclear to me how long the incubation period was. However, I believe that the first time I felt that “thorn” in my lungs, on February 25, was when the virus infected my body. I presume I acquired it either at a ski resort (on gondolas and chairlifts or indoors) or perhaps at the ice rink. It’s hard to say. There’s some evidence that Covid-19 was spreading itself in the U.S. since December.
After the positive diagnosis, I contact-traced my entire family for three weeks. Three people from the wedding party got sick after they returned home. No one has had an antibody test so it’s unclear if anyone had Covid.
This virus is real. It’s sneaky. It’s unpredictable. Some people breeze through it with very few symptoms. For others, the symptoms are similar to mine. For the most unfortunate, it kills them.
Immunity conferred by having had Covid is assumed but not verified. I still wear a mask into all public spaces, wash my hands and don’t touch my face. I physical distance. I want everyone to work together to smash the curve of Covid. I miss the various gatherings of pre-Covid and I especially miss hugging people.
Life has indeed changed. My goal now is to live and operate fully in the new normal.
Stephanee Grosscup is a figure skating choreographer and coach in Salt Lake City and Sun Valley, Idaho.