Hello, all! Sorry it’s been a hot minute since my last post (6.5 months, to be exact), but I’ve had a lot of things going on health-wise and I’ve been busy getting my memoir finalized and ready for publication. On that note, check out the beautiful cover design that my longtime friend and former Penn State teammate, Lisa Hopey, created for me:
I’m so excited for this book to come out, folks. Make sure you stay tuned to find out when and where you can get your copy!
Anyway, back to the blog post at hand: my experience, as a type 1 diabetic (T1D), contracting COVID-19.
According to the American Diabetes Association, it’s still unknown as to whether T1Ds are more susceptible to contracting the virus. That being said, we do know that T1Ds are more likely to suffer more significant complications and/or die from Corona than those without diabetes, especially if the T1D’s blood glucose levels are unstable. And if a T1D is also suffering from heart disease or another diabetes-related complication, they could be at an even greater risk of serious COVID-19 complications because their body’s immune system is less able to fight off the virus.
Additionally, when a diabetic is suffering from any kind of virus, they’re at a higher risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which by itself can lead to coma and/or death.
As for me, in my thirty-two years as a T1D, my blood sugar has never been stable. I’ve also developed just about every diabetes-related complication there is, so needless to say, I knew that I would likely be screwed if I contracted COVID-19.
That being said, I really wasn’t all that concerned about the virus until Yvens and I had just finished a ten-day trip to visit family. It wasn’t until the very day we were flying home that a lot of restaurants were stopping their sit-down service, a lot of schools were shutting down and continuing to educate online, and a lot of non-essential city and town programs and buildings closed to the public. Sure, toilet paper hoarding was already in full effect, but it’d still be another week before the Governor of Michigan would issue her stay-at-home order.
I’d like to think that I was taking it as seriously as most others were at the time, but the fact is that I’m not like most others—I know full well how shoddy my immune system is. I’ve seen time and time again how quickly I pick up viruses and bacterial infections just by being in the same room as an asymptomatic carrier. Looking back at it, it was reckless of me to travel, especially by plane, while this pandemic was ratcheting up. I should’ve been more vigilant about protecting myself from unnecessary risks like that.
And yet I’m fairly certain I contracted COVID-19 after we got back home.
At that point, I was self-quarantining at home. Unfortunately, since Yvens is considered an essential employee, he had to keep working. And since his job involves interacting with the public, I knew that there was a strong likelihood that he’d be exposed to someone with the virus, possibly become a carrier himself and then expose me to it.
Sure enough, the week after we returned home, Yvens developed a low-grade fever and a mild sore throat. The thing is, his symptoms were gone the next day, so he figured it was nothing serious.
Several days passed and both of us felt fine, but on Sunday morning, things changed for me.
I woke up with a throbbing headache, body aches, a sore throat and cough, and the feeling that my chest was burning every time I inhaled. I dry-heaved but didn’t throw anything up. By noon, I had a low-grade fever, so I checked the COVID-19 online risk assessment tool; since I was in a high-risk population as a T1D and had a fever, it suggested that I call a nurse hotline.
The nurse I spoke with told me that since I could actually talk to her, my breathing issues clearly weren’t that bad. She let me know that from what she’d heard, they were turning everyone away from the ER who wasn’t in a life-threatening condition. I asked her why the assessment tool even identified high-risk populations if you weren’t going to treat them with a little more concern. She suggested that I wait to see if I wake up during the middle of the night, unable to catch my breath. At this point, feeling a bit triggered, I let her know that a dear friend of mine had died in that exact way just a month ago. Your medical advice is to wait until I’m close to dying before calling for an ambulance?
I absolutely understand that hospitals and clinics are inundated with patients. I fully understand that the limited available resources should be reserved for those with significant health concerns. But I also know how quickly illnesses progress within my body, so I knew I had reason to have significant concerns.
As the afternoon progressed, my temp continued to rise, so I placed a call to the on-call doctor at my diabetic specialist’s office. She let me know that I needed to go to the ER, and I’m so thankful that I did. I entered the ER with a temp of 101, a heart rate of 140 BPM, and an elevated blood pressure. I had low levels of magnesium as well as lymphopenia (a low number of a certain type of white blood cell), with the latter indicative of a COVID-19 prognosis. Oh, and my blood sugar had spiked and has remained elevated since then. I needed IV fluids. All signs pointed to my body being under attack.
I want to stress that the ER Department at Henry Ford Hospital was fantastic. They did not hesitate bringing me in for treatment and testing, and the entire staff (though clearly exhausted) was nothing but thorough, professional, and compassionate. They all knew how serious this was for a patient like me.
They told me that, in all likelihood, I had the Corona virus. It was taking an average of six-to-eight days to get the test results back from the lab, so unless and until the results came back negative, Yvens and I were to self-quarantine at home for the next fourteen days. We weren’t to leave the house, even for groceries or prescriptions. If we needed something, we were to have it delivered to our house and left on our porch. They prescribed me meds to keep the fever down, but besides that, it would be a waiting game to see how my symptoms developed. From what they’d seen, the virus was affecting patients in very different ways. I was supposed to come back to the hospital for admission if the meds couldn’t keep the fever down or I started having significant trouble breathing.
The next day was rough. Really rough. I had severe chills, I sweat through my clothes, I didn’t want to eat or drink, I couldn’t sleep comfortably but kept nodding off, and it took me hours before I had the strength to pick up my phone and text my dad a Happy Birthday. My blood sugar would not come down, and I had real trouble trying to stay hydrated.
The following morning, I got my positive test results back. Even the nurses were shocked at how quickly they’d received the results.
Things have been more tolerable since the meds have been keeping the fever down, and I’ve felt like I have more energy each day that passes. I’m hopeful that the other symptoms will dissipate as the days progress, and for now, I’m trying to stay rested and hydrated and keep my blood sugar under relative control.
I have received so much support from friends, family, and former colleagues, and I have no doubt that it’s helped me start to recover.
I’m grateful that I seem to be getting through this without any lung damage. I’m grateful that Yvens seems to have gotten through it with almost no symptoms at all. I’m grateful that we don’t seem to have had it while visiting our loved ones earlier this month. And I’m grateful that we both have sufficient access to food and medicine, even while quarantined, and that we (knock on wood) aren’t in financial jeopardy right now as a result of this pandemic.
I’m also grateful that I knew enough about my own health to seek advice elsewhere when my symptoms worsened. I don’t want to think about what could’ve happened to me if I’d stayed home for much longer. Even if the COVID-19 didn’t take me out, going into DKA very well might have.
Us T1Ds are usually pretty good at knowing our bodies. Most times, we know when our health is compromised and when we’re in need of urgent medical care. In this case, it took me less than a day to know that there was something seriously wrong going on.
Our immune-compromised bodies may be less able to fight off bacterial and viral infections, but if we stay educated and informed about our health, we diabetics can at least use our voices to fight for the best possible medical care.
Stay safe out there, my friends! Follow CDC/WHO protocols and be kind to yourselves and others. Read some good books, spend some quality time with your cabinmates (or, some separate time if you’re already experiencing cabin fever), call or FaceTime your friends and loved ones (you certainly have the time right now to do more than just text them), do some meditation or yoga, play with your pets, or even do some journaling. Don’t forget that you need to protect your mental health as much as your physical health during this scary and uncertain time!
If you have the financial means, donate to food organizations, donate masks and/or meals to hospital workers and/or first responders, offer to buy groceries for someone who can’t leave their house or who’s been laid off during this crisis.
Let’s get creative in our good deeds. Let’s think of new ways to make someone else’s life a little happier. Let’s think of how we can make our new normal just a little bit better than before.
I mean, come on—most of us have enough forced free time right now to at least give it a try!