Immediately upon awaking on Thursday, April 2, I grabbed the thermometer and pulse oximeter from my headboard shelf. The first thing I did upon waking most mornings was recite “Modah Ani,” but since becoming ill with presumptive COVID-19 early on Sunday, March 21, taking my temperature and checking my oxygen saturation level took precedence over even that brief utterance.
It was slightly below 98.6º F. I was shocked. I took it again. The same result! After 11 interminable days, diagnosed first with COVID-19 and then with bacterial pneumonia, my fever had broken! It was the first time I had seen a temperature below 100.6º F in 11 days!
I quickly recited Modah Ani and then all I wanted to do was say Hallel with both blessings. I wanted to dance and sing Hallel aloud in my kitchen, at full volume, not worrying what my NYC neighbors might think. I had never been as scared as I had been for the past five days, and I had never felt so relieved as I was to be afebrile.
I am 40 years old, single, childless, living alone in Manhattan, and I just nursed myself through an 11-day bout of moderate COVID-19 with pneumonia. (My roommate had, sensibly, returned to live with her parents, so I had been alone in our apartment since before falling ill.)
What did I do before and during my bout with COVID-19 to help myself?
- Thermometer and record-keeping: I had a working under-tongue thermometer at home. (Forehead and ear thermometers had never given me accurate readings in the past.) I recorded each temperature reading in a health app on my smartphone. (I didn’t record my temperature when acetaminophen was in my system, since that would corrupt the data.)
- Pulse oximeter: I ordered a pulse oximeter via eBay, the second day I was feverish, for under $20. A physician and public health friend had each recommended it to me. Tracking how well my blood was oxygenating was invaluable for both my own peace of mind and for my primary care physician knowing whether I needed to call 911 and go to the ER or not.
- Medical care via telemedicine: I used telemedicine to be seen by a health care provider (my primary care doctor or urgent care) four times during my 11 days of fever, and another twice after that in the next few days. (This allowed me to remain in strict isolation and not spread this virus to others.) Telemedicine, combined with my temperature log and pulse oximeter, was amazing. I was able to submit my temperature data (screen shot from my phone as an attachment) in advance of each appointment, and to give the providers who treated me my oxygen saturation levels while lying down, sitting up, walking, and standing. All of this led to a diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia on COVID-19 Day 9 and rapid treatment of it. (Like counting the Omer, I started counting the days of COVID-19. Pro tip: counting the Omer is much, much nicer!)
Aside from those three major things, I also had the following in place:
- Food: I stocked up on food in advance, not by taking extra trips to the grocery store (bad idea!), but by buying a bit more each time I went shopping, starting on March 1. I had enough food to get through the first week and a half without even thinking about it. (After that, I ran out of the good stuff, but not food! Friends ordered some takeout for me.) I made myself eat two small meals a day while sick, despite having almost no appetite, while most food tasted like glue or twigs. My immune system was working hard and I wanted to give it some fuel. Also, doctors always asked if I was able to keep food down, and I was always able to report in the affirmative.
- Water: I forced myself to keep drinking a lot of water while I was feverish. I knew that hydration was important, especially given my massive nightly sweats. Water started to taste like flat orange soda (sickly sweet), but I made myself keep drinking anyway. The doctors said that water was perfect for hydration and there was no need for an electrolyte-replenishing drink. Also, the doctors always asked if I was able to keep water down, and I was always able to report in the affirmative for this, too.
- Usual prescription and over-the-counter medications: I had all of my usual prescription medication, including my albuterol inhaler (for my very mild asthma), with none of it expired and as much of it as my health insurance company would allow me to fill. I also had a new huge bottle of acetaminophen, purchased before becoming ill. I ended up taking it for maybe two weeks straight, at the recommendation of my doctor, to lower my fever and help with muscle aches.
- Hatzalah: When I was sick during the peak of COVID-19 in New York City, there was a wait of up to an hour between calling 911 and their arrival. On 2 a.m. on Thursday, April 2, I had called Hatzalah on my fifth day of uncontrollable coughing fits, when I felt like I just couldn’t catch my breath. It was my second day of huffing and puffing to get from my bedroom to the bathroom down my suddenly interminably long hallway. They arrived in 14 minutes! By the time they arrived, I was no longer coughing, just huffing and puffing while standing still and doing nothing. My pulse oximeter read 97%, which was the highest it had been since I started checking it four days earlier, so I didn’t go to the ER. When I awoke the next morning, my fever had broken!
- Copies of my mail key and housekeys: Before becoming ill, I had made copies of my building, apartment key, and mailbox keys. When I was in complete isolation for 18 days, a neighbor was able to check my mail every few days and leave it outside my apartment door. Friends were able to easily bring me an extra spacer and mask for my inhaler that they had, as well as retrieve the pulse oximeter from my mailbox when it arrived, and leave them all outside my apartment door.
At 7:30 pm on the evening of Thursday, April 2, after a day spent joyously updating family and friends about my fever having broken, I finally got to sing Hallel in my kitchen. I had to take breaks to catch my breath; I had to sit for part of it; I kept having an irrepressible urge to stand and sing, so I stood when I could and sat when I couldn’t. The verse “כָּל עַצְמוֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה יְהוָה מִי כָמוֹךָ מַצִּיל עָנִי מֵחָזָק מִמֶּנּוּ” (Psalms 35:10) was all I could think of. My very bones, from their very white blood cell-producing marrow on out, were praising God, along with my lungs and legs and heart. I am sure that a sweeter Hallel has never reached Heaven from my lips. I wept with joy at having survived; at being exhausted but alive; at the mortal fear that this was a brief respite and that I could still get sicker somehow. I poured out my heart to God with every last bit of the little strength I possessed after my harrowing illness.
The next day, just before Shabbat, with my temperature still the very odd (for me) below-98.6ºF, I asked on Facebook if one could bentch Gomel via Zoom. I could! And that Sunday afternoon, accompanied by 75 people, from my sister to people I’d never met but who were moved by my story, we davened mincha separately and I led the recitation of Tehillim for all those who were still ill. A misheberach was said for my continued healing, and I benched Gomel. It was amazingly sweet and wonderful. We stayed and chatted for as long as I had energy.
I had truly never felt less alone in my life — even though I’d seen not a soul but two triply-masked Hatzalah workers in over two weeks, and I wouldn’t get clearance from my doctor to leave my apartment and take a short, masked walk to a nearby park for another few days.