My Experience of COVID: BA.5

A positive iHealth COVID antigen test

I will be numbering the days in the same way the CDC does. Day 0 is the first day of symptoms. Labs in the USA do not tell you what strain you have, but when I got sick, the dominant strain was (Omicron) BA.5. I have had three doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Housemate 1 has had one dose of J&J and on dose of Pfizer. Housemate 2 has had two doses of Pfizer and one dose of Moderna.

Day -2

Housemate 1 feels ill with mild cough, fatigue, and muscle aches. Tests negative on antigen strip. We optimistically assume it isn’t COVID, but open all the windows and turn on the fans and air purifiers. Housemate 1 isolates in room and wears a mask when they have to go into common areas. Since we took these precautions—but Housemate 2 and I will have COVID symptoms a couple days later—I believe Housemate 1 was infectious before they developed symptoms.

Day -1

Housemate 1 has an elevated temperature, intense muscle aches, especially around the kidney area, and ocular pain. Coughing more. Sleeping most of the day. Negative antigen test, but it’s clearly COVID. We assume Housemate 1 must have acquired COVID at a crowded outdoor event. It was a large outdoor event where people were drinking and speaking closely to each other, but it’s still terrifying because outdoor events are supposed to be safe with low rates of transmission.

Shopping List

I went for an emergency shop so that we would have the food and supplies that we needed to be comfortable in a long isolation. Doing a shop at this time was morally iffy. I thought I would have a few more days before I would come down with COVID, and therefore wasn’t likely to be contagious. I was wrong and I was likely quite contagious and it would have been safer to order groceries delivered to my house. Here’s a list of what was helpful to me or that I wish I had gotten.

  • COVID antigen tests in bulk
  • Thermometer
  • Chloraseptic throat spray
  • NSAIDs
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Neti pot
  • Flexible ice pack to put on face for nose/sinus inflammation
  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex)
  • Sugar-free cough drops (so you can suck on them as you’re trying to get back to sleep)
  • Eucalyptus essential oil (for opening nasal passages)
  • Dark chocolate (actually is an ok throat lozenge)
  • Ginger pills (for nausea)
  • Fizzy water
  • Yuzu extract to flavor fizzy water
  • Orange juice (with a sore throat you might prefer something less acidic)
  • Popsicles
  • Watermelon
  • Wedge pillow. I slept on it to let my nose/sinuses drain during the night.
  • Microwavable food that you find appetizing even when you’re sick. I made a bulk order of Thai food from a local restaurant.

It isn’t really something that’s easy to buy, but my housemate made spearmint and linden iced tea and it was refreshing.

Day 0

Housemate 1 tests positive on antigen strip. Housemate 2 and I woke up with slight sore throats and fatigue. Housemate 2 has an elevated temperature by evening. I described the first day as “I’m just tired. I’m not suffering.” My throat feels like I have a hair stuck in it and is also phlegmy. I was not expecting the phlegm. Post nasal drip described by a Twitter acquaintance that was a few days ahead of me in COVID infection as “the hot snot.”

Day 1

Housemate 2 and I are definitely suffering now, but testing negative on antigen tests. I don’t think I ever ran a fever, although that may have been because I was never without NSAIDs in me. Even without the fever, I experience intense body aches, especially in my joints, to the point that I’m crying from pain. I do a PCR test. I won’t get the results for a few days but I’m positive for COVID-19. I am the only one out of the three of us to get a PCR test, which means only one of us will be part of the official count of cases. The coughing and sneezing begins. For several days I will not have the energy or motivation to do anything, including watching tv or reading comics. Nothing is interesting. We are constantly thirsty. I fidget and flop around my bed like a fish in too shallow water.

Day 2

Body aches are less intense, but my throat feels like I’m swallowing shattered Christmas ornaments. None of us have lost our sense of smell or taste but we don’t have an appetite, even when our stomachs hurt from the emptiness. Housemate 2 and I finally test positive on an antigen strip.

Day 3

Day 3 was just more of the same. I sent a message to my doctor’s office inquiring about Paxlovid. Here was the reply:

“Have you tested positive for covid yet? You would meet criteria for paxlovid (even if you don’t need hospitalization), BUT you definitely need a positive test (PCR or home antigen test) and we need to get you set up with an appointment to prescribe it. There are a lot of questions/things to go over with it. If you’ve had a positive test, I recommend calling our office for help, finding an appointment today; calling our providence virtual sick clinic today; getting in to an urgent care today who can prescribe.”

I had a positive COVID test but setting up an appointment, even a virtual one, was too daunting of a task for how little energy I had.

Day 4

I don’t know for whom COVID like like a “mild cold,” but for my housemates and I, it was flu-like. But on Day 4, I awake feeling like I have a really bad cold rather than the flu. Evenings are more difficult than mornings, however. I feel more exhausted and sick as the day goes on. There is sticky phlegm in my chest and I pound on my chest while I cough to try to loosen it.

Day 5

It only feels like I have rough grit sandpaper in my throat and not shattered Christmas ornaments. I start working from home again but without much focus. It’s more like a regular cold than a really bad one now. My nose is dripping and feels dry/inflamed at the same time. A cold pack on my sinuses is a blessing. Coughing intensifies. I feel frustrated with how sick I still am, but remind myself that I am surviving a deadly disease that has killed more than six million people. According to the CDC, Day 5 is the last day you need to isolate (most people would probably count it as Day 6, by counting the first day of symptoms as Day 1), but I test positive on an antigen test in under a minute. Recorded an episode of Shel We Read a Poem. You can hear how congested (and whiney) I am.

Day 6

According to the CDC, it’s fine and dandy for me to go out coughing on the public, but they suggest I wear a mask while I do it. Full, painful sensation in ears. Made dinner but still not enjoying any food other than watermelon. Intestinal cramping, but it might just be from too much watermelon. Strong enough to take a walk around one small Portland city block. Made it most of the day without NSAIDs.

Day 7

I began this blog post on Day 7. I woke up with anxiety. I took an antigen test and again it was positive within a minute. I woke up more tired today than I did the day before, but my ears hurt less. Being in the sun still feels crappy, like my skin is burning immediately. Maybe COVID turns you into a vampire. Still don’t have much of an appetite. Not even for blood.

In the evening, I walked three blocks. When I passed by a house utilizing their fireplace, I had a coughing fit that couldn’t be controlled until I moved away. My anxiety returned near bedtime. I’m scared of Long Covid, but, also, COVID can create or exacerbate mental illness. Was the anxiety due to my usual tendency towards anxiety, or was I developing worse, more permanent anxiety? I tried to open my stuffed nose by smelling eucalyptus oil, but I could barely detect it. It didn’t burn in my nose at all. I tried tea tree oil. That smelled strange and muted, too. Was I experiencing neurological damage?

Day 8

I woke well before dawn and I think it took a couple hours to fully fall asleep again. Why? I couldn’t identify any intense sources of pain. Maybe it was hunger. I’m not eating enough because food is boring. At least the smell eucalyptus oil is trending towards normal again. I have occasional intestinal cramping and I’ve been without watermelon for more than 24 hours so I know it isn’t from eating too much watermelon. My lip is splitting down the middle and bleeding, a kind of cheilitis. Cheilitis can be caused by a vitamin B deficiency (I haven’t been eating well), or fungus or bacteria, particularly if you have an immune disorder (COVID wrecks your immune system). Since I may also be getting a yeast infection, I’m going to assume fungal and treat it with an antifungal cream. Why am I still so damn thirsty all the time? I don’t go for a walk in the evening. I feel vulnerable out in airflow I cannot control after my encounter with chimney smoke the day before.

Day 9

I awake before dawn again. This time I can blame it on my cat barfing and this time, it’s easier to fall asleep again, but I suspect my circadian rhythm is getting messed with by COVID. This could be neurological, or hormonal, or maybe something else. The test line for an antigen test once again shows up in less than a minute, but at least it’s not immediately darker than the control line, this time. I am hoping that getting BA.5 will give me some protection against the up and coming BA.2.75 because I cannot do this again so soon. I have back pain but it may just be the position I’ve been working in. Cough is moving deeper into my chest. I’ve started feeling strong enough to do chores for a few minutes at a time. I walked five blocks and back. I intended to walk more, but I got tired after the five blocks. My eyeballs and nose feel hot and burning again, why? I’m playing a new version of “is it COVID or allergies?” I know I have COVID, but is it only COVID or am I also having allergies? Stuffy nose, sneezing. Has COVID made me more sensitive to allergens at the moment.

Day 10

Woke up before dawn again but was able to fall asleep pretty quickly. It’s possible waking up after 5-6 hours has to do with the NSAID I take before bed running out and leaving me uncomfortable. I have a slight sore throat, tinnitus (the ringy kind, not just the pusatile tinnitus that I already had). Sometimes when I cough, it makes my head hurt. Does my cat have COVID? She’s certainly had a lot of exposure. Yesterday morning she barfed, but that isn’t all that unusual for her. She seems hungry but isn’t eating as much as usual and her meow sounds hoarse. She’s bitchier than usual. I heard her sneeze a few times. I might just be imagining things. Tired after work and not interested in trying to walk. It’s too hot for my sad COVID body anyway. It’s only Day 10. I’m still supposed to be lazy to prevent inflammation (two weeks minimum). I’m cranky. My guts are too angry to do anything but lie down.

Day 11

Last night was rough. I didn’t take an NSAID before bed and instead of waking once in the early morning, I woke up and fell back to sleep several times. Serious sticky phlegm cough today. Sucks to my assmar; I feel like there’s a weight on my chest. Headahce. Eyes and nose still feel a little hot. Ear discomfort. Gums/teeth irritated. Took walk four blocks and back. Didn’t go farther due to dizziness. Now for the good news.

Binax Now Rapid Test that appears negative.

If you hold this Binax rapid test in bright light at just the right angle, you can see the faintest pink line ever. The disease control agencies in countries safer than the United States (like New Zealand and the UK) say ten days is sufficient isolation. I’ll keep masking indoors but I should be safe to be around.

Day 12

I successfully slept through the night and woke up with some energy. Since Roommate 1 and I tested negative for COVID, we went a live performance of My Brother, My Brother, and Me. The theater was packed into small seats. I was touching bodies with people around me. It was the most crowded place I have been since before March 2020. Even knowing that I have fresh antibodies and current immunity, and even with a mask/vaccination requirement, I had to control my breathing very carefully to avoid dissociating into a panic attack. I’m not sure I could hear as well as I normally do. My nose was stuffed up for most of the performance until suddenly the dams burst behind my mask. Usually we would have biked, but I was too weak to bike downtown and back, so we walked to the bus stop, took the bus downtown, walked a couple blocks to the theater, then walked back to the bus, took the bus back to my neighborhood, and walked home. I fell asleep after midnight.

Day 13

Sleep interrupted by nightmares. I am severely paying for the fun I had the day before. Doubled over with deep coughing so intense I nearly vomit and piss myself a little. Trying to cough up sticky choking phlegm. Coughing until my throat is sore and I’m losing my voice. Exhausted but cannot nap. Irritable. Crying meltdown when I spill my rice salad bowl into the couch. Anhedonia.

Day 14

Slept about 13 hours. Deep coughing, but mood and energy have improved from the day before. I have to keep taking it easy or I’m going to end up with Long Covid. Sometimes I cough so hard I feel like my brain is smacking against my skull and it gives me a headache. The upcoming week will be extremely hot from Monday through Friday. It will be particularly uncomfortable while I’m still recovering, but I feel so sorry for everyone who is going to be in the deep throes of COVID in the heat, rather than just recovering.

Day 15

Slept about 11 hours. Part of that sleep was on regular pillows rather than the wedge pillow and I didn’t feel like I was suffocating. Fatigued when I go outside into the high 80s heat and it’s only going to get worse tomorrow. Coughing not as intense today. Roommate 2 is doing poorly after taking a bus downtown to see a movie at a theater the night before. Sounds familiar.

Day 16-20

Slow progressive improvement. I can now walk several blocks or bike to the next neighborhood without difficulty. Difficulty sleeping but it’s also very hot. Occasional coughing. Occasional congestion and allergies, for which I’m taking guiafenesin and antihistamines.

I may continue this COVID diary or I might not. I think it will take a month or more for me to fully recover, but I see that it’s happening. The improvement is gradual so it’s difficult to delineate and describe it in stages.