Stop Pretending COVID Isn’t a Serious Illness Yet

A mild case of COVID to many people feels like a cold, a comforting illusion that President Joe Biden’s recent battle with the virus has reinforced even when another positive test sent him back into quarantine. And yet, despite all the happy rhetoric, the virus continues to remind us that it can wreak havoc on relatively young and healthy people.

This is the story of a 49-year-old former Navy SEAL – still in top form – who tested positive for COVID on the second day of a family trip to Alaska. He learned the hard way that his superior physique was no match for the coronavirus.

We’ll call him Sam, because he doesn’t want his name used in order to be upfront about the cerebral effects he’s still experiencing that may remain as “long COVID,” and to protect his and his health records. family “to be knocked off with a pre-existing medical condition,” as Sam told The Daily Beast.

Sam had joined his wife and 12-year-old daughter a week into the vacation due to work commitments. “As a former Navy SEAL raising a girl to be tough on the outside,” he had planned time north of the Arctic Circle to hike in Katmai and Denali National Parks to see the grizzly bears catching live salmon that had just started running upstream the previous week.

They were traveling with his 80-year-old stepfather, and to protect him, the family tested for COVID morning and evening. “My daughter came down first,” Sam said. It was the morning of her second day in Alaska, and they were far north of civilization.

“We could see our daughter’s lethargy increasing as she slid down the descent,” Sam noted. They chartered a small private plane back to Fairbanks where they spent six hours in the emergency room of a hospital to hydrate their girl with intravenous fluids. Her throat was so sore that she couldn’t eat or drink.

A silhouette of a patient is treated in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Leipzig University Hospital in Leipzig, Germany.

Jens Schlueter/Getty

That night, Sam and his wife tested themselves. She was negative, but there was a weak line on her test, concerning enough that they slept with their N95 masks. In the morning, there was no doubt. Sam was strongly positive and had symptoms. Now two of them were down. What if his wife also fell ill?

They struggled to book enough rooms to self-quarantine, and rather than bouncing between hotels in the crowded tourist town, they decided to drive seven and a half hours from Fairbanks to Anchorage in search of health care more accessible. They rented a car which his wife drove at 70mph with the windows and sunroof open, with her daughter slumped against her seat belt in the back seat using a ‘Type to Speak’ app because of her headache. throat. They were all masked.

“You don’t know what it’s like to lose your ambition overnight. I used to greet the day with enthusiasm, now I think how nice it would be to lie in bed all day and read.

The cost of an already expensive trip had become astronomical. They had already paid for the remote cabin in Denali. In Anchorage, it was costing nearly a thousand dollars a day to find last-minute hotel rooms in which to isolate uninfected people (his wife) from those at stages of infection days apart, in the hope to get their daughter back to reasonably good health. to go to a previously scheduled summer camp.

In Anchorage, Sam searched by phone for monoclonal antibodies and quickly discovered that of the limited stocks he had left in Alaska, there were none that dealt with Omicron and its variants. Finding a pharmacy that would give him Paxlovid without a prescription seemed futile, so he called the Veterans Administration (VA) and was told he could get health care at Elmendorf Air Force Base, once that they registered him in the system as a veteran. active service.

“Congratulations VA – I love the VA,” Sam said. Arriving at the base hospital, he encountered a sign that read, “Do not enter if you are COVID positive.” It took half an hour to admit him to a back entrance, but once inside it was a bit of a wait before a doctor saw him. At the time, Sam’s temperature was 102 and his blood oxygen was drifting from the low 90s to 88 and 89. It’s normally 98. Below 95 is worrying.

The doctor prescribed Paxlovid, which to be effective must be started within five days of the first symptoms appearing. Sam was on day three. The drug is known to leave a metallic aftertaste. “I felt like I was sucking on an aluminum bar,” he says, tolerable discomfort given the alternative. “By day eight, I definitely felt better, but I was still experiencing fatigue and severe brain fog.”

The family remained in quarantine at the Anchorage hotel, leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and only venturing out when necessary and always wearing masks. They passed the time watching films from the Marvel Universe while Sam, a self-proclaimed “prodigious researcher”, read medical journals to learn about this virus which he said was messing with his brain.

That’s how he coped, Sam said, learning all he could about the science of this virus that had turned his life upside down. A few blocks away, former President Donald Trump was hosting a ‘Save America’ rally and the hotel was full of unmasked rally attendees, unaware of the active COVID among them. “We tried not to give it to them in the elevator as we went to pick up food deliveries, wearing our N95s,” Sam added.

He started testing negative on day 10, but did not feel fully recovered. Sam emailed his mom and brother to say, “Believe me, you can’t assume our genetics will get you through COVID. »

A long COVID patient does respiratory training in a gym at the Teutoburger Wald Clinic, a rehabilitation clinic for post-COVID sufferers.

Friso Gentsch/Picture Alliance via Getty

Driving the point home, Sam said: “A cold doesn’t give you brain inflammation.”

“I didn’t realistically think I was going to die, because I had three shots of the vaccine,” Sam added. “But I was, as the brain fog didn’t clear up with the other symptoms, petrified. And if it lasts a long time? Or [become] permanent, as I have read of many Americans for whom it has not completely disappeared? »

Brain lethargy isn’t just fatigue, Sam said. It’s like being exhausted from the start of the day on top of being tired. For someone used to driving himself, he said on Day 20: “You don’t know what it’s like to lose your ambition overnight. I used to greet the day with enthusiasm, now I think how nice it would be to lie in bed all day and read.

A few days later, Sam said he intended to return to “my normal ambitious self”, but it didn’t work out. “I find it hard not to feel weaker because it hit me harder than the others.”

Sam concluded that his immune system, seven and a half months after his third dose of the COVID vaccine, “considered the little bastard intruders as no big deal, until it was a big deal and they got into my lungs, and then it decided to move up a gear.

“I’m not 100% yet,” he told The Daily Beast on Day 26, noting that his previous attempt at a work week was disastrous. “Part of me wants to say I’m better and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and part of me is telling the truth because I could use some help.” The changes he describes as a brief memory lapse or difficulty staying focused look like normal signs of aging, but unlike the slow process of aging, they are sudden changes, “like aging 20 years in less than a month. “.

Sam’s stepfather, over 80, flew home early from Alaska and did not contract the virus. His wife never had it either. They had each received a second booster four weeks before the trip. Sam’s daughter recovered quickly enough to attend camp, even though it took 10 days.

This story is a fair demonstration of the difficulty and cost of finding accommodations for quarantine, protecting uninfected people in one’s family as well as the general public. And it also shows how, in the third year of the pandemic, obtaining the necessary treatment for a severe case of COVID requires quality health coverage, the will to treat oneself properly and the means to obtain the drugs – which can often be in low supply, especially in remote areas.

These are societal “COVID issues” that are often glossed over and need to be prioritized by governments, especially if they are determined to “move on”.

Living with the virus requires a healthy respect for its ability to evolve as well as an understanding of our limitations as humans to ward off its worst effects. The story of a former Navy SEAL is a cautionary tale that we’re in the third year of a pandemic, and COVID is still packing a big punch.

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