My bout with COVID-19: Stupid gets as stupid does

Opinion: Columns

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Bill Dwyer

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As a 68-year-old male with an underlying medical condition (mild high blood pressure) I made a point of taking all COVID-19 precautions seriously. Social distancing, hand and surface hygiene and, most importantly, wearing a mask.

I'd educated myself on the known realities of COVID-19, was smart, disciplined and aware. And from March 16, when I flew back from Guatemala ahead of the world closing down, till early August, it worked. 

Then I got, in a word, stupid. I had looked both ways before stepping off curbs, so to speak, thousands of times, only to forget once. I didn't wear a mask during a 30-minute car trip to and from a winery in Michigan in early August and, bam!, 96 hours later I had COVID-19.

Back home on Wednesday, Aug. 19, I suddenly felt very tired, with mild but persistent labored breathing and a frustrating dry cough. No fever or headache, but absolutely no energy either. 

Three days later, I realized I couldn't smell or taste food. A few days after that, my nephew's girlfriend came back positive, and the next day my sister-in-law tested positive. My brother, who did not accompany us to the winery, tested negative, as did the other two people in our vacation party.

I wish I could tell you what I was thinking, but the truth is, I wasn't thinking. And I'm paying for it.

Two weeks after the first symptoms, I developed a fever for the first time. It went from 99.6 to 100.4 over three hours. Acetaminophen brought it back down to 99.6. 

This is scary stuff, being at once able to breathe in slowly and fully, yet not making a difference in my energy level. My routine settled into water, rest, sleep, monitor symptoms and take acetaminophen at night.

My doctor referred to the many variables related to COVID as "nebulous," but he stressed hydration, and monitoring my temperature and blood oxygen.

After feeling better this past Monday and Tuesday, I went shopping for basic necessities. After all, the nurse from the IDPH had told me, under their protocols, I was considered "off quarantine" as of Aug. 31. 

Wrong. I don't care what someone from the state or local health department tells you, if you have any symptoms at all, stay home, stay down, and rest. Because Tuesday night it all went to hell and I felt worse than at any time since the second day of my COVID symptoms: 101 degree fever, heavy fatigue, and a largely unproductive cough. 

My concern now is not that I'll die, or even be hospitalized. My fears are of potential damage to my lungs and heart. This virus has killed dozens of firefighters and cops, not exactly your general image of "snowflakes." Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson said he "had a rough go" battling COVID symptoms. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez described his experience with covid-19 as feeling "like I was 100 years old." Rodriguez continues to suffer from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

We'll just have to wait and see in my case. 

As I finish writing this piece on Friday, Sept. 4, I am feeling better than I've felt since I fell ill. After getting my symptoms update Friday, my doctor called movement of my symptoms "A pretty typical course."

He said the general medical wisdom is to quarantine until experiencing a day free of fever and cough. For me, he suggested three or four days free of fever or cough before rejoining the world.

To those who haven't contracted COVID-19, I have this to say; look both ways before stepping off the curb, every time, no exceptions. Because there's a big old bus out there just waiting to run you over the moment you get stupid.

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Reader Comments

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Angela Farnham  

Posted: September 14th, 2020 3:59 PM

Glad you feeling better & all, but wondering exactly where you went out on Monday / Tuesday before that spike in temperature on Tuesday night.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 14th, 2020 10:32 AM

I hope you have a full recovery

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 13th, 2020 2:04 PM

Again, more slowly. The trip... was from... Allegan, MI... to Fennville, MI.

Tom Leeds  

Posted: September 13th, 2020 1:06 PM

In August, Michigan had stricter mask policy in restaurants and wineries than Illinois does. The recent Illinois policy changes match Michigan's original policy. Also, southwest Michigan has a lower rate of Covid 19 than Cook County especially in August. And, yes, Brian is correct, I have been to Michigan multiple times in August and even if they opened the highway just for you, the trip would require driving about 130 mph to make it in 30 minutes. Just getting to the border is taking over an hour. My point, germs can be picked up anywhere. You can't assume you got it there or in you "moment of weakness". Remember, the mask is for the protection of others and not your protection. Your recollections and interpretations may not be clear or on the mark.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 13th, 2020 10:12 AM

Or from Allegan to Fennville and back.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 13th, 2020 9:28 AM

A 30 minute car trip from Oak Park to Michigan? Michigan Avenue maybe.

Christine Wren Lucien from Oak park  

Posted: September 12th, 2020 10:19 PM

I'm new to oak park and Illinois. I'm also 68. Covid has been a concern to all of us but your article really brought those thoughts home again. Many of us are getting frustrated and we're afraid the weather will get cold before we get a handle on this virus. I hope you're doing well now. ( your trip to Michigan sounded wonderful?" sorry to say) Some days feel like the twilight zone! But you reminded me to stay the course & be safe. I read the Wednesday Journal to get more familiar with the area. Stay healthy & safe. Christine Lucien

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 7:35 PM

I'm glad you're better, Mr. D. ; )

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 2:39 PM

Thank you for the cautionary tale - it's too easy to drop our guard!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 11:59 AM

Thank you for the kind thoughts. Quick update: it's five days since any symptoms, so doc says I'm off quarantine. Getting an EKG next week to check for any possible heart problems, though I feel fine. All things considered I'm very fortunate.

Jill Dempsey  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 10:55 AM

It's easy to get weary of precautions and such a relief to go back to "normal" with family. Thanks for the reminder and let me know if you need help with a grocery run.

Nancy Hess from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 10:45 AM

Thanks for this cautionary tale. Feel better soon!

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