Our Family Got COVID-19 | A Mom’s Experience and Q + A

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Our Family's Experience with COVID-19

In mid-July, the thing we had spent the last four months trying to prevent from happening….happened. Our family got COVID-19. Despite everything we read on a daily basis about this virus, I can still say that it snuck up on us and I honestly did not see it coming. After I shared that I was COVID positive on Instagram and some of the emotions that went with it (guilt, fear, shame, sadness…..it was like flippin’ Inside Out up in there), the response from parents was so encouraging. And, they had a lot of questions!

As the virus continues to endure and more and more people are finding themselves getting tested for COVID-19, parents are asking the very real question: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO ACTUALLY GET THIS VIRUS?

Now, I’m not a medical professional in any way. Like, at all. But my goal in this post is to share what our family’s experience was like with COVID-19 and to answer some of the questions folks have asked me about my experience. But please keep in mind that COVID is a tricky beast that can easily look very different for every person who finds themself sick. Your symptoms may be so mild that you barely notice them, but others end up fighting for their lives in the ICU. Please do not take my experience and perspective as gospel. Please rely on proven data from licensed, experienced medical professionals and clinical studies, your local health department, and your personal health care provider for specific questions regarding the Coronavirus, COVID-19, and things like prevention, treatment, etc.

Want to know what I wish I would have had on hand in case our family got hit with COVID-19? Check out this COVID Care Kit I put together with suggestions for items that helped out a lot in our recovery.

How I Became Patient Zero in My Family

A lot of people have asked if I know how I contracted the virus and honestly, I don’t have a definitive answer. I have my suspicions, but there is no way for me to know for certain. The week before my symptoms started, our family made a visit up to Door County with my in-laws. Everyone was healthy and had not so much as a sniffle and we stayed in a family suite at a resort in Ephraim. We spent most of our time on vacation outside, either swimming in the bay or out on a pontoon boat. I wore a mask whenever I went inside a public place and used hand sanitizer constantly. When we could eat outside, we did. And when we had to dine indoors, we did our very best to socially distance from other tables. Was it perfect? No way. But we did the best we could.

The days after we returned from our trip, I returned to my regular routine, wearing a mask when in public and socially distancing as best I could and I felt fine!

The Virus Makes Itself Known

Below, I’m going to describe how symptoms appeared and progressed. After each date, I will include a Day X designation, which is how the health department tracks the progression of the virus in your body, counted from the first day symptoms develop. *Please keep in mind that if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and do not become symptomatic, you should quarantine for 14 days following that exposure even if you never develop symptoms, to make sure that you are not spreading the virus to others. We’ll talk more about Covid Math later.

Sunday, July 12th – After a stressful day, I had a terrible bout of insomnia. Since I’m prone to stress-induced insomnia, I didn’t think it was odd to lay awake for much of the night.

Monday, July 13th (Day 1) – I developed a small cough. I tend to get a summer cold every year, usually around the time that the seasonal allergens ramp up. The cough was nothing remarkable, but it was new and persisted throughout the day and made my throat feel scratchy. I had another night of insomnia Monday night.

Tuesday, July 14th (Day 2) – I felt about the same as the day before, but midday I was hit with a piercing headache, worse than any headache I had in recent memory. I attributed this to the insomnia and took painkillers and took a nap, but the headache refused to abate. More insomnia.

Wednesday, July 15th and Thursday, July 16th (Day 3 and 4) – Wednesday did not bring anything new. I had an in person conversation with a friend (who also ended up being COVID positive!) on Thursday morning about how I was starting to feel really anxious because my yearly summer cold had me all up in my head and I wasn’t sleeping because I was afraid it was COVID. She was in the same boat about her summer allergies! We shared how stressful it was to analyze every little symptom and be afraid of it. Late in the afternoon on Thursday, a runny nose and a tickle in the back of my throat appeared out of nowhere and I realized that for my mental health, I had to schedule a COVID test or I was going to drive myself crazy. I went online, completed a symptom checker, and was able to schedule a test online for Saturday morning.

Friday, July 17th (Day 5) – Since I had a COVID test scheduled for the next day, I started my quarantine on this day. I did a workout in the morning via Zoom and mowed the lawn in the afternoon. I also started sharing more on my Instagram account about the experience and how I was anxious about the test. This is the day that my husband came home after work and declared, “I think you got me sick.”

Saturday, July 18th (Day 6) – I got tested for COVID-19 in the morning and rested much of the rest of the day. I was scared, but hopeful. I didn’t have a fever and my symptoms had not escalated. I still believed I just had a cold.

Sunday, July 19th and Monday, July 20th (Day 7 and 8) – Sunday and Monday were rather uneventful. Still no fever and the cough sort of lingered, but didn’t worsen. However, I lost my sense of taste and smell on Sunday and it worsened on Monday.

Tuesday, July 21st (Day 9) – This is the day that was the real gut punch. I woke up feeling incredibly fatigued and light-headed. I checked my phone and the results of my test were in…..I was COVID positive. I immediately ran to the bathroom and vomited after reading the news. My husband’s symptoms had also worsened so he scheduled his test right away too. We immediately started our isolation and spent the rest of the day in our bedroom, dealing with chills and feverish feelings, nausea and vomiting, coughing, fatigue and general miserableness. My oldest son also began isolation (in the basement – perfect for a tween) this day because he had started complaining of a headache the night before and woke up with a cough, so we assumed he was also infected.

Wednesday, July 22nd through Friday, July 24th (Day 10 – 12) – These were the worst days for me. I couldn’t eat because I had overwhelming nausea all day long and every time I tried to eat anything, I either vomited or had horrible diarrhea.

Saturday, July 25th and Sunday, July 26th (Day 13 – 14) – I turned the corner over the weekend and started to feel a little more human. I didn’t need Tylenol to function and I was able to take short walks and eat, even though everything tasted like paper and I couldn’t smell anything. My husband took a turn for the worse over the weekend and by Saturday night, he was struggling to breathe, was experiencing sharp chest pains, and could barely walk across the room without needed to sit down and rest. His breathing was labored all night while he slept Saturday night and by early Sunday morning, he had worsened and his blood oxygen levels had dropped to 85% (We knew this because we used a pulse oximeter) and he was running a fever. I took him to the emergency room and he was admitted with pneumonia, staying in the hospital for five days.

Monday, July 27th (Day 15) – My third “well day,” where I saw my symptoms improve dramatically and did not need medication to keep away a fever. I felt like a new human! I was officially cleared by the health department and could end my isolation.

Answering Your Questions About Our COVID-19 Experience

When I shared publicly that I had been diagnosed with COVID, there was an outpouring of support and for many folks, I was one of the first people they knew directly who had contracted the virus. Understandably, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Below, is my attempt to answer them based solely on my experience and the research I did throughout this process.

*Please do not take my experience and perspective as gospel. Please rely on proven data from licensed, experienced medical professionals and clinical studies, your local health department, and your personal health care provider for specific questions regarding the Coronavirus, COVID-19, and things like prevention, treatment, etc.

COVID-19 Q+A

The Serious Case – My husband tested positive for COVID just a couple days after I did, which was pretty obvious from his symptoms and the fact that he was dealing with much more intense symptoms than I was…..and I was pretty miserable. He was eventually hospitalized for five days and was treated for COVID-induced pneumonia. After his release, he was able to recover at home for a few more days and was able to end his isolation period on Day 18.

The Moderate Case – That would be me.

The Mild Case – My 12-year-old developed symptoms the day that I got my positive test results back and immediately isolated in the basement, though we did not get him tested. He was following a similar progression as we were, so it was obvious he also had the virus. His symptoms were fatigue, lack of appetite, intense headache, cough, some difficulty breathing. He was in isolation for 10 days and upon achieving his third well date, he could end isolation and has more or less felt back to normal.

COVID Math is what I call the crazy way you count the days when you’re recovering from COVID as it relates to isolation and quarantine. It can be sort of confusing, so I talk about how COVID Math works on my Instagram account HERE. Just click on the COVID highlight.

Essentially, here’s how it works for someone who is symptomatic and tests positive for COVID-19.

ISOLATION – Where you are isolated AWAY FROM ALL THE PEOPLE, including anyone else in your household until at least Day 10 of your symptoms. Day 1 is counted as the first day you developed symptoms, not the day you were tested. To end your isolation (and be considered recovered), you will need to work with your local health department to establish your Well Date, which is the third consecutive day you have been fever free without medication and with symptoms significantly improved.

QUARANTINE – This is not the same thing as isolation. After the sick person in the house has completed their isolation, any asymptomatic people in the house need to begin a 14 day quarantine, where they do not interact with anyone outside the household, but CAN be around the family members who are recovered. This allows enough time for them to develop symptoms of COVID-19 in the event they were infected toward the end of the patient’s isolation period AND for them to get past the contagious period.

How did we care for our other kids? To be honest, we really didn’t. My two asymptomatic kiddos are age 10 and 8 and basically got to watch as much TV as they wanted in the living room while their parents stayed in the bedroom and their brother dwelled in the basement like a troll. They occupied themselves as best as possible, made themselves sandwiches, and were such good sports about the whole thing.

What ages are the kids? The tween who was sick is 12. His brothers are 10 and 8.

Did the unaffected kids actually test negative? We did not get any of the kids tested. We knew with a pretty solid level of certainty that the oldest had COVID due to his symptoms. The other two remained asymptomatic, but we simply did not have the energy to go get them tested. They will have do a 14 quarantine that starts counting from their brother’s final Well Date to ensure that they don’t spread the virus to anyone in case they contracted it but remained asymptomatic.

We were very very fortunate when it came to isolation. Our kids are old enough to be able to occupy themselves for the most part, so they didn’t need us to be hands on all the time. Plus, we were able to separate ourselves in our bedroom, with an attached bathroom, so the asymptomatic kids could stay in the living room and use the hallway bathroom. The sick kid also used our bathroom, which was basically the only other place he went other than the basement. I’m pretty sure he watched the entire series of The Flash twice through during his isolation.

When we had to be around the asymptomatic kids and it couldn’t be avoided, we wore masks and tried to keep our distance. Obviously, if they were younger, this would have been extremely difficult. And if we had a smaller living space, it would have been very very hard. That’s the thing about this virus…..it makes life very difficult and it does not care about any of this stuff.

It is very important that outside people do not enter the home to help with taking care of asymptomatic kids. This could potentially spread the virus to those people and should be avoided. 

Even though I felt like I’d been in a bar fight with Death, I made sure to whip up a water/bleach/Tide mixture every day and use a microfiber cloth to wipe down as many high-touch surfaces as I could. Door handles, counters, toilet handles, faucets, you name it. We also tried to make sure that the asymptomatic kids ate separately from those of us who were sick.

I’ve put together a whole Covid Care Kit with items I would recommend everyone have on hand just in case this virus shows up in their house!

More than anything, the most essential thing to have if COVID darkens your door is the support of family and friends who are willing to send you pizza from several states away (Thank You, Des), drop off LEGOs and candy and frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets from Target (Thank You, Roshelle), swing by with medicine and popsicles (Thank You, Melania), send you Pedialyte via Amazon Prime (Thank You, Kate and Kelley), bring you groceries or grab you a chocolate malt (Thank You, Kate), and bring home-cooked meals to your door (Thank You, Amy and Lauren and Meg and Maggie).

I honestly don’t know for certain where I contracted the virus. After our positive tests, our family we were traveling with the week prior all got tested and were negative. My best guess is that I probably let my guard down for just long enough to have been unmasked and too close to someone who had the virus but was asymptomatic.

The hospital thing was really really scary. My husband is 39 years old. We used a pulse oximeter to monitor blood oxygen levels when breathing became difficult and the first sign that things were getting serious was when his oxygen levels dropped below 90%. He also started complaining of pain in his chest when he breathed and the combo of those two was enough to send us to the ER.

If that wasn’t scary enough, I basically had to just drop him off and drive away. Being COVID-positive myself, I was not even allowed past the entrance of the ER. No visitors, no nothing. We were able to talk via FaceTime and the Marco Polo app, but I did not see him in person again until he was released.

In the hospital, he got a chest x-ray that showed pneumonia. He was treated with steroids and Remdesivir, which is an antiviral.

There are two reasons you should get tested for COVID:

  1. You are experiencing symptoms that have gotten progressively worse over a few days.
  2. You know you were directly exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19……and it’s been several days since that exposure.

Here’s the thing about this pesky virus. If you test too early, you can get a false negative. The best time to test and get the most reliable result is a couple days into your symptoms or a week or so after your exposure.

How to get tested: 

Start here – https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/testing.htm. 

If you are symptomatic, complete this Online Health Screening and a trained medical professional will be in touch with you to help you answer your questions and point you in the right direction, including if that means getting tested.

When in doubt, turn to the state’s department of health services. If you test positive, they become your daily companions during your recovery, so it’s good to familiarize yourself with their resources early.

No! Several months ago, the protocol was that people would need to have two negative tests in a row (within 24 hours of each other) to be cleared and considered recovered from COVID-19. Since then, a lot more has been learned and those guidelines have changed. Essentially, new research has shown that an isolation period of 10 days is sufficient in preventing the spread of the disease. For more details on this, please refer to the CDC website.

From Wisconsin Department of Health Services:

I have not had an antibody test. There is more info about antibody tests HERE from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. However, I am very very unlikely to be a transmitter of the virus right now because I have recently recovered and I’m now well beyond the contagious period. Even if I am still shedding virons from the pesky virus, they aren’t enough to create a live culture.

As for immunity, the virus just simply hasn’t been around long enough for the science to know yet what immunity exists and for how long.

There are some great FAQs on the CDC website that can help us understand this whole thing better, but time will tell on this one! In the meantime, if you see me out and about, I will be wearing a mask and waving at you from 6 feet away.

I can’t speak for anyone who has had a mild case, but I can say that I have several lingering effects from COVID that are really cramping my style. I get tired fast and hard and my strength and stamina are wayyyyyy down. I feel like I’m operating with low batteries. I have tried to get out for a walk nearly every day since my recovery and I still find myself walking slower than I did three weeks ago and getting winded easier. It’s like I’m having to retrain my lungs how to breathe.

I’ve also noticed that I get sudden, intense headaches when I am using screens. I will be working on my computer, wearing blue light blocking glasses, and out of nowhere will come what I have started to call a COVID Headache. A sharp, intense pain shoots through my skull and Tylenol won’t touch it. The glasses help delay its onset, but these headaches are some of the worst I’ve ever had.

My smell and taste have now started to return, which is awesome. But the long term effects of having COVID still remain to be seen and again, time will tell.

I get that this is the big question on everyone’s minds right now and it’s a very very loaded question. After we recovered, my husband I and really wrestled with this decision a lot. On one hand, we knew that our tween was rocking some antibodies now after having COVID and would be far less likely to pose a threat to his teachers and his peers. But his brothers? Who knows! There are so many factors to consider and I honestly believe this is a decision that each family has to make for themselves and our decision is not relevant to others’ choice.

For those who choose to go the Virtual Education or Homeschool route, we have a fabulous new resource guide that will be really helpful!

I’m so happy that we are now feeling worlds better. The worst part of having COVID-19 was not nausea or vomiting, the loss of taste & smell, the cough or even the severe fatigue. It’s the guilt. Mom Guilt goes to a whole new level when despite all your efforts, in the battle of you versus the virus…..the virus won.

If you find yourself in this situation and either you or a member of your family comes down with COVID-19, please know that I see you and you are not alone. And let the guilt go. This virus does not discriminate and it is incredibly tricky in how it infects people. Do all you can. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, but remember that this virus is a smart, powerful monster who has an annoying tendency to win despite those efforts so please please please do not beat yourself up if you find yourself testing positive.

Do your best. Wash Your Hands. Cover Your Face. And be kind…..especially to yourself.

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Sarah
Owner and co-founder of Milwaukee Mom, Sarah is a full-time working mom of three rough-and-tumble boys who like their jeans ripped and their hands dirty. She has lived in Wisconsin her whole life, attending UW-Madison and finally landing in the Milwaukee area in 2012. Sarah is a former English teacher and is currently enjoying a season of strong coffee and being a small business owner! She loves a good book, a flavorful craft beer and watching her Badgers and Packers get a W. Sarah is mama to three sons.

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