COVID from the inside

I have written several times about the experience of a healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can use COVID as a search term to find them. Since the University of Montana guest internet connection isn’t working, I’m not going to use up my data finding and posting the links.

Having COVID is different from working with people who have it (duh). It is a confusion of emotions. Other people on this ride talk about the number of times they’ve had it. One even took a transatlantic flight while infected. (She says she got sick en route.) Since I couldn’t have imagined flying in the last 2.5 years, it’s hard to imagine flying across the world without a mask during that time. Working in a hospital and in a pretty aware town, I guess I’ve been isolated and naive.

Someone came on this trip after prolonged exposure to a sick person who chose not to get tested. This person also chose not to get tested. As a result, several of us are known to be positive. An unknown number are positive and asymptomatic, symptomatic but blaming those symptoms on 600 miles of riding this week, or hiding their symptoms. I am angry and bewildered. I fully expect more symptomatic people in the next week. I fear that the COVID bus will fill up and/or that I will be forced to choose between riding and abandoning the tour before I am ready for either.

I knew there is an anti-viral drug regimen which is effective at mitigating the symptoms and shortening the duration of illness. I spent all day Saturday gaining access to those medications – a day that I would have preferred to be resting, and which ended with a long walk to a pharmacy to get the prescription filled. Add frustration to the emotional mix.

After hours of empty promises from healthcare providers, one came through and did what others said they would do. Add deep gratitude to the mix.

Many riders have asked how I’m feeling. A couple have brought meals to me. Another brought me a cup of coffee. Another has offered to essentially pull me on rides. Add a feeling of “I’m not sure I deserve this much caring from people I hardly know” to the emotional stew. I also know that I would do the same for others if the situation were reversed; so I feel a bit guilty and undeserving but also judging myself for feeling that way.

I am learning about being supportive; that there’s a difference between “How are you feeling?”, “What can I do for you?”, and “I’m going to WalMart. What do you need?”

But what about the disease? First, that emotional stew is likely due, in part, to the disease. I have a fever so I alternate between chills and feeling hot. I have a decreased awareness of the environment. I walked to the pharmacy in jeans and a sweatshirt, clothes I would never wear when it is over 70 degrees F. (The rest of my shirts were in the wash, though I did have a pair of shorts available.) I bought a t-shirt at Walgreen’s to make the walk back more bearable.

I am in a mental fog. I asked what time dinner was last night, though I know that the tour does not provide dinner on Saturdays. I have no endurance. I can feel good for a few minutes, then suddenly have overwhelming fatigue. I can’t imagine riding a bike for 100 miles. It’s hard to imagine I did that 3 times last week.

I have a slight cough, I am a bit congested. Breathing feels funny – I’m a bit short of breath, but more in the sense of exhaustion than any feeling of struggling to breathe. My voice doesn’t sound right. I have a funny metallic taste in my mouth. My appetite is fine, but last night I was almost too tired to eat. I ordered a pizza, knowing I had to eat something before I slept.

I guess I look better than I feel, as no one tells me I look like shit, though I have admitted I feel that way. Sometimes I want to fake it and pretend I’m okay.

So is it like the flu? Yeah, I guess so. That’s not to belittle it. Influenza is deadly to thousands every year. Influenza is not consistent with riding a bike 80-100 miles/day. So, sure, it’s like the flu.

I am angry with myself. I knew the pandemic was not over. I knew there were risks to being in a large, unmasked group. I knew there were risks to traveling through regions where the pandemic is taken less seriously than it is at home. I did not take those risks seriously enough; partly because I assumed that others in the group would be conscientious and I was wrong.

Another aspect of the emotional roller coaster is that when I saw this “Ode to Joy” video Sunday morning, tears were streaming down my face the whole time, though I’ve seen it before. I guess this experience isn’t all bad.

This week we ride to Jackson, WY. The week culminates in the climb of Teton Pass, possibly the single most difficult day.