Image courtesy PIRO4D, Pixabay.
I am sharing my personal health story not for dramatic or emotional purposes but to potentially help others better understand the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic and/or viruses they may have experienced.
I am not stating I had Covid-19. Please understand that. I am, however, seeking assistance confirming exactly what it was I fought for approximately eight weeks in what I potentially believe were two separate episodes.
My story begins in mid-October 2019, when my son and I traveled to Nashville, TN. We attended a Predators hockey game and visited the National Corvette Museum, an international tourist attraction, in Bowling Green, KY. A few days after returning to Louisville, KY, both my son and I contracted fevers.
I know that timeline doesn’t match Covid-19 dates, but hear me out.
My son’s 104+ fever lasted for nine days. That’s a long time and completely unlike anything he’s previously experienced. Throughout the episode he suffered significant coughing and chest congestion. He was seen on multiple occasions by multiple physicians. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with having had a “nasty virus,” but a virus that was so bad he was referred to another physician for an ultrasound to rule out thyroid cancer (due to an enlarged thyroid). Those tests came back negative, and he eventually returned to feeling fine, if not extra fatigued for the next six or so weeks.
My low-grade fever lasted for a single day. Then, throughout November, my sinuses became much more active and began producing significant amounts of congestion. I thought nothing of it, because I felt fairly fine overall.
Then, on December 10th, I came down with a fever that reached 106.6 on a digital thermometer. The fever responded to Tylenol and lasted three or four days, when I began taking a 60mg/day weeklong prednisone pulse. I was also prescribed a five-day run of Zithromax. While my fever subsided during that treatment, my sinus activity became even worse.
I had trouble swallowing. I couldn’t hear out of my right ear. I could not smell even fragrant soap in the shower. But that’s a regular cold or virus, right?
If you’re a researcher or physician reading this post, know that, because I believed my body was fighting an infection, in mid-December I stopped taking 15mg of methotrexate a week. The immunosuppressant drug is prescribed to treat my 10-year-old, well-controlled polymyositis.
More trouble began shortly thereafter. When the prednisone pulse ended around December 20th, I awoke with shortness of breath. Having had asthma symptoms 30 years ago, I recognized the symptoms but felt this sensation was different. Regardless, I used albuterol inhalers left over from the kids’ various prescriptions. The albuterol rescue inhalers made no difference in my breathing, whereas in previous experiences my body responded well to albuterol.
I subsequently called my general practitioner’s office and was told, since it was the holidays, to go to an urgent care facility if I had an emergency but to suspect that “this year’s cough would hang on an extra long time,” and to bear with it, as multiple employees in the physician’s office themselves had been hospitalized for the resulting pneumonia. I insisted on a prednisone refill but was denied.
So I badgered my rheumatologist for a refill on the prednisone I’ve been prescribed for polymyositis. The rheumatologist’s office, because it was the holidays and the physician was off for the break, initially declined my request. But I called bullshit on that, noted I’d been a patient for 10 years, and I was granted a prednisone refill.
Subsequently, I took approximately 20-25mg of prednisone a day during the holiday break, which measurably improved my breathing. Once the prednisone ran low, I insisted on office visits with both my general practitioner and rheumatologist, which they both scheduled on the afternoon of January 6th. At that time I was still hoarse, fighting prodigious sinus activity, fatigued and experiencing shortness of breath.
The rheumatologist listened to my lungs and ruled out any polymyositis interstitial issues. Because he knew I was traveling from his office directly to my GP, he made no changes other than to renew my prednisone prescription, in the event I required the steroid to treat any resulting polymyositis symptoms.
My GP listened to my lungs and my complaints and prescribed a 10-day run of Levaquin. He noted that, if I had pneumonia the antibiotic would address the issue. He also called in a fresh albuterol prescription and recommended I continue taking heavy doses of Mucinex.
Three days later, a day after stepping down prednisone to nothing, I came down with a fever again, albeit for a single evening. But the fever was strong, I experienced chills and uncontrollable body shaking. Then it subsided. Weird.
Several days later my breathing began to improve, and the sinus activity lessened. Thinking the virus or infection was ending, I re-introduced methotrexate.
I think that step—the re-introduction of methotrexate—is potentially key, here.
Approximately nine days later, the shortness of breath returned, this time with an absolute vengeance. I experienced difficulty breathing even at rest. Albuterol did nothing.
I turned to an asthma specialist, who promptly conducted spirometer and pulmonary tests. The spirometer tests confirmed restricted breathing, while the pulmonary tests seemed to rule out significant lung malfunction.
I was given 200mcg/25mcg once-per-day Breo Ellipta and 10mg daily Montelukast with the promise I should start feeling better within 10 days to two weeks.
For about a week the symptoms improved. Then the shortness of breath became even more pronounced, sending me back to a second physician at the asthma clinic. A new spirometer test confirmed my breathing had degraded. I was given an albuterol nebulizer and a 1.25mcg Spiriva Respimat prescription.
Regardless, my sinus activity and congestion returned and the shortness of breath became worse, lasting for extended periods. I bullied the asthma clinic into calling in a short three-or-four-day prednisone pulse, which helped my breathing improve temporarily.
Then my breathing became more difficult. I have previously read correlation suggesting prednisone can assist some coronavirus distress initially, but then make it worse.
With breathing at rest proving uncomfortable, I returned to the asthma clinic, where I saw a third physician two weeks later following a full-on return of sinus activity and a deep, troublesome cough. The cough and breathing were so bad in the middle of February that I debated on three occasions traveling to an emergency room.
The asthma clinic ran another spirometry test, which confirmed my breathing had degraded to 58% of that expected in a male my height. Yet, I felt like I was getting less than half the air I normally did. I was told to take the Spiriva twice a day, instead of once a day, and I was given another, longer 20mg prednisone pulse.
Approximately a week later, while still taking the methotrexate, my sinus activity continued and my voice remained hoarse. But, my breathing began improving. Then, all of a sudden, I found I could begin exercising and raising my heart rate above 150 for extended periods with no shortness of breath other than which you’d associate with an elevated heart rate. And, my breathing at rest improved remarkably.
After consulting with my rheumatologist in mid-March and deciding to suspend my weekly methotrexate dose, I’m finding my sinus activity is clearing up, too, and becoming less pronounced.
Also of note, my wife picked up a bad cold, drainage, a terrific headache, fatigue, aches and difficulty swallowing (due to drainage) in early February, when my dog, who I feed from my plate, also picked up a strange, debilitating and dry cough for approximately four days.
I’ve read about others having similar prolonged experiences, including an Italian with similar symptoms who believes he may have contracted the weaker Covid-19 S-strain, as opposed to the more common and more lethal L-strain.
I don’t know what I had, but I know my symptoms match those of untold others who are taking to the Internet, like me with this post, to suggest that whatever we experienced in late 2019 and early 2020 sure shares similarities with the symptoms that are now bringing humanity to a pause.
Hopefully this information helps someone. Should you want my notes, let me know, because I kept meticulous records of my symptoms and medications, as I felt I was experiencing a unique illness the likes of which I’ve never previously combatted. Certainly, I felt my mortality with this illness, whatever it was.