by Marcia Frost
Medically Reviewed by:
Nick Villalobos, MD
by Marcia Frost
Medically Reviewed by:
Nick Villalobos, MD
While I finally got the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime, I came home with an unexpected souvenir: COVID-19. This is my experience.
As I write this, it’s been a month since I tested positive for COVID-19.
I had just returned from my bucket list trip to Alaska, and when I began having muscle aches, cold symptoms, and a little cough, I thought it was my body reacting to the change in time zones and doing too much. After all, those symptoms could all be explained under one or more of my autoimmune diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or even allergies.
It wasn’t until I read on Facebook that many other people on my cruise had come home with COVID-19 that it even occurred to me. I had heard the disease numbers were surging again. I had been on three flights, in two hotels, and on a cruise ship with 3,600 people over the previous 9 days.
I had an unused test in the house, and the results were positive.
After testing, I went to bed but woke in the middle of the night with a fever near 102°F (39°C), chills, constant coughing, a massive headache, and shortness of breath. My breathing wasn’t that bad, and I was so out of it I fell back asleep until the following day.
My pulmonologist had been telling me for years that COVID-19 could be dangerous for me, so I knew I had to contact him. It was Labor Day, but there was a number for a nurse on call. I was told to go to the emergency room because I was at high risk of severe COVID-19 and needed to get checked right away.
I didn’t feel I needed an ambulance. My oxygen was 94%. I asked a friend to take me. We both wore masks, and I sat in the back of the van.
At the hospital, my oxygen percentage remained in the low to mid-90s, but there was definitely crackling in the lobe of my lower left lung. That was upsetting to me. The doctor at the ER suggested Paxlovid.
Paxlovid is a prescription medication to help keep COVID-19 symptoms mild and the duration shorter. It is only approved for use for those who are at high risk and must be started within the first few days of symptoms.
If your doctor can show that you fit into that category, the government will currently provide the medication at no cost to you. The out-of-pocket cost of the 5 days of doses can run up to $530 — if you can even get it.
I was covered in full for Paxlovid. Before I went home, the doctor made sure it didn’t interact with any of my medications. There is a long list of drugs you cannot take with Paxlovid.
She also told me about possible side effects. They included headache, vomiting, high blood pressure, and abdominal pain. I did not have any of these from the pills.
It’s now been a month since my first COVID-19 symptoms. After a week, I started to feel much better. That lasted for 5 days before I had a rebound.
In a 2022 study, 1 in 3 people had rebound symptoms. Even though I wasn’t in that study, I consider myself an unlucky third.
I had tested negative, and my symptoms were down to very mild for days before I felt as bad as I had at the beginning. This time, the symptoms have lasted 2 weeks, and there is no end in sight. The worst of it is the cough. I can’t talk or even eat without a coughing attack.
I was back at the ER about a week ago and went on antibiotics for bronchitis after that. It has helped with the green-colored mucus I was coughing up, but I am still coughing. It’s taking a lot of energy out of me. I still have a crackle in my left lung, and the hospital officially referred to it as the dreaded “COVID lung.” No one has any idea when — or if — it will go away.
My work as a travel writer has taken me around the world and around the country, but I had one state left to visit. In 2018, I decided I was going to plan a trip to Alaska and get the country finished. I ended up with serious back problems, and emergency surgery took me out of commission for 10 months.
There was another back surgery in early 2020. That was also the time when COVID-19 entered our world. It was not the time to go anywhere. Cruise ships, the easiest mode of transportation for me to see the most, weren’t even going. I planned to shift my cruise to 2023. I did not take the initial decision lightly.
I won’t lie. I knew that it was risky, but once I decided to go, I put it out of my mind. Maybe too much. Perhaps I should have spent more time wearing a mask. Would it have stopped the disease? I don’t know.
Quality of life is something I think of a lot. When you have COPD or other progressive diseases, you must think about everything you do. Every decision can have a consequence.
On the other hand, we must keep living. I discussed the trip with my therapist, my rheumatologist, and my pulmonologist. They all felt I should go if my health was stable when I was leaving, and I was aware of the risks.
I knew when I made the choice to go on this trip that COVID-19 was still very much around. I made the decision to go anyway. I’m not saying that I have or will be careless with my health, but sometimes, we need to make decisions about the quality of our lives. This bucket list item was very important to me, and I feel we must not forget those things.
I don’t have any regrets about going on my trip. I completed the United States, and I had a fantastic time seeing a breathtaking state on a wonderful boat (the Royal Princess). I wish I had been able to get vaccinated again before I went. I believe it can help with the severity.
I received an initial vaccine soon after it came out because I was at a high risk as someone with COPD and multiple autoimmune diseases. I had a booster in December 2020. Since then, I’ve been on infusions (intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and Truxima). Vaccines are contraindicated with both. Having additional vaccines could render both the infusions and the vaccines useless.
My mom has congestive heart failure. She’s in a nursing home and has received a booster every 6 months. COVID-19 has come through there, and she’s had it twice, both times with mild symptoms. Other people I know who have kept up with vaccines have had an easier time than I have.
The government is providing free tests again. You can order them from the U.S. Postal Service. Use one if you have symptoms. If you do test positive, call your doctor as soon as you can. If you are having more difficulty breathing than usual, call 911.
The sooner you get checked and get treatment, the better chance that the disease will not damage your lungs any more than they already are affected by COPD.
Medically reviewed on October 24, 2023
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About the author
Marcia Frost covers travel and health for online, print, and television. She is learning her limitations as she battles multiple progressive illnesses, including COPD, Dermatomyositis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and UCTD. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Threads, Instagram, and YouTube.