I’m a Doctor Who Caught Coronavirus. Here’s What Recovery Was Really Like, Day by Day

I have been on the frontlines in the battle against the novel coronavirus for the past two and a half months.

When the virus first hit New York in March, I screened dozens of patients per day who suspected they had COVID-19 or had been exposed to someone with the virus. These were hectic shifts. I worked long hours outside, swabbing patients who drove up in their cars or waited for help in a tent we’d set up by our office.

At the time, my coworkers and I were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): a face mask, two face shields, a gown, and gloves. But at some point, I was exposed to the virus. One month into screening patients, I fell ill with COVID-19. I was sick for two weeks.

What follows is my story of how I fought the virus and recovered from it, day by day, plus some advice if you, too, test positive for COVID-19.

April 4-5: After a hectic work week, I had the weekend off and spent the entire time sleeping or sitting around.

Usually I’m not one to take naps, but I hardly moved for two days. I thought maybe I was overwhelmed and this was my body’s way of telling me that I needed a break.

I also had night sweats. Since I have a history of migraines and don’t tolerate the heat well, this didn’t seem odd to me. But looking back, these were more pronounced than usual.

April 6: When I returned to work on Monday, I began to feel faint in the middle of a 10-hour shift.

That morning, I was in full PPE screening patients outside. By then, we were seeing close to 200 patients per week. I was halfway through the 49 patients I had on my schedule for that day when I started feeling off.

From what I can remember, I had just finished seeing a patient when I suddenly felt weak and dizzy and got a headache. I held onto the roof of the patient’s car for a moment, then slowly walked back to my coworkers. My hearing became muffled and I felt like I was in a tunnel, like something was closing in on me. According to my coworkers, I became pale.

I don’t remember much after that. My colleagues sat me in a chair and checked my vitals. Someone must have helped me remove my PPE, and they called my husband to come pick me up. I was given a test for COVID-19 “just to rule it out” and was told to stay home until I was symptom-free.

Honestly, though, I didn’t think I had the virus. Again, I figured that I was just having symptoms of my chronic migraines. After all, I’d been fully protected around patients and extremely cautious. On the ride home, I vaguely remember noticing how empty the highway was, without any sign of life.

April 7-9: The most well-known symptoms of COVID-19 didn’t hit me until four days into my illness.

Jehanne Julien-Banica

After I got home, I self-isolated in my bedroom. My husband and I have three children (a seven-year-old son and nine- and 12-year-old daughters), and my mother and husband’s niece also lives with us. My kids had seen how bad my migraines could get, so they just assumed I was having another really bad one.

My body just wanted to lay down and not move, but my husband made it his mission to help me fight the virus. I was sure at this point he’d already been exposed, but we still did our best to keep our family safe. He insisted on staying with me to monitor my breathing, so we both wore surgical face masks. Every night, he slept on the floor beside our bed. I hardly got up for the next four days.

My symptoms were the most severe in the mornings. It was the weirdest thing. I’d sleep really well—six to eight hours a night, which is the norm for me. But once I sat up and tried to get out of bed, I started coughing and had a hard time breathing. Every time I tried to take a deep breath, I felt a burning sensation in my throat and chest. This wasn’t like the kind of soreness you get from strep throat or heartburn. I felt as if I was inhaling hot air that scratched me up inside.

I didn’t have much of an appetite for solid food and ended up losing a total of eight pounds during the course of my illness. My husband told me I had to drink and eat because I needed to keep my energy up, so I downed a lot of seltzer, tea, and soup.

April 10-13: For me, these were the hardest days to get through.

On April 10, I got a phone call from my office: My test results were positive for COVID-19. My husband tested positive for the virus, too. He had a cough and sore throat, though his symptoms were much milder than mine.

I woke up to coughing spells that could last for up to about two minutes. In between them, I gasped for air. My throat and chest burned with every breath.

Throughout the course of my illness, I never had a fever.

Each morning, the first thing I did was hurry to the bathroom to take a steam bath or shower for about 10 to 15 minutes until my coughing stopped. After that and every evening before bed, my husband rubbed Vicks on my chest which seemed to help the burning sensation go away. My cough pretty much subsided until the next morning, but I still had trouble breathing, especially when I tried to walk upstairs.

In researching the disease, I’d read that some doctors recommended breathing exercises to help improve your lung function while you have the virus. Knowing this, I forced myself to practice breathing deeply (inhaling fully, holding it in, and exhaling as I would in a yoga class).

April 14-18: About 10 days into my illness, my symptoms began to improve.

I could breathe easier and my coughing and chest pain started to fade, too. One morning, when my husband rubbed Vicks on my chest, I noticed how strong the scent was. Until then, I hadn’t realized I’d lost my sense of smell.

After two weeks at home, I was ready to go back to the battlefield. I returned to the frontlines after 72 hours without symptoms and a screening to clear me for work.

Having COVID-19 was a frightening experience. It’s a very contagious and unpredictable disease, and to be honest, it surprised me.

When I caught the novel coronavirus, there was still so much we didn’t know about this invisible enemy. The signs of infection we’d all been told to look out for were a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. As I learned, the symptoms of COVID-19 are far more complicated than that and can vary vastly from person to person.

Throughout the course of my illness, I never had a fever. While my husband did have a fever, he didn’t get as sick as me—he just had a sore throat, cough, and headache. When my mom caught the virus later on, she lost her sense of smell and taste, stopped eating solid foods, and lost a significant amount of weight. Thankfully, we’ve all recovered, and my children have never shown any signs of the virus.

I think it’s important to remember this virus is called a “novel” coronavirus because it’s new to us, and we’re learning more about it every day. For example, just recently, a skin rash was added to the list of potential symptoms you may have if you’re infected with it.

While there’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus, as I remind my patients, most people who catch it will survive. If you think you might have COVID-19 or test positive for it, first, do not panic. Distance yourself from the people you live with the best that you can, call a doctor, get tested, and keep in touch with your healthcare provider throughout the course of your illness. Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medications. And, just as you would for any other viral illness, make sure to stay hydrated and keep an eye on your fever (if you have one!).

Jehanne Julien-Banica

I want people to know that healthcare workers like me are doing our best to prevent this pandemic from lasting longer than it should.

This isn’t a virus anyone wants to catch, so please stay home as much as you can if you’re not an essential worker. As of May 10, my office has seen upwards of 14,000 patients and about 4,500 have tested positive for the virus. Our numbers have gone down significantly in comparison to the beginning of March, but we still see about 100 suspected cases of COVID-19 every week.

Until we can control this situation, we have to keep social distancing, especially since many people do not show any symptoms of the virus but are still contagious. If you have to be in public, wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently, and limit in-person interactions with your elders—you don’t want to pass it on to them. As we begin to reopen our country, follow the CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and your loved ones.

For my part, I plan to donate my plasma as soon as I can. My hope is that my antibodies will help someone else win their fight against the novel coronavirus.

Jehanne Julien-Banica, D.O. is a 37-year-old physician based in Rockland and Orange County, New York.

From: Prevention US

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