by Jennifer Crystal
Since writing “Corona With a Twist of Lyme: Part 1” and following up with a sequel a few weeks later, I’ve received many emails from those who wonder how I’m doing. In this post, I will give an update on my health, and also speak to some of the lessons I’ve learned while battling presumed COVID-19.
My COVID-19 symptoms started with vomiting on March 11. I then developed a low-grade fever, dry hacking cough, and shortness of breath. After two weeks, I started to feel better—though I never quite shook the cough—and then a second wave hit: the low-grade fever returned and the cough worsened. During week four, I completely lost my ability to taste and smell.
My Part 2 update was during week five. My sense of taste was starting to come back—I could discern if something tasted bitter or salty, though I could not yet determine flavor—and I could not smell a thing. I then developed sinus congestion for over a week. After that went away, my sense of taste came back fully, and my sense of smell started to return. First, I noticed intense scents like cleaning fluid. I couldn’t distinguish the particular scent of a candle, but I could tell it smelled like wax. Slowly, blissfully, my olfactory system returned to full working order. I can smell everything now, from the pungent odors of brown bananas or tuna to gentler and more pleasant smells like muffins and oatmeal.
Besides a newfound appreciation for the senses of taste and smell, battling COVID-19 has given me increased gratitude for my body’s ability to heal. Like recovery from tick-borne illnesses, the process has not been linear. My fever went away and came back more times than I can count. I met the seventy-two hours fever-free” guideline for ending quarantine over and over again. Sometimes the fever would come back five days later. Sometimes seven. During one stretch, I went two and a half weeks without fever, only for it to return. As of this writing, I have been fever-free for three weeks, and truly feel that I am past that point of infection.
In fact, my doctor thinks I am past active infection entirely, and will soon run an antibody test and other biomarker tests to support that supposition. Clinically, the only symptom that lingers is the cough, which is improving slowly. I still get short of breath after exertion, and unloading the dishwasher or talking for an hour can leave me winded. However, my chest x-ray was clear, so my doctor feels I am dealing with residual lung inflammation, likely worsened by the inflammation already present in my body as a result of Lyme disease. Thanks to supplements that target this inflammation, as well as a continued anti-inflammatory diet, occasional use of an inhaler, and lots of tea with honey, the cough has become less frequent and shallower. In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I haven’t coughed once.
Moreover, no longer do I feel sick. During the weeks when the fever would relapse, I felt overall malaise. It wasn’t the same as the extreme exhaustion of acute Lyme, but my energy was low. Standing made my legs feel heavy, not to the extent that they do during a babesia flare, but still, it was an ache that made my bones hurt and sent me back to the couch (but not to bed). In the last couple weeks, I have started feeling much more like myself. It will take time to rebuild my stamina, but I can now walk a block without getting winded or tired. As with tick-borne illnesses, I have good days and bad days, sometimes feeling like I take two steps forward and then one step back. Still, I am moving in the right direction. I have every intention of being able to kayak and paddleboard by the end of the summer!
You might ask, after 90+ days of convalescence, why I’m feeling grateful for my body’s ability to heal. The answer is that I am not alone in this long-haul recovery from COVID-19. A recent article in The Atlantic entitled “COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months” tells of thousands of patients like me who got sick in March and who are still battling residual symptoms. Some are worse off than I am. Most are relatively young and were previously healthy and fit with no preexisting conditions. And that is precisely why I am so pleasantly surprised by how well my body has fared with COVID-19. Despite underlying conditions of Lyme, babesia, Ehrlichia, and Epstein-Barr virus, my recovery has been similar to if not better than thousands of healthy people with relatively mild cases of COVID-19.
The other good news I have to report is that my underlying infections do not seem to be flaring as a result of COVID-19. I admit there were a couple of weeks when I thought they were worsening, especially when I couldn’t shake the fever or fatigue. But like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, my doctor said it was not time to worry yet”—and he was right.
This experience has reminded me to have faith in my body. It has reminded me to listen to it: to rest when I need to rest, not to push myself until I am ready, to care for myself gently. And as with my tick-borne illnesses, this self-care has paid off. As a Lyme patient, I have fought COVID-19 and landed on my own two feet.
Additional COVID-19 and Lyme Disease Resources:
GLA POV: Parallel Pandemics: COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Blog: Q&A on COVID-19 and Lyme Disease with LLMD
Blog: Personal Patient Experience with COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Video: Webinar with Dr. Cameron and Lyme-COVID-19 patient
Letter: GLA CEO Addresses COVID-19 and GLA Community
Letter: GLA Chairman on What We Can Learn from COVID-19 Response
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.
Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her at [email protected].