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OPINION | JANET HOLMES UCHENDU: What it's like to have covid-19

by JANET HOLMES UCHENDU | September 26, 2021 at 2:02 a.m.

Monday morning, Dec. 28, my daughter, Janetta, tells me she doesn't feel well and isn't going to work. She says that later in the day she will go get tested for covid-19, rapid test.

At 8 p.m. she informs me and her father, Ogugua, that she has tested positive for covid-19.

The following day, Tuesday, Dec. 29, Ogugua and I get tested. Ours is not a rapid test. We get our results the next day.

Positive! We test positive!

Thoughts flash. How did this happen? We have been so careful. Does it matter how? We have covid-19. I don't want to die.

As of June 2020, I was no longer employed and basically stayed home. Ogugua and Janetta were essential workers, so they ventured into the world daily. As the pandemic worsened, we became more vigilant. We had several conversations about their need to not bring the virus home. We made masks for ourselves, Googling to find the best material to use. We made masks for family, friends, anyone who wanted one/them.

I ventured out rarely to the library or to deliver masks. I always wore a mask, washed my hands, and used sanitizer. When packages arrived, we masked up before opening the door. Eventually we stopped opening the door, waiting until the person left, spraying packages with Lysol, and bringing them inside after they had dried. Did I mention we were vigilant?

So on Wednesday, Dec. 30, after getting our positive test results, we went into full survival mode. We called and called but could not get a doctor's appointment. We never got a callback, and each day we got sicker.

I tried to not focus on the fact that we were in the holiday season, we weren't going to get an appointment, and we might die. I prayed we wouldn't end up in a hospital because in my mind that was a death sentence. People were going into hospitals, being put on ventilators, and dying.

We spoke with family and friends, and yes, we Googled to learn everything we could.

My friend Carol had friends in the medical field. She sent me a list of over-the-counter medications to take and advised what liquids to consume.

My friend Debbi ordered all the medications online, paid for them, and had them delivered to our home, even throwing in a surprise dark chocolate bar that contained cranberries and almonds.

Our daughter Bridget made a major grocery run which for her safety she delivered to our front door, leaving them outside, and we retrieved them after she left.

We started fighting the virus with lots of water, Gatorade, Powerade, chicken soup, and a concoction made with water, onions, garlic, ginger root, lemons, and orange peel. We boiled this on the stovetop, and twice a day covered our heads and faces with a towel and inhaled the steam for at least three minutes.

When the meds arrived, we added our daily covid-19 Molotov cocktail of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D3, Pepcid, Zyrtec, melatonin, and Bayer aspirin.

Within a few days Ogugua and I lost our sense of smell and taste. Janetta did not. We each lost about 25 pounds, and while that was OK for Janetta and me, Ogugua didn't have 25 pounds to spare. He became the sickest, which surprised me because he was in better physical condition. It was hard to get him to drink or eat anything.

As he continued to lose weight, we called on our dear friend Patrick, but we swore him to secrecy. We didn't want people to know we had the virus because at the time it somehow seemed like an indictment; like having the virus was our fault. Patrick brought some of Ogugua's favorite fast foods and eventually brought Ensure. I was able to coax Ogugua into drinking it.

When our friend Vicky learned we were battling the virus, she prepared a feast of Ogugua's native foods from Nigeria and delivered them to our front door. She refused to leave without laying eyes on her friend/brother, so we stood in front of our home as she stood in the street weeping.

We were weak; we had trouble breathing, especially at night; we could not walk from our bedrooms down the hallway to the kitchen without leaning on and sliding along the wall for support. And those are just some of our issues. At night I would watch Ogugua as he slept, making sure he was still breathing.

I understand covid-19 experiences are far from cookie-cutter. For Janetta, Ogugua, and me, battling covid-19 was an ordeal.

We drank so much Gatorade, Powerade, orange juice, Ensure, and ate so much chicken soup that I am OK to never need to consume these foods ever again.

There has been but one other time in my life when I have prayed so fervently. By the grace of God, we are still here.

Thank you to everyone who helped us survive. Thank you for the prayers and healing thoughts from all family, friends, and community.

We contracted the virus before the vaccine was available for our groups. We are now fully vaccinated and plan to get booster shots whenever we are eligible.

We continue to deal with covid-19 long-hauler symptoms; symptoms that at first we didn't talk about with each other. Our symptoms are varied, hard to describe, and sometimes cause us to question our sanity. For a while we experienced shortness of breath while just sitting. I continue to have difficulty concentrating, and reading is a challenge.

Ogugua and I regained our sense of taste in stages. For many months foods didn't taste like they did before we had the virus. We both have partially regained our sense of smell.

There is no rhyme or reason for what we can and cannot smell. I can't smell the honeysuckle in my backyard, and that causes an ache in my heart that defies explanation.

Janet Holmes Uchendu is a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas.

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