What It’s Like Having Breakthrough Covid

At some point in time and space this summer, my husband and I picked up the Delta variant of Covid-19.

It is tempting to try and figure out how and where we got it, but the chain of events is unclear. We were traveling (St. Louis, Ohio, Michigan, New Orleans). We came into contact with friends who tested positive soon after, but we didn’t sicken until too much later for that to have made sense. We were in public places, masked but crowded, in hot spots and airports and places where few people were masked with us. We attempted contact tracing on our own, passing the word but never really figuring it out. We saw family; none of the family has it. We kissed friends on their faces; none of those kissed got sick. We got home from New Orleans and immediately showed symptoms. We locked the doors and told our friends: our house was a house of quarantine.

Symptoms: Neither of us ever ran a fever. We were both vaccinated in March (him: Pfizer, me: J&J) and we hoped it would protect us from the worst. We bought an oximiter and neither of us ever dipped below 93%. We both had a hard cough, dry and endless. We both had awful body aches and unending fatigue. I slept 16 hours a day for the worst of it. John is also an asthmatic since childhood and this hit him pretty hard. I saw him use an inhaler for the first time in years during this. We both experienced a total lack of appetite and lost our sense of smell precipitously. We both kept our sense of taste, though with a loss of nuance in it. Diet Coke tasted like caramel and nothing else; soup tasted like salt and garlic but lacked vegetal sweetness.

Smell came back slowly, after about ten days. I could smell a cut lemon one morning, bursting like a revelation made of sunlight and sour sweetness. Coffee came slower and I realized it was because layers of scent were still missing. I could smell the toastiness and the crema of it, but not the ground notes of earthy chocolate-y darkness in it. True to form, I found that my perfume (Decadence, Marc Jacobs) smelled like its top notes of plum and saffron and warm flowers, but not its ground notes of amber and vetiver. Fourteen days out, smells are almost whole. I am working to retrain my nose; I live by my sense of smell much more than the average person. I remember the velvety sex and salt aroma of New Orleans, the beignet vanilla floating over the sweat and liquor of the streets at night. I came home to the Bay’s heavy, wet ocean drama and garbage-stacked corners only to lose it and then gain it again. It’s coming back to me, and I am grateful.

Timeline: We were two weeks on our backs. Some days saw us trapped in bed, unwilling to take phone calls or do anything but take long baths. Other days we felt almost normal except for a headache and the pain that lingers in the abs and ribs after days of hard coughing. In these two weeks, I could not write and hardly read. On the better days, I did laundry and dishes and ordered grocery deliveries. On the worst, I kept the lights off and reviewed my will. We took DayQuil, NyQuil, and ibuprofen for comfort and sleep. I recommend these. They’re not as effective as with a bad cold, but they take the edge off.

Overall: I can absolutely understand how this disease kills the unvaccinated. I normally enjoy robust health and copious energy. I’m not a napper and I rarely run out of spoons for life. This infection was the sickest I’ve been in a decade or more. It ran me into the floor and then wiped the floor with my raw nerves. In this post-quarantine period, I find myself feeling overwhelming gratitude for just feeling normal. I bury my face in the flowers and fruits I can smell; I wake up in the morning without gasping or being in pain and I feel an almost religious ecstasy for a good day in a charmed life.

Our friends have been the sweetest, most generous people and we have been so humbled by the love we received in the form of spicy Korean soup, bundles of flowers, offers of errand running and moral support. We are fortunate in every measurable way. We are alive, alive alive. I am alive, and choose to continue in that same beating vein. It is good to be alive.

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4 thoughts on “What It’s Like Having Breakthrough Covid

  1. My son and I read your book Find Layla, and I came to your website to learn more about you and your other writings. Thanks for sharing your writings, insight, wit, humor and humanity.

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