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I Was Only Hospitalized After COVID-19 Caused a Secondary Infection

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Coronavirus Chronicles is a new series from The Mighty sharing the human stories behind the pandemic. In this installation, a 35-year-old mother has a seizure after her untreated COVID-19 led to a secondary infection of meningitis.

Written by Christina Feldermann 

It all started with just a slight feeling of being unwell. I felt more tired than usual and had what I thought was seasonal allergies or a little cold.

Being a mom to a 10-month-old who doesn’t like to sleep has you feeling exhausted and run down as is. It can be harder to tell when there’s something more serious going on. I can never tell if it’s the sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion, so I honestly just wrote it off and decided that I was going to slow down a bit and take some extra vitamins.

About two days into feeling unwell, the chest pain started. This was a new symptom that I had only ever experienced when I had pneumonia.

I began to get concerned and tried to chalk it up to stress.

After days of chest pain that refused to subside, the fever came on. It started off low-grade, around 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On the second day of the fever, I woke up completely drenched in sweat. My clothes and my sheets were soaked to the point of dripping.

When I took my temperature during the day it was still low-grade.

The next day, the same thing happened. This time, it was even worse. I changed my clothes three separate times throughout the night with the same result — waking up freezing and drenched in sweat.

My chest pain was increasing in intensity as well and when I took my temperature again, it was 101.6.

I decided to call my primary care doctor. I was forwarded to a different facility that is quite a distance from me and was not given any other options.

So, I called the local hospital and used their COVID-19 hotline to discuss my symptoms. I was told to use their online app to see a doctor virtually. I downloaded the app, created a log-in and anxiously awaited my turn.

That’s when I started to panic. No matter where I turned, there was more bad news and ominously predicted outcomes. I have some underlying conditions — a likely case of hantavirus left me with permanent lung damage — so I knew from my past history that this could get really bad, really quickly.

After two hours of being kicked out of line due to what seemed like a glitch and having to start over, I decided to give myself a break and went on a walk with my son. The walk left me completely winded, with agonizing chest pain and fatigue. I had no idea what to do so I called the hospital again to let them know I needed to speak with someone and soon.

The nurse I spoke to was kind and referred me to a local urgent care clinic where they were treating people with respiratory distress. She told me to make sure I disclosed my underlying conditions and let them know about the fever and chest pain.

I dialed the number with high hopes that I would at least get seen and looked at, and that maybe this whole thing was just a bad cold. I was immediately met with disdain and put on hold before I could even finish my first sentence.

After about five minutes, a condescending man came on the line and he would not stop trying to discredit and devalue my symptoms and experience. I made sure to explain everything to him, along with the fact that I had recently given birth via C-section and had several complications since, including a flare-up of lymphoma, blood clots and uterine infections.

Absolutely nothing I said mattered. I was told I sounded “fine” and that my chest could either hurt or feel tight, not both. I was told that if my chest hurt, I was likely just “exaggerating” the symptoms due to anxiety. I was offered zero help and more so treated like a liar. I hung up, feeling desperate and fearful. I had just wasted an entire day trying to get someone to listen to me. I just gave up and hoped for the best.

Two days later, I was still feeling ill. The chest pain would not go away and nothing I did alleviated it. Some mild coughing started and I had an intermittent fever that seemed to really peak at night. I felt confused, dizzy and just not myself.

Once again, I tried to write it off as nothing other than severe sleep deprivation and tried to make arrangements to get some rest with my husband, Matt.

Later that night, we had a bit of a stressful situation. Nothing out of the ordinary considering the stress everyone has been put under. After it had calmed down a bit, Matt asked me what happened to my face. Confused, I inquired as to what he meant. He had a look of panic and concern in his eyes and I had no idea what was going on.

Apparently, blood had started pouring out of my mouth. I wouldn’t realize just how much until later because Matt was trying to keep me calm. Shortly after he noticed the blood I had a seizure. I don’t remember it happening, but Matt states it lasted around 15 seconds and that it was extremely difficult to contain me during it.

When I came to, I felt like my chest was being crushed and it hurt to breathe. I knew I had to go to the hospital as soon as possible and I called 911. As we waited for the ambulance, Matt had me cough and spit into a cup several times. Every time, there was a large amount of blood. I looked around and there was blood all over my arms and splattered on everything I coughed within the vicinity of. I was terrified and it felt like my body was slowly dying.

I have never had a seizure or felt so close to death in my entire life. The oddest part of it all was that while I did feel unwell in the days leading up to this, I was still able to walk around, talk and do things without much issue, which deceived me into thinking it was nothing serious at first.

When I arrived at the hospital, it was like walking into a horror movie. There were security guards at every corner, there were quarantine tents in the parking lot and I was quickly ushered into a part of the hospital they had specifically closed off for suspected COVID-19 patients. My nurse was absolutely amazing and I am confident that if it was not for her, I would have been sent home before even having any tests run.

After a chest x-ray, a couple failed lumbar punctures and some blood work, a doctor came into my room with the news that I had confirmed viral meningitis, which they suspected to be a secondary infection caused by COVID-19. He stated I was presenting all the symptoms of COVID-19 and that a test would be done and sent out to their lab in Lansing, Michigan. (Later, the test came back positive.)

A woman with a face mask and hospital gown on, lying in bed

I was admitted to the COVID-19 floor within a few hours of being there and was pumped full of antibiotics and antivirals. The lumbar puncture had also revealed a brain bleed, so I was sent off to have more CAT scans and tests to ensure it wasn’t causing any more inflammation around my brain.

It was a whirlwind. Every day the symptoms seemed to shift and change. There was always a day or two since the symptoms first began where it felt like I was getting better, only to get much worse in the days that followed. This virus is extremely serious and should not be taken lightly.

I am now home and quarantined to my room for two weeks until I am fully recovered. Today was a great day and I finally felt like I had crossed over the worst of it. I had a phone conversation and quickly felt ill again. The chest pain came back and I felt winded and exhausted. I’m back in bed now and hoping to be almost to the other side of this, but I cannot stress enough how very real this is.

This is not a hoax. This is not an elaborate plan to detain pedophiles and rescue children or some kind of political scam. This virus is a stone-cold killer and the sooner we can all accept that, the better

My friend and fellow writer, Christine Derengowski, said it best: “These tough times are meant to make us healthy, not happy.” This is a difficult and unprecedented time for all of us, but the best thing we can do is to remind ourselves that we are keeping ourselves and those around us healthy. We are doing our best to stop the spread and stop this virus from killing our loved ones. Please don’t ever forget when you are reading these stories that this could be your mom, your wife, your husband, your dad, your child or your family member.

I was in the hospital and I saw firsthand the people who are sick, the nurses and doctors who are scrambling to save lives, and the extreme stress and pressure we are all under. Please hug the loved ones you’re quarantined with, stay home and take this seriously. One day we will all be on the other side of this and we will be eternally grateful we endured the difficulties so our loved ones could live a little longer.

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Originally published: April 3, 2020
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