I'm a Healthy 28 Year Old Who Got Coronavirus. Here's What It Was Like
If it can happen to me—a young woman with no issues who's healthy and fit—it can happen to anyone.
For weeks I had been hearing bits and pieces about the coronavirus outbreak in China, but it didn't quite hit home until early March, when I started getting emails about it from the director of the clinic where I'm a social worker. I know it sounds silly, but I kind of just thought of it as the flu. I'm a healthy 28-year-old person, I thought. I wash my hands regularly. I'm active. I have no preexisting conditions. I really wasn't that concerned.
In the second week of March, my boyfriend, Joe, came home from work at a group home for disabled adults in Long Island and said some of his clients had flu-like symptoms. At that point, neither one of us thought much of it—we were still in the crux of flu season, after all. We just went about our night, not knowing it was the last "normal" one we'd have for weeks.
On Sunday, Joe called me from work to tell me that his clients tested positive for the coronavirus. My heart sank. I started thinking about all the people I had seen—clients, colleagues, family, friends—in the days since we were exposed to the virus. The last thing I wanted was to be the person who would potentially get everybody sick.
I started interpreting every little thing I felt and experienced through a new lens. I could feel pressure building up in my chest. Was this anxiety or could it be the coronavirus? I called my mom, a phlebotomist at a nearby hospital, and even she was quick to chalk it up to stress.
I took my dog on a long walk, taking in the fresh air and feeling grateful that I could still breathe deeply. But afterward, I felt exhausted. I wasn't sure if it was just the stress, the exercise, or all the things I'd done that day to keep my mind off of the coronavirus.
As my head hit the pillow that night, and with Joe scheduled to work for the next nine days straight, I couldn't help but replay all the moments we'd spent together just a few days prior. I realized we could've been more proactive to stay safe, but neither of us had any idea what was to come.
On Monday morning, I woke up with a sore throat, a cough, and I was unable to shake the increasingly heavy pain in my chest. I tried to convince myself that it was just anxiety, but I went to the doctor to find out for certain. When I got there, everyone in the office was wearing a face mask to protect themselves. Clearly, I thought, they were taking this seriously.
I told the doctor about Joe's clients, but she seemed to disregard the facts staring her in the face. They didn't have any COVID-19 tests, but they did a flu test and a strep culture, which both came back negative. So, my doctor diagnosed me with tonsillitis. It seemed believable to me at the time. I do get tonsillitis rather frequently, the weather was changing, and I'd been working seven days a week. She prescribed me amoxicillin and told me I could return to work the next day. As I headed back home, I felt the anxiety float away.
I felt well enough to work on Tuesday, but my symptoms still hadn't subsided. It was my long day at the clinic, when I'm scheduled to be there until 9 p.m., but things had slowed by 8. Clients were feeling uneasy about the spread of the coronavirus and weren't coming in. So I left an hour early, feeling tired, but that wasn't out of the ordinary.
I woke up on Wednesday feeling optimistic that things would turn around. I did my normal morning routine, had breakfast—which I distinctly remember being able to taste—took my antibiotic, and headed to work. But things took a turn for the worse. I sat at my desk calling my clients to tell them we were suspending in-person sessions, barely able to keep my head up.
I opened up my window every five minutes because I was burning up and then closed it shortly thereafter because I had the chills. My whole body ached and the heavy feeling in my chest worsened. I closed my door and tried to stay as far away from everyone as possible. But having left early the day before, my stubborn side was determined to finish my shift.
My supervisor rang me from down the hall to tell me she could hear me coughing and suggested I call my doctor. At that point, I had an inkling this wasn't just stress. I told my doctor about my worsening symptoms, and she suggested I stop taking the amoxycillin and switch to cipro.
Before I left for the day, a colleague handed me the number to the coronavirus hotline and told me I should call. I knew, unfortunately, she was right.
I went home and took my temperature. It was 102. I started to panic. I called the hotline immediately, only to wait an hour and 45 minutes for someone to answer, the fear building as the clock ticked by. Finally, I spoke to a man who asked me about my symptoms and whether or not I'd been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. Thankfully, he told me, I qualified for a test.
He said I should expect a call about an appointment the following day, Thursday, or on Friday, but Friday came and I still hadn't heard anything. Even with the new antibiotic, my symptoms were getting worse. My senses of smell and taste were gone; everything I tried to eat just tasted like my own mucus. I called the hotline again, but this time, they told me to reach out to the Suffolk County Department of Health about being tested. When I did, I was told that my primary care physician needed to provide a prescription for the test before I could go to a Northwell Health or LabCorp facility to be tested.
My doctor's office, however, told me they couldn't do that. And after some back and forth, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I searched online for a number for Northwell Health and reached out. I explained my situation, but the woman on the other end of the line told me I didn't qualify for a test and provided no explanation.
At that point, rundown, sick, and feeling extremely frustrated, my mom—who'd come over to check in on me, fully armed with a mask and gloves—had had it. She called my doctor's office, demanding they help me get tested. Miraculously, they gave her a phone number for a testing facility nearby, and I was able to get an appointment that day. I felt like I was nearing the answers I'd been looking for for days.
My mom drove me to the facility and since they were only letting one person in at a time, we sat in her car for an hour. But I had no complaints—I was just thrilled to finally be getting a test. When it was my turn to go in, they took my temperature, did a nasal swab in each nostril, and told me I'd have the results in 10 days. All I could do was stay home and wait.
Luckily, it only took three days for them to call. In my heart of hearts, I knew what they would say, but I still thought there was a chance it was just the flu. Sadly, that wasn't the case—I was positive for the coronavirus.
For the next week, my fever remained around 100, and for days beyond that, I could barely get down a piece of toast. But worst of all was how bad my side hurt from coughing. I thought I bruised a rib or potentially gave myself a hernia.
I tried to spend my time in self-isolation catching up with friends, spreading the word that everyone should be taking coronavirus seriously. If it could happen to me—a young woman with no underlying health issues who tries to eat healthy and is into fitness—it could happen to anyone. But frankly, it was hard for me to talk without coughing.
It wasn't until Apr. 1 that I finally had my energy back and the following week, I was cleared to return to work. It was so foreign to put on real clothes and makeup—something that's become a distant memory to many people these days—but it felt great to return to a sense of normalcy.
A few days later, on Apr. 9, I was continuously getting calls from a spam number on my cell phone. Eventually, I answered, only to find out it was the Suffolk County Department of Health, offering me a test, not knowing I'd advocated for myself to get one three weeks earlier. I can only hope someone else in need was able to get tested sooner as a result.
Amanda Bono is a 28-year-old social worker who lives in Kings Park, New York. This is her experience with COVID-19, as told to Best Life's Jaimie Etkin.
And for more coronavirus truths you need to know, check out 13 Actual Facts That Debunk Common Coronavirus Myths.