Dozens of My Friends Are Infected with Coronavirus—Here’s What They Want You to Know

One by one, I've watched friends and family members contract, spread, and battle coronavirus. They've shared their stories in the hope of helping others.

coronavirus masks illustrationGetty Images

The truth about COVID-19

While it’s true that the ever-growing coronavirus pandemic seems to be most deadly for older adults and those with underlying health conditions, anyone can contract it, exhibit serious symptoms, and spread it to others. Even with all of the new physical distancing norms and cultural shifts, no age group or demographic is immune to the virus. I learned that the hard way when my own friend died from coronavirus complications. He wasn’t who you might expect—he was a bright, funny 34-year-old man with a normal, vibrant life and a mild history of childhood asthma and bronchitis. It didn’t stop with Jeff, though. In the last few days alone, I’ve heard from dozens of friends, colleagues, and family members across the U.S. who have also contracted coronavirus. Here’s what they want you to know.

It’s more contagious than you can imagine

“People do not understand how contagious this is,” shares Jacquie Rosshandler of New York, the hardest-hit region in the U.S. The 38-year-old entrepreneur and mother of two attended an event on March 10, which is where she contracted the virus. “My husband and I made a promise to ourselves not to touch anyone, thinking this would protect us. In fact, we promised to go into isolation, and this was going to be our last social event,” she says. “It also happened to be the social event that did us in.”

Rosshandler, her husband, and several other guests have fallen seriously ill and tested positive for coronavirus. During the incubation period, those infected at the event Rosshandler attended continued to move about New York, and some even travelled internationally.

She went to explain that the sickness has been brutal. “We are both very athletic, eat well, don’t eat meat, and are in very good health,” she explains. “[But] the headaches for me lasted four days and were quite painful. Tylenol didn’t help at all.” Her husband suffered severe fever and sweating episodes, and he is still sweating through clothes and bed sheets regularly after 10 days.

Rosshandler hopes that more people will be proactive about flattening the curve. “Isolate yourself for the good of yourself and the entire community,” she says. “Stop waiting for other people to tell you to do so.”

The exhaustion is “paralyzing”

Like Jeff, Monique P. went to Disney World in early March, and it’s the only place she can imagine having contracted the coronavirus.

“The first symptoms I felt came all at the same minute,” the 35-year-old mother from Brooklyn, New York, says. “I was practically paralyzed with exhaustion, and I had a fever and sore throat. My first thought was: I feel like I was hit by a train. My doctor didn’t believe it was the coronavirus. I was tested for strep and the flu, but both swabs came back negative.”

Her 38.3-degree Celsius fever persisted, and on day three, she started experiencing pain behind her eyes and in her sinuses. The following day, Monique took a coronavirus test, and by then, she had lost her senses of smell and taste. On day five, she developed heart palpitations, tingling skin, the feeling of something crawling on her, a burning sensation in her nose, and a cough. On day 11, she was still weak, fatigued, and only able to taste salt.

She’s optimistic, though, about how society will change once this pandemic has passed. “I think people will be kinder from this,” she says. “You can’t go through a trauma and come out the same.”

Early symptoms are often gastrointestinal

Chayim B. Alevsky, a 52-year-old rabbi from Manhattan, couldn’t imagine that he and his 10-year-old daughter had contracted coronavirus when they began vomiting after intense nausea that lasted several days. But that’s exactly what had happened. Nausea led to sweating episodes so severe that multiple layers of clothes were left drenched. “My daughter noted a feeling of tightness in her chest, but neither of us had a sore throat or cough,” he says, although the stomach-related symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and food aversions persisted somewhat severely.

Despite their ordeal, he’s looking toward the future with hope. “We see that something almost invisible—a virus—can affect the world with such speed, and I’m hoping we can use that concept to spread kindness at the same rate,” he says.

The virus tricks you into thinking you’re OK

coronavirus worksheetCourtesy Jennifer Cotie Kangas

While some people can’t pinpoint their source of contagion, others know exactly who gave them coronavirus. Jenny Cotie Kangas, a 33-year-old woman from Apple Valley, Minnesota, believes she contracted COVID-19 from a co-worker, though she hasn’t been officially diagnosed. “We don’t have testing in Minnesota. You can only get tested if you are in critical condition in the hospital,” she says. “So we have an entire population of people who are sick—but not counted.”

“I’m on day five now, which has been the worst yet,” she says of her ongoing illness, which her doctor believes is a presumed positive case based on her exposure and symptoms. “I check my own oxygen stats and record them along with my temperature every day. In the event that I have to go to the hospital, I can share this information with them, but [it also helps me] recognize when my symptoms are changing. The virus is a roller coaster, and it tricks you into thinking you’re better when you aren’t.”

Kangas, who is a single mother, has her kids staying with her ex-husband as she recovers. She says she understands the importance of isolation and steering clear of others given the extremely contagious nature of COVID-19. While battling this illness has been tough, she is grateful for her support system. “I have family calling to check on me. I have an ex-husband dropping off cooked meals at my door since I’m too weak to cook—and he has my three kids while I’m sick,” she says. “I’m scared for the people who don’t have that support. Just being on your own for this long is hard, let alone being sick.”

The dry cough is often accompanied by uncontrollable sweating

coronavirus mask treatmentCourtesy Nadia Ackerman
Nadia Ackerman being treated for the coronavirus

Nadia Ackerman, an artist from New York better known as “Natchi,” was at the same event in early March as Rosshandler. All nine people at their table that night fell ill within days, and three have taken coronavirus tests that gave way to positive results.

“It felt like someone was punching me on the inside—like I had been kicked by a horse,” the 45-year-old says of her coughing attacks, ongoing fever, scratchy sore throat, extreme malaise, and exhaustion. “Then nausea hit me hard on day four. I have zero appetite, and I lost my sense of taste and then smell. I still don’t have them back.” The headaches come and go relentlessly, and Ackerman describes them as “a million times worse than a migraine.”

After several days of battling coronavirus on her own, she made the decision to call for help. “I spent four days in bed thinking it would pass soon. Everyone was telling me I was young and strong and I’ll be fine. I wasn’t fine,” she says. “The fifth day, I woke up to take a sip of water that was immediately met by vomiting and diarrhea. I called 911 and an ambulance took me to the emergency room, where I was treated for severe dehydration, nausea, and headache as a result of the coronavirus.”

She wants people to know that even the healthiest 45-year-old person, who does yoga and leads a vegan lifestyle with no preexisting health condition and educated attitudes about health, can easily contract and suffer from coronavirus. “The thing about this virus is that it comes and goes in waves,” she explains. “Stay home. It’s not only about ourselves but [for] other people, and we should have acted earlier.”

Those who are already ill should be extra mindful

Christina T., who was supposed to start chemotherapy treatments this month, was frightened to learn that a close family member was sick with coronavirus. “They had to postpone my chemo start date because of all of this,” the River Vale, New Jersey, wife and mother says of her community’s overwhelmed health care system.

The 35-year-old says her family member’s coronavirus symptoms consist of a dry cough and more. “He’s a three-year cancer survivor himself and has had shortness of breath and a dry cough,” she explains. “They did a flu test, which came back negative, so they sent him home. The following day, he ran a fever and went to local urgent care for a coronavirus test. “Those results and the accompanying chest X-rays took days to register. Nearly a week later, with his fever ranging from 99 to 102 every day, the results came back positive. Ongoing fever is one of the telltale signs of something more serious, especially if you’re living in an area inundated with coronavirus cases.

“He says the toughest part is taking a deep breath in because it induces a painful cough,” she says, but there’s not much they can do for her family member. “His doctor’s recommendation is to stay away from the emergency room unless he can’t breathe.”

Expect shortness of breath

Even if your symptoms aren’t as severe as others, you still need to take them seriously. Taylor B., a 32-year-old woman from New York, has had only mild symptoms for about two weeks. However, it doesn’t mean her experience has been a walk in the park. “Right now, I have mild symptoms. The shortness of breath is scary—and trying to calm myself down while living in a small studio apartment is a real challenge some days,” she says. “My symptoms haven’t elevated, so I haven’t reached out to medical staff.”

It can last several weeks—and you’ll need to fight

Jason Hasty, 54, is an attorney from Augusta, Georgia, who has been openly chronicling his own coronavirus journey because of his public candidacy for district attorney. On day 11 of his quarantine, his symptoms are still going strong.

“I woke up this morning alone again,” he posted on social media. “The first thought was where am I? What day is it? And then that heavy, restricted feeling hit me in my chest and then I remembered. I remembered what my new normal is. Staring at these four walls as I am in my quarantined bedroom.”

His posts, which have garnered a lot of local attention, offer a stark look into the emotional ups and downs of the coronavirus, as well as the physical toll it takes. And he has an important message for anyone who finds themselves in this situation: “You just fight. You get up every day and you take your medicine and your vitamins and you pray you are going to make it. You start screaming from the mountaintops to save anyone you can. Don’t just go home to die. Fight. You have to fight to get well. You have to beg for health care. You have to plead and argue. This is no time to be nice and timid.”

For more information on COVID-19, see our comprehensive coronavirus guide.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest