My battle with coronavirus shows why people must take it seriously

My battle with coronavirus shows why people must take it seriously
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Back in April, I wrote a piece for a community newspaper in New York on my bout with the coronavirus. I had first denied that I would become sick because I was in excellent health, until I passed out on my kitchen floor and ended up in the emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital. This was before the numbers of cases and deaths skyrocketed.

I was diagnosed with moderate severity, stayed in a coronavirus unit with oxygen, and then sent home on my own two days later. After the required seven day quarantine without symptoms, I felt better and went about my business. Like everyone else, I watched with horror as the United States surpassed all other countries in infections and accounted for almost a quarter of the total coronavirus deaths around the world.

Fast forward to early June. I am over two months in recovery and begin feeling some of the same lethargy, lack of appetite, shortness of breath I had previously experienced. It was the time of the killing of George Floyd, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, and the spark of national protests in response. I still felt well enough to join one of the marches and was able to trek from Columbus Circle to Washington Square Park, shouting “no justice no peace” like the younger people in the crowd.

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The next day, however, I felt as if I were hit by a truck. I called the doctor and decided to get checked out at an urgent care site the next day. Did the coronavirus return? My chest examination was inconclusive, and the doctor suggested I go to an emergency. I headed over to Mount Sinai Hospital for what I thought would be only a short visit.

So began my journey with a second worse round of illness related to the coronavirus. After 24 hours in the emergency room and more scans and tests, I was back in the hospital for eight days, placed on a steroid and an anticoagulant, given oxygen, and monitored closely. My body seemed to be playing tricks. The conventional wisdom is that once you survive the coronavirus, you have a level of immunity with antibodies.

I have since discovered otherwise. The slew of doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital had different theories. I tested negative for the coronavirus but had troubling inflammatory markers. The pulmonologist suggested that there was additional lung damage causing my shortness of breath, but he did not hear any abnormalities when listening to my chest.

Noreen Singh was one of the very many caring and competent doctors who tracked my progress. She had explained the range of inflammatory markers which track everything from kidney function to the dangers of blood clotting. She had theorized that many tiny blood clots were not seen on the imaging but caused my shortness of breath.

The doctors had seen a few patients who returned with the coronavirus after a month or so of recovery, but they had not treated anyone in my situation who was three months out from an infection and symptomatic again. The consensus had been that I had a case of “post inflammatory syndrome” of the disease. I call it coronavirus redux.

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That hospital stay when they administered steroid treatments and then monitored my organ markers was more debilitating than my initial bout with the coronavirus. I agreed to participate in a follow up study by the Mount Sinai Pulmonary Institute. My blood oxygen level is tracked twice daily through an app. I am happy to say that my numbers have improved and that I am home getting my strength back. However, the doctors said the recovery could be slow and could last until the fall.

This health experience has deepened my respect for the devastation of the coronavirus. It is both powerful and unpredictable. For all the great knowledge and expertise of the Mount Sinai Hospital staff, they are still figuring out how the coronavirus works as they go along. They said they “just did not know” when I asked for an explanation.

Indeed, a relapse from the coronavirus, even with a negative test and no contagion, can be more serious than the initial infection. There is a lot of speculation about a second wave taking place in the fall. Is any attention being paid to those who relapse? The coronavirus continues to take very funny bounces. It knows how to throw a mean curveball.

Stephan Russo is the former executive director of the Goddard Riverside Community Center in New York and a contributor to the West Side Spirit.