John Spevak: My experience dealing with breakthrough COVID

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I didn’t think I’d get COVID. I had two shots and a booster. But earlier this month I experienced a case of breakthrough COVID. I’m fine now, but my days with COVID were strange and bizarre.

I’m writing about this, dear reader, to let you know about one person’s experience with breakthrough (after vaccinations) COVID, in case you or someone you know has to deal with it. And based on what we hear in the news with the spread of Omicron, you may have to deal with it.

I realized I had COVID when I took an at-home test, which my friendly neighbor Connie had kindly given me. I swabbed my nostrils, inserted the swab into a tube, then inserted into the tube a test strip. Ten minutes later I pulled out the strip and saw two lines, one blue, one pink. Positive. I had COVID.

The next day a kind physician’s assistant at Apex Medical Care in Los Banos told me during a telehealth call that I was right to conclude I had COVID, since an at-home test conveying a positive result was almost always correct.

I had decided to take the at-home test after two nights of physical challenges. On the first night, a Sunday, I had a restless sleep brought on by a headache, which I attacked with Tylenol. The next day, a Monday, when I traveled from southern California to Los Banos, I felt fine.

My previous week in the San Diego area had been filled with extended family fun and adventures with children, grandchildren and their families. I had traveled there on my own, when my wife Sandy decided at the last minute to stay home because she wasn’t feeling well.

Now that I was home on Monday evening, I had a nice dinner with Sandy and went to bed feeling good. But before long I encountered another headache along with a persistent post-nasal drip, which had me coughing through the night. I needed Benadryl and cough drops to get through it.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, although I had no trouble breathing, no sore throat and no loss of taste (which are often symptoms of COVID), I did feel achy, in head and body, enough to ask Connie to drop off an at-home COVID test. That afternoon, the test confirmed I had it.

I don’t know where I might have gotten it. True, I had spent time in several places in the San Diego area, but I, as well as my family members, were careful, especially when we were indoors in public places, wearing masks.

On Tuesday, reading about Omicron, the current main variant which I probably had, I realized how contagious it was. My exposure could have happened anywhere from anybody.

After the at-home test I had to deal with the strange and unexpected reality that I had COVID. I knew, from all I had read about breakthrough COVID, that my symptoms would continue to be relatively mild, like those of a cold or the flu. But I was worried about other people in my life, especially my wife Sandy.

We decided to create a simplified quarantine status for the next several days. I would sleep in the guest bedroom, and we would stay at a distance from each other throughout the day. I would use separate dishes and utensils, and we would not eat at the dinner table at the same time. When I was close to her in the same room, I’d wear a mask.

From my reading I knew that I needed to stay in this quarantine status for at least five days from the onset of the symptoms or from the first positive test. In the meantime, I tried to take reasonable care of myself, which for me meant sleeping as much as I could. Sleep, for me, has always been a restorative.

On Wednesday, day three of my five-day waiting period, after a good late-morning nap, I felt stronger. Yes, I was taking Tylenol every four hours and using a lot of Kleenex to counter sniffles. And I was moving slowly, but I had more energy than the day before.

Around 10 p.m., when I got up from the couch, I felt strange, with a headache and chills. I thought I might have a fever, but my thermometer registered 98.4. I barely had enough energy to walk to my guest-room bed and crawl under the covers.

Remarkably and thankfully, I slept through the night (except for my usual bathroom breaks) and I took Tylenol every four hours. I had no post-nasal drip and no resultant coughing. Eleven hours after I had gone to bed I woke up late Thursday morning and felt good to be alive.

I realized that my COVID experience was coming in waves; at times I was feeling strong and energetic, at other times weak and listless, with a dull headache. I made a promise to take it easy.

On Friday, which I believed was the fifth day since symptoms, I retested with an at-home kit. Positive again! I tried again on Sunday, five days after my first at-home test. Positive again. Strangely, after I had saw the test results, I felt sick (literally), with chills and a headache. The physical and the psychological were converging.

I would continue to be confined (some would say trapped) in my home. The good thing was that Sandy did not seem to be experiencing COVID symptoms. Sandy’s son Johnny kindly helped by picking up a prescription for her and a short list of groceries (neither Sandy nor I had a big appetite), including soup, bread, cheese and fruit.

After talking with people who have experienced COVID, I concluded I shouldn’t be concerned about continuing positive results, which could continue for weeks. I stopped retesting and returned to the basic guidelines from my physician assistant and most medical researchers.

I stayed quarantined for a total of 10 days, after which the odds are you are not contagious. On the eleventh day I felt like my old self. I left my home wearing a mask and resumed some necessary outside activities like grocery shopping. I appreciated everyone I encountered who wore a mask to try to reduce the spread of COVID.

That same night Sandy took an at-home test and thankfully got a negative result.

In my quarantine I was grateful I had been vaccinated and boosted. Even when I was feeling my lowest, it was nothing compared to the frightening experiences of people who got COVID before they could be vaccinated.

We live in uncertain times. The only certainty is that we all need to be vigilant and be ready to deal with the strange and bizarre experiences that COVID, with its various mutations, will inflict on us.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.

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