2 Friends Got Sick. 1 Tested Positive For COVID-19. 1 Didn't. Both Had A Rough Time.
This story is part of our series "Diary of LA in the Time of Coronavirus." We're collecting audience stories about what it's like to live in Los Angeles during a pandemic. You can share your story here.
"I stopped counting at 29 days. I still cannot breathe normally."
So begins the diary of Toban Nichols, 50, who said he became so sick that he lost more than 25 pounds. It's still unclear whether the Highland Park resident had COVID-19, because he was not allowed to get tested at the time he was sick, even though his doctor seemed to suspect it and had urged him to get the test. (His two roommates had gotten sick as well, although they also weren't tested.)
Toban's account of his illness traces a similar course to the one laid out by another man who did test positive for COVID-19.
Adrian, a 33-year-old native Angeleno who lives in Koreatown and asked that we withhold his last name, described the same shortness of breath, the long illness, the fatigue, the trips to the hospital, and the oddly normal vital signs that gave doctors pause. Incidentally, the two men are friends. Toban says neither knew the other was submitting his story for this series.
Here, then, are two accounts from men who got seriously ill at a time when testing was still limited. One managed to get tested, and the results were positive. The other may never know. Their diary entries have been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
For Toban, the symptoms first started appearing on March 11. Toban, an artist and teacher, has diabetes, one of several underlying health conditions that can make a person immunocompromised and prone to getting a more serious version of the disease.
For Adrian, the onset was March 18. Adrian is a marketing director. He has no known underlying medical issues.
On the 11th at work I started to feel a little funny but blew it off. By the time I got home I definitely felt sick, just basic stuff like a cold. I felt ill until Saturday of that week (three days later) and felt good that day, like whatever it was had passed.
On March 18, I came down with a fever and nasal congestion. My primary care physician and I thought it was just the flu.
Sunday everything changed. I felt sick again but with new symptoms. I had a headache, cough, no energy, stomach stuff. It ramped up quickly.
By this point, both Adrian and Toban have decided to seek medical help. Toban had reached out to his doctor, who recommended that he go to the emergency room.
I got there and they greeted me from behind a red line, gave me a mask, and asked questions about where I'd been, etc. They moved me to a tent with a couple of other people and I waited to get tested. They checked my oxygen while asking some questions and stated they were not testing people who had not specially travelled internationally or who contacted someone they know has the virus. My oxygen was at 90% so they said they wouldn't admit me. They said I'd probably have it another week and they expect me to fully recover. Sent me home to rest and take Tylenol. I did exactly that up until day 20.
After eight days of fevers as high as 102° F and developing a painful cough, my roommates and I decided it was time to go to urgent care.
At urgent care they found a pneumonia in both my lungs via X-ray and were concerned that it was COVID-19. So they sent me to the ER to get testing and for observation.
My first doctor at the ER refused to test me because my vitals and oxygen levels were normal (despite the fever and cough) and testing at the time was reserved for ICU patients and health care workers. So they sent me home with antibiotics to help fight the pneumonia and told me to rest.
The next day, on March 26, I woke up with an even worse cough — so painful every part of my body hurt. I coughed up phlegm with a significant amount of blood, which naturally freaked me out. My roommate graciously took me back to the ER.
This time, a different doctor was able to see me. I told her my entire timeline and explained the concern with blood in my phlegm. They reassured me it was just a result of my chronic cough, which calmed me, but I pushed to have another X-ray of my lungs done. Turned out my pneumonia got worse.
They observed me for about 30 minutes and were concerned with my rapid breathing. The doctor decided to test me for COVID-19 and keep me overnight for monitoring. I was placed in my own room overnight. The doctors and nurses put me on an IV of antibiotics.
One night in the hospital turned into four nights. I couldn't have any guests. Each time a doctor or nurse entered the room, they needed to put on what was basically a hazmat suit. I felt like I was some sort of science experiment. By the third day in the hospital, my test results confirmed I had the pandemic virus.
I'll admit it, I was scared and cried a decent amount. Will it get worse? Would I get through this?
THE WORST OF IT
For Adrian, things did improve after that.
Thankfully, I had the support of my family and friends that I would text and FaceTime with to get me through it. Friends and family were able to drop off necessities and goodie bags to make things a bit more comfortable for me. The doctors and nurses also did a fantastic job looking after me.
But for Toban, one day bled into the next, and his symptoms gradually grew worse.
During the worst of it my gums ached every day for two weeks. It felt like someone was scraping something back and forth between my gums and teeth.
I could not stand in the shower without taking a break and sitting down. I couldn't even make it the 15 feet from my bed to the bathroom without feeling like I couldn't catch my breath.
I lost over 25 pounds. I weighed myself once I started to feel better and after a shocked reaction to a photo I posted on Facebook. I weighed 190. Normally I weigh about 225/230.
For four nights, I'd start off with a nightmare where I had to solve some sort of puzzle based on TV shows I had watched earlier that day. Usually after solving the puzzle, I would say "Delete it," and that's when deep sleep would finally begin.
I spent a lot of time in my room alone and didn't do a lot of talking, other than to say something back to Joel McHale on Community, or to Sonoya Mizuno on Devs. Talking was difficult. At one point I could only say a few words without coughing.
Twice towards the end of my ordeal when I started conversing with my roommates more, I found that for more than 10 minutes I could not speak correctly. I could think the correct words, but they would not come out of my mouth. Instead, strange sounds and unintended words or nonsense was all that came out. It was humorous and concerning at the same time. Frustrating, too, as I could not make my mouth utter the correct words no matter how much I changed the shape of my mouth or thought hard about it.
One of these times I responded to something Keith said from the kitchen and noticed what came out of my mouth didn't make any sense. He and Roman noticed, too. I finally went into Roman's room and, as best I could, explained to him what was happening. We sat on his bed (socially distant) and talked as he looked up symptoms for a stroke, which I luckily didn't have, and we chatted until the words came back. They popped back like the snap of a finger. Suddenly I could converse intelligibly again.
The other time, I was alone in my room. I started naming things on the wall or around my room, and again slowly the words came back. It hasn't happened since.
On Day 26, my doc sent over an inhaler to help with my shortness of breath, and things have gotten much better.
I did not heal as quickly as they guessed, but that is normal for me. I always have things longer than others. Plus, I'm diabetic so am at higher risk.
At this point I am having sinus drainage which makes me cough a little. The cough is not bad, the chills, aches, and cold symptoms are all gone. I'm just tired much of the time.
I am reminded often when I stand up too fast, hold a note in the shower too long, or walk the dog farther than I should, that I still have respiratory issues as a holdover from the virus. Not sure when I'll feel completely normal again, though no one may ever feel that way again. This is possibly our new normal.
I was released from the hospital on Monday, March 30. I have not had a fever since I left. But it took about a week after I left for my cough and overall energy level to improve. I'm beyond grateful that I have my health back and feel back to normal. I celebrated my 33rd birthday on April 12 with a virtual dance party with friends on Zoom. I wasn't going to do anything for my birthday but thought it was important I should.
What I find most interesting about this virus is how it can impact people very differently. It's worth noting that my roommates all got sick with the virus, but to very different degrees. One roommate had a fever for a night, the other for about five days, and neither of them had to be hospitalized. Other friends also have very different experiences. One had been sick for about 28 days.
I'm honestly still scared about what could happen with this virus. I now more than ever am very conscious of what I do and touch. I know it's been over a month since I've been sick and I guess technically I'm no longer shedding the virus, but I refuse to get close and touch people. I wonder when I'll feel comfortable enough to hug my friends and family — my parents and brother. I miss hugging them. In some ways, I still feel like I'm trapped inside that hospital room unable to see the people I love most.
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