The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the beginning of a challenging time for all of us.
We’ve missed birthdays, holidays, graduations, vacations, school dances, and family get-togethers. We’ve participated in drive-by baby showers, engagement parties, birthday celebrations, and even funerals.
We’ve had to grieve, celebrate, and comfort each other all over Zoom.
It’s been tough. Many of us know someone who has had COVID-19 or has died of the illness. Some of us have even tested positive, including me. This is the story of how I survived the virus.
Like most people, I was nervous when the pandemic began.
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To say that I was anxious is putting it mildly.
Thankfully, I was able to work from home, only venturing out to the grocery store and doctors’ appointments.
When I did venture out, I’d wear a mask – sometimes two – and gloves, and I made sure to stay at least, if not more than, 6 feet (2 meters) from other people.
I had my first scare earlier in the pandemic when my brother tested positive. The previous day, we’d had dinner together, so I had to get tested as well. Thankfully, I was negative, but I still quarantined at home for 14 days. Afterward, I was able to return to my routine, such as it was.
But nearly 2 weeks shy of a full year from the beginning of the pandemic, I got the dreaded phone call again – someone who I had just been around, without a mask, tested positive for the virus.
I was hoping that the fever and chills I’d been having the last 2 days were simply a cold, or maybe even the flu.
I frantically searched for a facility where I could get a rapid test. Sitting nervously in the exam room after getting the dreaded nose swab, I hoped it would come back negative. I even asked if I could have a flu test because I was confident that I didn’t have COVID-19.
Half an hour later, the doctor entered the room and uttered those very words that I’d hoped not to hear: “Your COVID test was positive.” The doctor went on to tell me that I needed to quarantine for 10–14 days, and I could take acetaminophen for the fever.
But what else? What do I do if I get more symptoms? What if my symptoms get worse… what then?
I had tons of questions and no answers.
I was sent home with a handout about COVID-19 and a note to give my employer saying that I tested positive. But that was it.
The doctor who diagnosed me didn’t offer any suggestions on treatment, beyond taking over-the-counter cough syrup and fever-reducing medications.
He didn’t have my health history. He didn’t know I was on medication to manage my blood pressure or that I was on a medication that weakened my immune system.
Leaving the office with that one handout, I was worried. So I went home and did my research.
Research suggests that people with underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, were six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from the virus than those without underlying conditions.
For Black women, like me, these numbers are more alarming because we are impacted more by the underlying conditions for COVID-19 than other women.
In fact, nearly 60 percent of Black women have obesity and close to half (43 percent) have high blood pressure.
If symptoms are severe, there’s a higher rate (1.4 times) of death in Black people than white people.
All of these factors added to my anxiousness.
As the days progressed, my fever and chills continued, getting worse at times. I also began to get more symptoms, including a cough, body aches, fatigue, headache, and loss of appetite.
So what could I do to keep my symptoms from getting worse? Are there things I could do at home to help lower my chance of having severe symptoms and help keep me from being hospitalized?
Research says yes.
Calling my primary care doctor was my first step.
She gave me some tips on what to do, such as taking over-the-counter medications for my cough and fever, as well as
I also talked to friends, family members, and neighbors who’d recovered from the virus, and they gave me tips and advice to help, too.
Here are five tips that helped to keep my symptoms from worsening.
1. Drink plenty of fluids
When you have a fever, you sweat. This happens because your body is trying to lower your body’s temperature by getting rid of water.
You will need to replace your body’s fluids to prevent dehydration, which can lead to other complications such as dizziness and lightheadedness. Dehydration can also increase the thickness of respiratory secretions (mucus), making it difficult to clear the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.
Drinking water and clear liquids can help prevent dehydration, as well as keep your body fit enough to fight the virus.
2. Take a daily dose of “baby” aspirin
COVID-19 can cause many symptoms that affect your respiratory system, such as coughing and shortness of breath.
It can also cause blood clots to form, which can lead to other complications such as a heart attack and stroke.
My doctor recommended taking a low-dose, or “baby,” aspirin every day to help reduce the chance of blood clots forming.
Before starting any medication, ask your doctor if it would be a good idea for you to take a low-dose aspirin.
3. Get up and walk
COVID-19 causes inflammation in the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and dangerously low levels of oxygen.
Lying down can limit the amount of air getting into your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. So get out of bed and take a walk, even when it hurts to breathe.
Walking around the room is a great way to exercise your lungs, even if you only walk for a few minutes. My doctor recommended getting up to walk at each commercial break.
Also, moving your arms around frequently while walking helps to open up your lungs.
4. Lie on your stomach, not on your back
Lying on your back can put pressure on the lungs, making it hard to catch your breath. Lying on your stomach, also called prone position, can help air get into your lungs.
Being on your stomach works well if you’re having shortness of breath because it allows the lungs to expand fully. When you lie on your back, your heart and stomach put pressure on your lungs.
When you’re in bed, sleep on your stomach to help air circulate in your lungs and help you breathe better.
5. Take slow, deep breaths
COVID-19 is caused by a respiratory virus that likes to hang around in the lungs. Taking slow, deep breaths can put your lungs to work and help prevent them from shutting down.
If you’ve ever had surgery, you’ve probably been given a device – a spirometer – that has a ball inside a tube and been instructed to blow the ball higher and higher each time. This device opens up your lungs after anesthesia to help prevent pneumonia.
If you have one of these lying around, it’ll be great to use if you have COVID-19. If not, breathing slowly and deeply for a few seconds at a time can help.
Hearing the words, “you have COVID-19,” can be scary. But don’t panic.
Testing positive does not mean you’ll have symptoms, and even if you develop symptoms, it does not mean your symptoms will become severe or you’ll have to be hospitalized.
If you have an underlying heart condition, such as heart disease, or high blood pressure, and you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, talk with your doctor.
They already know your medical history and what medications you’re taking.
They’ll be able to better inform you about what things you can do while at home with COVID-19 and what will work best for you and your lifestyle.
For those who don’t have a primary care doctor, you can still get answers to important questions. Try to talk with the on-call doctor at the clinic where you get tested or see if you can schedule a telehealth appointment.
Remember that COVID-19 symptoms are different from person to person. What worked for me may not work for you. So talk with your doctor.
Try to stay calm and follow the doctor’s instructions. By doing so, you’ll have a better chance for recovering from the viral infection and preventing it from being transmitted to others.
The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) is the first nonprofit organization founded by Black women to protect and advance the health and well-being of Black women and girls. Learn more about BWHI by going to www.bwhi.org.