Sleeper Hit: What It’s Like To Have Coronavirus With No Fever, No Energy and No Positive Test Result
READ FIRST: This is my account of my own journey through suspicious symptoms, surprise COVID-19 testing and over a week of being sick with nothing I’d experienced before. I am not a medical professional, my story is not intended to be used for self diagnosis and in no way should replace consulting your primary physician. Visit the CDC website for more info.
On Sunday, March 15th I flew back to Baltimore from a memorial in Michigan, sitting in my single row on a mostly empty plane and reading the news about COVID-19 taking hold in the USA. Little did I know that in a short period of time I would find myself in my own personal pandemic movie scene, being led into a room by medical practitioners in full-on protective gear to be tested for Coronavirus. Nor did I have a clue what was ahead of me, how the world around me would go from frustrating (politics) but stable to quiet, confined and shut down while the virus spread.
Over the next week, I’d go from a few days feeling fine and staying inside as a precaution to random symptoms that felt like nothing I’d experience before to being quarantined…even after receiving a negative COVID — 19 test.
This is my timeline.
Monday, March 15-Tuesday, March 16:
Got back to work after two days off and two weeks of homeschooling ahead of me (my daughter’s school was shut down to clean for COVID-19 and to asses the impact of the virus in Maryland).
No symptoms to speak of, just a pile of laundry and a load of emails to tackle.
Tuesday, March 17th:
PM: Started feeling “off” and looking flushed around 10pm. Also head a headache and scratchy throat, but nothing strep-like or flu-like. Chalked it up to seasonal allergies (Spring is the worst for me) and the fact that we did a 1 1/2 hour walk in the AM.
Wednesday, March 18th:
AM: Woke up feeling the headache more intensely, but still not horrible. Had chills off and on but no fever. Some allergy like symptoms (post nasal drip) but nothing major. Chest felt tighter, and I felt more tired than usual and had a slightly decreased appetite. Didn’t think much of it, as again, could be allergies and could be a stress reaction to all that’s going on. Used my allergy medicine, nasal sprays and popped some aspirin. Kept on working and parenting and ignored it.
Had a VERY busy back-to-back schedule since my company is busier due to COVID (we provide tech to help companies go online/enable secure telework among other things) and barely took a break.
PM: As the day progressed I got more and more tired and felt like “huh, maybe this is a sinus infection coming on?” since I’m prone to them. Chest pressure was more pronounced with aches in the upper back/neck (also like sinusitis), mild dry cough once in a while and headache blooming. Appetite decreased more. At this point I still wasn’t considering COVID since the symptoms as of now shared by the CDC were more pronounced than what I was experiencing.
I took my temperature throughout the day and all was normal. Symptoms would get better then come back, making me think it really was allergies + stress. Took cold meds and went to bed.
(Photo: COVID-19 Symptoms as of Wednesday, March 18,2020.)
Thursday, March 19th:
AM: Woke up at 5am to get a jump on work with symptoms more pronounced, especially the tiredness. Doing things, especially fitness activities, were like going through mud. Headache was worse, now with pain-behind-the-eyes feelings and occasional dizzy feeling. Chest was tighter, I had coughs that were still dry but had a burning/painful aspect (similar to an upper respiratory infection) and breathing was difficult. It wasn’t gasping for air, but it was labored, like when I’ve had bronchitis, coughing increased but I still had no temperature.
At lunchtime I wasn’t really hungry so I called my doctor’s office to describe my symptoms and check in on how I should treat them (a bit worried now, but really thinking that if I wanted some prescription meds to treat my sinus infection I should get the jump on them).
I described my symptoms and the nurse/tech asked me about any travel in and out of the state. I relayed:
- Yes, travel to MI that started 6 days ago and ended 4 days ago, after which we sheltered in place (save grocery runs)
- Yes, travel to Santa Clara, CA 4 weeks back for work.
- Headache with eye pressure/pain and some sinus pressure/pain
- Tiredness that wasn’t normal
- NO fever, at any time, but chills off and on.
- Chest pressure, tightness and labored breathing
- Aches in my upper respiratory area/neck/shoulders
- Loss of appetite
She put me on hold to talk to the doctor, and then came back and asked me to come in within the hour for triage and possible COVID testing.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE TESTED FOR COVID-19:
- I was instructed to pull up to the curb outside urgent care and wait to be called via phone for triage.
- Once I got the call, they reconfirmed my symptoms, then told me to meet them at the side door to the urgent care department.
- I was met by a nurse in full pandemic-esque gear who gave me a mask and led me to a room by myself.
- Another nurse tech came in (assume at this point everyone is in full pandemic gear with personal ventilator) and reviewed my symptoms, travel history, time of onset to progression and took my vitals. I did not have a temperature and all was well BP wise.
- The nurse tech then informed me that they would be testing me with 3 rounds of nasal swabs: one for the flu, one for strep and one for COVID-19
- I was a bit nervous but OK (daughter of an immunologist) and hung out alone while she prepped.
- She came back in and did the swabs. There were NOT fun, but not the worst thing ever. Uncomfortable for a few seconds, most.
- She told me they would be back in 15–20 minutes and left.
- I sat alone in my sterile little room feeling very silly for going in and taking up tests for other people (I didn’t have the major symptoms AND only was calling for sinus infection stuff!)
- The next person to enter was my primary care doctor. She asked me the same battery of questions, including “how did you know to come in here when you don’t have a fever?” I relayed that I didn’t ask to come in, yada yada yada, and she shared that she was glad I did. “This is a novel virus and we don’t know what the symptoms are for everyone yet. Your travel and what you’re describing concerns me enough to look into it. Could be flu, could be strep, could be your sinus infection, but let’s be sure.”
- She then left and told me she’d be back in another 15–20 after the tests were done.
- Doctor came back and shared that I tested negative for both the flu and strep. She then shared that COVID-19 could take up to five days or more to hear back on due to demand in labs. In that time, she wanted me to stay home, rest up and call her if I progressed more (got a fever, started coughing up green or white tinged stuff, the headache became too intense, etc.)
- I was instructed NOT to inform anyone since I didn’t have the telltale symptoms and medical practitioners were trying to limit public concern/freakout.
- She then left and the nurse came in and said “You are now under quarantine” and gave me papers from the CDC on basic COVID info, my prescription for my inhalers and showed me out down a clear walkway (they call “clear” to make sure no one else was in the walkway back out to my car to limit exposure)
PM: Symptoms all got worse, I was a little more freaked out, but just decided to take the rest of the day off to rest up. Tiredness got worse, headache got a little worse but not horrible, sore throat came and went, etc.
(Photo: Me, waiting to be tested for COVID-19.)
Friday, March 19-Wednesday, March 25th:
My doctor checked in on me every day to monitor my symptom progression and any changes. I took off work to rest up, and I’m glad I did as my exhaustion got even worse and I was relegated to sleeping most days, watching TV in bed, minimal chores and sanitizing everything I touched like Howard Hughes (which I was doing anyways, TBH). When I say exhausted, I mean EXHAUSTED. I felt dizzy, like I could barely get up. Going to the bathroom or doing basic chores was a struggle. Trying to fold clothes made me have to pause (even sitting up in bed) every 15 min or so to rest again. Tim had to tag in and juggle all of food prep, story support, and house upkeep because I was floored. My symptoms got worse in an arc, with Tuesday and Wednesday being the days I was absolutely unable to do anything but stay in the same spot all day and sleep, watch some TV, or chat with friends online for some social outlet.
(Photo: Me, crashed out on the floor pillow where I spent most of my time sleeping as my exhaustion worsened.)
The symptoms that increased the most: exhaustion, loss of appetite, loss of smell/taste (being an immunologist’s kid, the loss of smell and taste was a sign this was a sinus infection still that was really odd and NOT COVID, as sinusitis has these symptoms. It wasn’t until Tuesday of this week that conjecture started circulating about impaired sense of smell/taste could be a sign of COVID-19). My breathing became more labored which was scary, but the sore throat and headache would still come and go. NO fever (I keep saying this like a drumbeat because fever is one of the diagnostic signals I was asked and keep hearing and YO, there are strains where fever doesn’t happen.)
NOTE: While my doctor was keeping an eye on me, she still didn’t diagnose me or say I had Coronavirus. She was monitoring me and noting my symptoms, making sure I didn’t need to come in and kept reiterating what to look for re: going to the ER. I was sick, but not horrible sick. Again, the exhaustion is what prevented me from working or going about semi-normal life.
Thursday, March 26th:
AM: I woke up feeling SO MUCH BETTER. Note, this would not last though. After 3–4 hours of trying to be normal again, I was back hit with a wave of symptoms, exhaustion, etc. Decided to stop working and go back to resting. This is a key feature that has now been validated by several friends who believe they have the “silent” COVID-19 strain (or just a lesser impact): after the worst days of the illness, you rally, feel better, start to try to go about life again, then get hit in waves and are back down for the count. You rest up, rally again, then repeat.
PM: I get a call in the PM from my doctor confirming: my COVID-19 test was negative. (but wait, there’s more) While I cheered she said, “well, not so fast. I think you have COVID-19. I cannot clinically confirm, but I don’t trust the test results, I don’t like what you’re experiencing and new data is showing there are likely multiple strains with varying symptoms. Your test may not have caught it because you came in on the early side. Your test might not have caught it because it’s not for the strain you have, or you may not have it at all. But we are treating you as if you do have it.”
I was placed under full quarantine for the rest of the 14 days (through this Wednesday) and told I was now a part of the Hopkins study. on Coronavirus and would receive a blood test when available (likely in fall) to test me for antibodies to see if I really did have COVID-19, what strain I had, and how those antibodies could be used to help treat others (which made me feel good to contribute to if I can). She also advised that Tim and Story have to be on Quarantine with me (harder for Tim as he’s more social, wonderful for Story as she’s a full blown introvert).
Friday, March 27th-Today (Saturday, March 28th):
I really, really am tired of this. I’m thankful I don’t have horrible symptoms, but every time I think “I am over this and on the mend” I get another hit of symptoms coming my way and am a tired zombie again. I have labeled this version of Coronavirus: The Half-Assed Ennui-Filled Flu-That-Wont-Start Super Mono. Even today, Saturday, I am still tired, my headache is lessened, but still comes back after too much activity and overexertion. Story and Tim are still fine, I’m still upkeeping all hygeine protocols and am not worried about my health… just TIRED of being this tired.
(Photo: Me now: sick and tired of being sick and tired)
Now We Play The Waiting Game
So there it is, folks. If you are feeling any of the same, I urge you to talk to your doctor, and here’s why:
- Some people have shared anecdotal stories about how the experience I’m having is the “ramp up” to the more dangerous, acute version of COVID-19 (especially immunocompromised and the elderly)
- Just because you got a negative result doesn’t mean you don’t have it (or should ignore your doctor telling you to self isolate).
- You may need to shelter in place/self quarantine (if you’re not already being told to do so) so you don’t spread the infection to the elderly and immunocompromised.
- Since there are multiple strains out there, it’s good to be safe.
- Recovering from COVID-19 could potentially make you a candidate to help others who are more vulnerable.
Hope this recounting of my story helps share useful information and dispel some of the rumors out there about only people with “high fevers” are at risk for having Coronavirus.
Wishing you all good health, and please: stop the spread and stay inside.