Exoskeleton

The tops of her hands were angry and swollen with a crescendo of red blistering rash reminiscent of poison ivy mishaps from her youth. Must not scratch she commanded inside her head. Agh, a tug of war began as she grazed the tops of her hands with her fingers smoothing the sandpapery itchy welts, just one little scratch wouldn’t hurt, right? But she knew that once she started she wouldn’t be able to stop. More Calamine, Hydrocortisone, and Benadryl creams, a magic potion to tamp down the maddening urge to claw the rash away.

Why is this happening again for the third, fourth, or fifth time? She’d lost track. It all began months ago, way back in February, now it was June! She traveled by plane and returned to her hotel job at the crowded buffet and within days she came down with a sore throat and felt under the weather. It rapidly progressed to a cold, but she continued to work, sniffing, mouth breathing, and struggling along. She’d also developed a hand rash and thought it might be from the gloves at work, so she tried a different kind of glove, but it persisted. Also during that time a peculiar thing kept happening to her right middle finger. It would lock into a flexed position in the morning hours while she was asleep, it would awaken her. She’d have to manually pull it back into place with her other hand. It was bizarre. I’m just falling apart, must be getting old, she thought. She googled it and it’s called a trigger finger. She thought it was from using her hands at work, but she only worked part-time, how peculiar. She also researched contact dermatitis and it said it should resolve in two weeks at the most.

Most of her coworkers got sick too. Everyone continued to work.

Three weeks later the furloughs began along with safer at home due to the pandemic. She began to wonder about all of her symptoms and googled more about the trigger finger and hand rash, it could be an overactive immune response, hmmm, suspicious. She was feeling a bit better though so the day she was furloughed she did her favorite Denise Austin workout. She was so proud of herself for having the forethought to get some hand weights and a stability ball, it would come in handy, she’d be able to use the time to improve her fitness, yay! Her hand rash was clearing up too!

The next day she had to stay in bed, her cold symptoms were worse. Then a few days later her hand rash flared back too. Shouldn’t she be better already? If it was the coronavirus she should have lotsa coughing and fever. And it only lasts two weeks. She had an occasional cough and felt slightly feverish. Her breathing was heavy, labored, she’d get waxy, ashen, lightheaded, and had to rest. And there was a bubbling, whirring, crackling coarseness in her chest and the headaches, brain fog/mushiness, sinus congestion, and body aches. She was also so freezing cold, her nose hands and feet were like ice, they were so cold they hurt. Her heart would race and skip beats too. She’d begun having auras/visual disturbances too. Like the migraine auras she had when she was younger, it’d been years since it was bad like that. She wanted to take her temperature, but they were all sold out of thermometers. Nah, this can’t be the virus and besides you have to be gravely ill to get tested and not worth the risk to go to the doctor right now, they wouldn’t see her anyhow, not sick enough. She kept thinking that she’d neglected herself and now she was paying the price with accelerated aging. She felt like she’d aged decades overnight, a withered lumpy blob or a crackling cicada shell an abandoned ghost after a molt.

To top it off, her cold symptoms made her balance disorder worse, boo!

What a relief that she’d purchased extra cold medicines just in case they got the virus. The cold med aisles were wiped out now. She avoided using them until she couldn’t take it any longer. Why isn’t my cold getting better? Maybe I’m getting a secondary sinus infection she thought. But the symptoms didn’t fit. As the weeks dragged on she’d go through the same process, she’d feel a bit better, so she’d push herself and do more activities, she wanted to live her life and make the most of this furlough time. Then her symptoms would roar back to life. She thought, is it an autoimmune disease, am I anemic, is it hypothyroidism, bad allergies, COPD… is my B12 low?

The cycle continued until she didn’t know what else to do, so she decided to stop pushing and got in bed. She knew that you’re supposed to rest, but she’d interpreted it as just don’t do strenuous activities. Come to find out it means bed rest, ooohhhh, kay, my bad she thought. She rested until she thought it might be okay to try again, she was feeling better, not all the way, but she couldn’t stand one more day in lumpy blobhood.

It was the last days of April and she exulted in the fresh air and sunshine during her first nature walk back. She imagined, “I’m a freshly molted cicada” and she heard the whirring cicadas in her mind’s eye from her Louisiana memories.

She kept improving, but there was still lingering congestion and a strange rubbing, whirring in her lungs in her mid-left chest. And she wasn’t up to par energy-wise but was getting closer to the norm. The rash on her hands faded to flat rough spots, no itchiness, redness, or swelling. She added her daily walks back in and began working on more creative projects and participating online. “I’m finally back,” she thought. So she increased her walks to two times a day. She didn’t want to take one really long walk because that may have been too much, she didn’t want another relapse, so she sectioned them in two. She gazed at her dusty lonely hand weights and stability ball wistfully thinking, I dare not while wondering when and if she’d be well enough to use them again.

It was now June and about a week later, bam! She clawed at the hand rash, it itched so terribly, but it began to fade rapidly, within a few days it was almost resolved. She still went on her walks but only once a day. Then a week later the sinus and chest congestion returned along with brutal fatigue, headaches, body aches, racing heart, coldness, ugh. She reluctantly purchased more cold medicine. She’d already added probiotics and began taking her B12 faithfully, plus tried celery juice, wheatgrass juice, citrus smoothies and had been eating mostly fruits and veggies, 50% raw, she was vegan. She’d go out on the balcony for sunshine, fresh air, nature, and healing too. She couldn’t fathom why she couldn’t get better? Her only health issues were MdDS and allergic rhinitis. The only meds she took were Allegra and Flonase. She’d been active walking 1 to 3 hours most days prior to this and ate healthily. What else could she have done to prevent this? How could she heal herself now?

She knew what she had to do…more rest. She’d been skeptical and wanting to deny that it was the virus, but this was too strange not to be. She’d been reading more stories in the news about COVID 19 long haulers and she saw there was a Facebook group so she joined. Wow, what a relief! She wasn’t losing it, there were others like her. Everyone else had been struggling too and there’s little information or help, in fact, many of their doctors and families do not believe them and say they’re lying and it’s all in their imaginations or it’s just anxiety, they’re not really sick. They’re being dismissed, belittled, and gaslighted by their trusted loved ones and doctors. The more this year wears on, she thought she could not be surprised by anything else, but she remains incredulous at every turn.

She’d gotten insurance in May during a special open enrollment and had just received her card, she felt it was safe to make a doctor’s appointment now that the surge was on the downswing in her state and they were easing restrictions. She was reluctant because of her past traumatic experiences with navigating past illnesses in the fractured health care and insurance system, but she knew she needed to be responsible and at least try to take care of her health with the help of experts. She knew it was a risk, but she got over her trepidation and did it.

Her blood work came back normal except for low vitamin D. So why was she still sick? She scheduled an appointment with a specialist for her balance disorder who was recommended by a nurse practitioner who had the same disorder, was treated by them, and is now in near remission. And she tried to make an appointment with an allergist/immunologist, but they were closed early for the holiday.

In the meantime, she waits and is desperate for a nature walk because the cold symptoms are gradually improving, She used up all the cold medicine and is doing some decongestant nose spray and ibuprofen, plus resting. She’s weary of taking cold meds and ibuprofen. She still has the coarseness in her chest along with some shortness of breath, plus she’s freezing cold, but the headaches and body aches are lessening. Her heart has calmed and her wobbles are not as naughty. She’s not having to rest as much. Next week she molts again. What a whirr around. She thinks, “I’m not a lumpy blob, I’m a majestic astonishing nymph cicada, shedding her viral exoskeleton!”

https://www.c19recoveryawareness.com/

Michelle Miyagi
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