Bob Wojnowski: No way was I getting COVID, until I did

·7 min read

Apr. 23—Not me, not ever. I wear the mask, I wash the hands, I stay 6 feet away from humans, for the most part. COVID has no shot against me.

That was me four weeks ago, dutiful and defiant. This is me today: 14 pounds lighter, still craving the taste of bacon, tired but getting better.

It will find you, if you let it. I let it with a brief letdown, and near as I can tell, contracted COVID-19 on March 27, two days after getting my first Pfizer shot. Did I get cocky or cavalier after one shot, even though two days isn't nearly enough time for the vaccine to take hold? I don't think so. I was restless, bored, and frankly, dumb. It was the second Saturday of the NCAA Tournament and I joined a few friends at a restaurant-bar where tables were sufficiently spread out. As the games went on, more people came in, I stayed too long indoors, and that was it.

I blame no one but me. Not the governor, not the government, not the CDC, not the bar, none of them. They made the mandates and recommendations, and the rest is on us. On me. (I guess I could blame whoever spread it to me, although many people don't know they have it).

So let this be a cautionary tale, if you're inclined to listen to this sort of thing. It's not over. Sorry folks, we're gonna have to play this to the end, no timeouts, no letting up, no looking back. It's not over until we make sure it's over, and that includes vaccines and continued vigilance. If this sounds like preaching, it's not my intent. I'm just relating a story that many, many others have experienced, and maybe some can learn from.

Michigan has been in the midst of a third COVID surge for about a month, worst in the nation, and several hospitals reportedly are at 100% capacity, thanks to a vicious variant of the virus. Mercifully, there are signs it's starting to wane. For me, it's waning too, and when this nasty thing is over, I plan to be eternally grateful it wasn't worse.

The virus is so unpredictable, affecting people in wildly disparate ways, we often just rely on anecdotes. That's not necessarily wise, because science and statistics present a much clearer, broader picture. But personal experiences are the ones that resonate, and let me tell you, personally, even in a moderate form, this virus is devious and debilitating.

One week after my exposure, I started feeling chills. Then a cough, not a productive cough, just a hacking, annoying cough. The next day, I got out of bed after sleeping nine hours. I staggered around for a bit, then dove back under the covers for three more hours.

For most of a week, I slept about 10 hours a night and never felt rested. I figured I had it, so I stayed isolated. I eventually used CVS' easy drive-thru testing for confirmation. It's not a big deal — you get to swab your own nose and drop the sample in a bag! — and the text the next day was short and unsurprising: POSITIVE.

I wasn't alarmed because statistics suggest, under the age of 60, I'm 98% likely to recover, and a vast majority of people don't require hospitalization. A year ago, I'd probably be panicked, when everything was just unfolding. On a teleconference with my doctor, his orders were simple: No need to come in, drink lots of fluids, take vitamins C and D, rest.

In a way, it was enlightening, although you do not want to get COVID just for the experience and the chance to sleep 10 hours a day. The fatigue can be overwhelming. I didn't have the energy to write for The Detroit News or do my radio show at 97.1 the Ticket for 10 days. Couldn't concentrate. Couldn't stay awake. They call it the COVID brain fog, and it's very real. On the standard recovery scale used by athletes (and sports writers), I'd say I'm now about 85%.

Did I mention, though, how devious this disease is? Many people lose their senses of taste and smell; studies say it happens in anywhere from 55-85% of cases. Naturally, I lost it all, with a disgusting little twist.

After two days of symptoms, I couldn't smell anything. Not the coffee, not the hot sauce, certainly not the roses. OK fine, I can deal with it. Just gnaw on some food and wait for the old taste buds to stir again.

I figured I'd try to kick them into action by ordering a pizza. Pepperoni, extra cheese, peppers, the more taste provokers, the better. And then, the saddest moment of my ordeal. I bit into a slice and was staggered by a rancid, salty, metallic taste that made me gag. I took one more nibble to be sure and spit it out. I couldn't even look at the pizza so I threw it out, one of the hardest things I've ever done, and that's only a mild exaggeration.

Go ahead and Google "rancid salty COVID taste" and you'll see some of the bizarre games this virus plays. I don't get it, and neither do most scientists. Data is growing, but more than a year into the pandemic, there's so much we don't know.

We do know the vaccine works, with approximately 94-95% efficacy after two Pfizer or Moderna shots. I'm not here to lecture or judge, but you have to be pretty cynical not to believe it helps. It doesn't cost anything, it doesn't hurt and side effects are rare. And yet, we're lagging as a state and a nation, with approximately 41% of Americans partially vaccinated. After my symptoms lessened and my fever was completely gone, I got the second shot at Ford Field, and being fully vaccinated feels vaguely like being fully liberated.

I'm not in the clear yet, and neither are we. Relapses are common. Fatigue notoriously lingers, and I'm still stuffy-headed. There's a term for those who can't shake it — COVID long-haulers — and symptoms can last three months or longer.

I'm encouraged (mostly) by all the people who reached out via social media, text or other means. There wasn't much admonishing, even if I deserve it, but a lot of positive wishes and personal thoughts. So many people have had the virus, their responses reflect how varied the symptoms are.

From some: "It was nothing! I coughed it out, washed it down with tequila and was back on the job in half a day."

Others: "Not a big deal, I was over it in three days, like a regular flu. Unpleasant, but you'll be fine."

Others: "It's no joke, and you don't know when it's gonna end."

Others: "I thought I was dying. I still can't think straight and can't taste anything five months later."

Me: Miserable for two weeks, bearable for two more. Still tired. Never bad enough that I needed help.

The offers from people were great, but I truly didn't need or want anything, and I had to stay isolated. I ate canned soup. I choked down fried-egg sandwiches. I cracked open a dusty can of SpaghettiOs (as wonderfully bland as I remember) and have been devouring pudding cups. I've been eating like a 9-year-old, and it's oddly comforting. Anything flavor-less enough to stave off that head-spinning, rancid-salty reaction.

I think that's gone, although I haven't attempted the pizza test yet. Too scared, frankly.

Do I feel irresponsible for catching the virus? A bit, although I've maybe eaten out eight times in 14 months and always wear a mask.

Do I actually feel a little lucky? Yep. I already was working from home, and I can't imagine how the average person handles this. Most people can't sleep 12 hours to get better and can't miss two weeks of work.

Many have had it way worse than me. I'm not minimizing it, and I'm not preaching or prying. If you're waffling on the vaccine for whatever reason, I only ask that you deeply consider the possible ramifications. Don't get confused by the buzzwords — antibodies, herd immunity, quarantine — or what you heard from your neighbor's cousin.

You may think you're immune, but having tangled with the damn thing, I say with as much energy as I can muster, you don't want to mess with it.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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