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Health Team

Apex man diaries 13-day struggle with cough, fever, wait for coronavirus test results

Posted March 30, 2020 4:53 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2020 7:19 p.m. EDT

— Tim McLain, an Apex man, sent in his day-by-day account of a painful wait for COVID-19 test results.

My COVID-19 history:

  • Male, 49 years old, 5'8" and 210 pounds
  • Workout 3 times per week regularly
  • No underlying health conditions
  • Wake County, Apex, NC

Timeline:

March 18: Day 1
Headache and a 100.3 fever, plus light cough. Nothing too bad, but took over master bedroom to hunker down, waited 8+ hours for a teledoc service call that never came. Taking Tylenol on schedule.

March 19: Day 2
Woke up with a 99.7 fever, chills, sweats and headache.
Temp bounced up to 100.7, then back down to 99.5. Taking Tylenol on schedule.
Called UNC's local COVID hotline 888-850-2684 to share my symptoms. An amazing UNC Hospitals nurse took all my info, suggested sequestering away from the family, and calling back if things worsen. I don't have respiratory issues besides the persistent dry cough. This isn't a "wet" flu, I'm not really using tissues. It's all dry. Stay safe out there!

March 20: Day 3
My father passed away in home hospice last night, surrounded by family. I had been traveling back and forth to his home in Ashland, VA, several times between February 27 and March 14. I interacted with my brothers and sisters on several occasions, this was prior to widespread hand washing. I took I-85 and I-95, stopping at the gas station in Bracey, VA, and Dunkin Donuts there, as well as local gas stations around my father's home in Ashland. Wondering if one of these was the source of my infection. Taking Tylenol on schedule.

March 21: Day 4
Took temperature twice, both normal or slightly low. Still have light cough, but was a good day symptoms wise, headache was less.

March 22: Day 5
Woke up to a 99.7 fever, then 100.1 in the afternoon. Headache is back with a vengeance, coughing and night/day fever sweats. Taking Tylenol on schedule.

March 23: Day 6
Identical to yesterday, 100.5 and 100.7 temps. My cough is getting a little worse, causes me to see stars when I cough too much. Also losing my appetite, food doesn't taste like much of anything. Found myself walking very slowly in and out of the doctor's office, zero energy. Tylenol.

March 24: Day 7
Booked a 2:30 p.m. doctor's appointment with my primary care physician

It's now been a full week since I started feeling ill. Temp has been up and down, had one day of no fever, then right back to it. Last two days have had chills, fever sweats, headache, dry cough. Woke up to some lower back pain that feels like kidneys are unhappy. Drinking tons of water and getting lots of help from the fam, hard to concentrate.

Today recorded 101.8 and 95% oxygen saturation.

Doctor conducted an Influenza A and B test, he said both are 92%+ or more successful in spotting those. Both negative. He took a COVID-19 test and said it would be up to five days. To message him online is the fastest way to get to him and his team.

Was also were told that the current COVID test is only 70% sensitive, has a 30% margin for error. When they test like this, they infer that you have it and to act accordingly, which I am. Went right home and back to bed. Lessening Tylenol worried that the kidney pain may be related for taking it too long.

March 25: Day 8
101.1, 101.0, 101.5 today. Kidney-lower-back pain added to the headache, cough and fever sweats. I may need an intervention, going stir crazy in this bedroom. Added an ice pack to the head, some relief. Immediately messaged by boss for a sick day and went right back to bed. Spent the day resting in bed. Only drinking fluids, no appetite.

Sent doctor this message at 7:50 p.m.:
Good evening doctor, Quick update, I spent the day in bed. No longer have an appetite, and my sense of smell is telling me my wife is burning candles, which we don't own. I'm consuming gatorade and cranberry juice and water. Continue to have a persistent dry cough that when I cough I nearly see stars and it affects my hearing for a few seconds. Plus a fever above 101, took it three times today. My lower back, both sides, continues to ache as if my kidney's are having some kind of issue. It's day eight in my master bedroom with these symptoms and I'm growing worried that I won't know the right time to go to ER?

March 26: Day 9
In bed second full day, no work. 100.2, 100.1, 100.3. No appetite. Used up my energy to shower and shave, then crawled back in bed. I smelled terrible. No taste/smell. Forced myself to eat a fruit smoothly. What I can smell, smells like someone put a candle out all the time. Continuing light fever, dry cough and sweats. No appetite. I force my heart rate down to breathe deeper and can do it. I've never spent this much time in bed and can't do anything else. Waiting on test results. As of 8:13 p.m., no one at doctor's office has read my Duke My Chart message.

March 27: Day 10
99.0 (3 a.m.), 100.1 (8 a.m.), 99.0 (11:20 a.m.), 99.0 (2 p.m.) and taking lower temp as a win. Headache is up a notch, ice bag not helping. Sweats, no sense of smell/not much taste, continue. Forcing liquids - these delicious SHAKES thanks to my dear friends! Still no real appetite, wish I craved ... something. Resting well, third day in bed. Still waiting on test results. Ate a real (small) dinner of baked potato wedges and a hamburger slider, was more than enough to fill me up. Taste was strange, but interesting.

March 28: Day 11
Fever has broken, feel SO much better!

98.2 (7:30 a.m.), 99.1 (11:40 a.m.) and 98.4 (6 p.m.) headache is down in intensity by 80%, and with temp just below/hovering near normal. I feel more normal than I have since the start of this!

Slept well, but did wake up under too many blankets and a bit of a sweat. Good things. Find that I can only sleep on my back, soon as I try a side like I usually do I cough. Sense of smell is still very off, smelling those old burnt candles in most breaths through my nose. Thoughts seems to be better organized, too, not as fuzzy. Hoping this is my new normal.

One new wrinkle today, noticing a loud deep hum in my hearing. Tinnitus? Turn my head it doesn't change. Trying not to focus on it too much, but it's a bit worrisome. How long will this last?

Got doctor response to my March 25 question:

Main symptom for which we would encourage ER evaluation is progressive shortness of breath - gradual worsening of true breathlessness - sitting still and feeling winded like you just ran a race. Body aches and fever expected part of illness if truly COVID-19. Unfortunately, we are told test results will not be back until Tuesday - roughly 6-8 day turnaround. It was 4-5 days but with significant increase in testing, Lab Corp turnaround has slowed. Eating not as critical as maintaining hydration.

It's been 11 days since I started having COVID symptoms, and four days since my doctor conducted my COVID test promising results within five days. Last night he emailed me to say, 'Unfortunately, we are told test results will not be back until Tuesday - roughly 6-8 day turnaround ... with significant increase in testing, Lab Corp turnaround has slowed.' Our leaders knew about this virus in January, labeling it a "hoax" and saying "it will go away just watch." Some traded stocks to cash in before the crash. Our leaders in Washington have let us down, promising to give a test to "anyone who wants one" with drive-up test sites and results within hours, not days. It's all complete fabrication and bluster from our President. We are the strongest, wealthiest nation on Earth and now have earned the distinction of being #1 in infections. My family and I deserve better, faster, more accurate testing. What happened? Where is the accountability?

March 29: Day 12
Woke up to 98.0 temperature, no headache, still have coughing fits every so often. Feel 90% back to normal, and counting two days in a row without a constant fever as a massive win! So happy!

Breathing is deep and normal. No wheezing or "stuff" preventing anything. It's more, with me, cold air or AC blowing on me that causes inflammation and a cough. Did use my rescue inhaler once to calm things down last night, worked well and didn't elevate my heart rate.

Still waiting on test results.

My wife and son both feel good, my wife has a little cough and mild headache. We're hoping it's the crazy N.C. pollen, since she's been spending a little time outdoors to keep sane, and the pines are turning everything yellow-green right now, and she's very reactive. Keeping an eye on her from my bedroom as best I can via text and video chat.

March 30: Day 13
98.2, and a copy of yesterday. Feeling almost back to normal, just have this residual cough. Breathing is fine. Senses are all back to nearly 100% -- smell and taste -- and I'm mentally back to my old self. Feeling strong!

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