The Rev. Jadon Hartsuff, 42, an Episcopal priest in Washington, D.C., felt drained after a Sunday service on Feb. 23. He took a nap. No big deal — the service can be tiring. The next day at the gym, his muscles ached. He became fatigued, feverish, slightly dizzy. “I kept telling people I felt spongy,” he recalls. “Like a kitchen sponge.”
Mike Saag, 64, an infectious disease doctor in Alabama, developed a cough, like a smoker’s hack. He was bone-tired, his mind foggy. About five days in, the misery intensified. “This is not something anybody wants to go through,” he said Saturday. “I implore everyone to stay at home!”
These stories were offered in recent days by people in the United States who now know the new coronavirus and the disease it causes intimately. In sharing their experiences, they are helping to demystify this alarming contagion.
Covid-19 can be a severe illness, even deadly. But it varies from person to person, and most people with a confirmed infection do not require hospitalization. It can induce intense fatigue and trigger a recurring cough and intermittent fever. This is a slow-developing illness, and it lingers, the whole process typically playing out in weeks rather than days. Patients with covid-19 report a psychological toll. This disease is unfamiliar. It’s a pandemic virus that has alarmed the entire planet. A natural reaction is anxiety.
Jim, a 34-year-old from Long Island who asked that his full name be withheld, had mild symptoms for several days and then abruptly developed shortness of breath, fever and chest pains. “The fear is real,” he said. “It’s impossible not to be scared at times that it’s just going to take this insane turn into uncontrollably bad.”
Saag, the doctor, teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and fully understands the biological processes that take place when a virus invades the body. He knows, for example, that his immune system generates the symptoms — things like fever. He became sick after a long drive from the Northeast back to Alabama, and on Monday night, he experienced rigors — his body shaking uncontrollably. “It was my immune system saying, ‘Hey, let’s fight this sucker off.’ ”
Still, even with his medical background, he had to suppress the natural fear any person would feel. His advice to other covid-19 victims: “Stay calm. Monitor yourself. The number one thing to keep an eye on is breathing. If it becomes difficult to breathe, you should really get to a facility.”