The COVID-19 pandemic has left us all in fear, especially for those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. Knowing that we fit this demographic adds an extra layer to this difficult time. Many people are very nervous that either they or their loved ones will contract this deadly virus. We talked to one woman with type 1 diabetes who has recovered from COVID-19.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking the time to talk to us. I thought since you did contract COVID-19, it might be nice for people to hear from someone living with diabetes who was able to successfully recover and share their story.
How long have you been type 1?
It will be 30 years this November! I was diagnosed at the age of 5 and spent Thanksgiving in the hospital because the only pediatric endocrinologist in town had had emergency gallbladder removal and was unable to meet with my family or provide care for several days. I believe he was staying in the same hospital and came right up after he recovered. He walked into the room and said, “Get out of that bed, girl, you aren’t sick!” That always stuck with me and helped to shape how I have thought about and approached my diabetes.
Did you face any challenges growing up due to living with type 1 diabetes?
My parents did a great job of instilling in me that I was in control of my diabetes and not the other way around. This helped me to almost always have a positive outlook and approach, though, as we know – there are always hardships. I faced the occasional situations where someone did not understand the disease or why I might need breaks or snacks. But nothing overwhelmingly difficult, which I consider myself lucky.
What do you do for a living? Did diabetes play into your choice of profession?
I’m a marketing communications specialist. I also have a background in journalism and creative writing. While diabetes didn’t play a role in my career choice, I believe being a communicator by nature and profession has led me to be outspoken about diabetes and trying to raise awareness in any way I can. I sometimes write poetry on the subject and am always sharing content, articles, or even just venting my frustrations on social media to offer others insight into what it’s like to live with a chronic disease and how they can support their friends, or help stop perpetuating stereotypes, etc.
When you heard about COVID-19 heading our way, were you nervous? For your family? How did you personally prepare for it?
COVID-19 was definitely on my radar and I followed the developments as it started to spread around. I was on alert as it hit the U.S. but wasn’t initially too worried for myself. My concern was more for my parents because they also fall into the higher risk category due to their ages and some medical issues.
I wanted to be smart about it. I started washing my hands more frequently and tried my best not to touch my face, which I think we’ve all found is easier said than done! I also bought a couple of extra boxes of some of my supplies just in case deliveries were affected in any way.
As soon as they started recommending social distancing and reducing the number of times you leave your house, I decided to stay put at home unless I needed essentials like groceries. I even started cooking at home, which I don’t normally. This experience has domesticated me a bit.
At what point did you find out that you have COVID-19? Do you know how you contracted it?
I was initially told I likely had bronchitis and was prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler. I used those for three days but was not improving. I actually was getting worse. At this point, I had known one person in my circle was sick but had not been able to get tested and I hadn’t heard anything about what this person’s symptoms or conditions actually were. I decided to contact my endocrinologist out of an abundance of caution. She said I should be tested, so they made me an appointment at a drive-up testing center.
On my way to get tested, the testing site called me to ask about symptoms and other medical questions. They told me not to roll my window down until I was instructed to do so by the doctor. I pulled up to a white tent where several doctors were in full PPE. It was surreal – like a scene from a movie. They swabbed very deeply into both of my nostrils, gave me a one-sheet with more information on COVID-19 and instructed me to go home and isolate like I had the virus until my results came in.
I was tested on March 18th and received my results on March 21st. Between these two dates is when I started learning of my friends who had tested positive. My doctor called me early in the morning on that Saturday. She went over my results, how to manage my symptoms and my diabetes and what signs to look for should I need to seek emergency care. She told me to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, take medicine for fever as necessary, and of course, monitor my blood sugars.
By the time it was confirmed I tested positive, I had been having symptoms for 10 days, was progressively getting worse, and had learned three other people I have weekly contact with had tested positive. I was most likely exposed to someone who had just returned from out of state travel. We attended a small group event together on March 9th. I think there were around fifteen of us and we were only together for two hours.
How long were you sick for? What were your symptoms? Were you able to recover at home?
I live alone, so there was no one else in my household and thankfully, I had not seen my parents or other family since a few days before I was exposed. My symptoms started on March 12th, three days after I was exposed. I had a very slight cough with some chest congestion. I checked my temperature just for the hell of it since WHO had declared a pandemic and Dallas had recorded its first case that Monday. My temperature was 99.2. I didn’t think anything of it, especially since all the information was saying symptoms included a dry cough.
The next day I felt extremely tired by the time I was done with work. I was coughing a bit more but nothing major. This was also the day I started to lose my appetite as well as my sense of taste (I didn’t realize my taste was gone until after the fact when they started identifying it as a common symptom). I decided to do a telemedicine appointment with an urgent care near my house. They asked me if I had traveled internationally recently or been in contact with anyone who tested positive. I said no but told them about my sick friend. The doctor said it sounded like bronchitis and ordered prescriptions.
The next couple of days, my loss of appetite got worse but I felt about the same. I started having diarrhea, which I initially attributed to the medicine but it persisted even when I stopped taking the antibiotic. On day four, I took a major turn for the worse and started having shortness of breath, running an actual fever, coughing more and harder and experiencing dizziness when I got up. At this point, my appetite totally disappeared. I went five to seven days getting by on just a couple of crackers and sips of Gatorade and water. The thought of food made me queasy.
Days five through 10 were the absolute worst. Every day I felt worse than the day before. I felt like the air could not get deep enough into my lungs and the coughing fits left me choking and gasping for air. This was very scary to experience – knowing your breathing isn’t normal, especially since I live alone. In spite of this, I was able to recover at home. Though I had difficulty breathing, I never felt like I wasn’t getting enough air or that I was in danger that required emergency care. I slept pretty much all day for a week straight and followed my doctor’s orders to stay hydrated.
On day 11, I finally turned a corner. I’m glad I did, because I had decided the day before I might need to think about trying to go to the hospital because I just wasn’t improving. I definitely got much worse before I got better. All of my symptoms lasted a full 17 days. When I started getting better, they lessened a little each day until they were pretty much gone. It took five days for them to go away. It took another week for my energy and appetite to return.
I feel like I’m pretty much back to 100% now. I have had a couple of instances of chest pain but in my follow up with my doctor she said right now she doesn’t think it’s anything that won’t fully heal up in time.
How were your blood sugars while you had the virus? Did you have to manage your blood sugars differently or run into challenges with it?
Miraculously, my blood sugars stayed relatively stable throughout. I had some readings in the 200s when I was at my worst. I think they stayed stable because I was hardly eating, though the longer that went on, I had to adjust my insulin because I was starting to have some lows. This was a bit difficult to balance because I needed my blood sugar to stay up but I felt like I was physically unable to eat.
Is there anything to have on hand that you would recommend to other people living with diabetes?
I would recommend having Gatorade, water, soup, and crackers on hand in case you lose your appetite. I had to force myself to have a few things to avoid going low. Have at least a one-month stock of your supplies in the event you have to isolate. They recommend 14 days of quarantine in case you’ve been exposed but with isolation, it could be longer depending on how sick you are or how long your symptoms last. I wasn’t better in 14 days. This way you have what you need if you don’t have someone to help. Luckily, I had my parents nearby to come over and drop off food and other grocery needs at my front door.
How long were you sick for and how long were you quarantined for?
My full duration was 24 days. I had symptoms for 17 days and then it took another week for my energy and appetite to return fully. I was in isolation for 11 days, but still limited my outings for another week after I was cleared by my doctor – just to be safe. I missed two weeks of work. My job had gone remote on March 13th so I was fortunate to be able to return to work from home and still take it easy at the same time.
I am still obsessively washing my hands, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and limiting my outings. My doctor also suggested no physical contact out of an abundance of caution.
Now that you have recovered from COVID-19, do you hope to get the antibody test? Do you fear that you may contract this virus again?
I would like to get the antibody test to know what kind of immune response I had and what my immunity is going forward. I know the medical community is not 100% sure we’re immune after we’re infected, but my doctor said they feel confident that’s likely the case. There’s always that one in a million chance, though, so I am still being careful for my sake – and my parents’. I think it’s smart to still practice safety because diabetes is a bigger deal with illnesses and weakening your immune system. I’m sure diabetes factored into my unlucky circumstance of contracting the coronavirus and being so sick with it in the first place.
Self-care is so important, I’m sure being stuck at home and ill has taken a toll. What are you doing to make sure you take care of yourself?
I tried to majorly limit my news consumption, especially related to COVID-19. I still do this even though I’m recovered.
I definitely took it very easy and got plenty of rest. I didn’t try to push myself too far too fast.
I kept in touch with a lot of people. Having a wonderful support system made a huge difference.
When I was feeling up to it, I tried to fill my time with the things I love – favorite movies, reading books and magazines, video chatting with friends – seeing someone’s face really makes you feel connected!
People are very afraid; being that you have type 1 diabetes and now have survived COVID-19, what would you like to tell our readers? Any words of wisdom on how to feel about this whole terrible situation?
It’s discouraging and scary that all the coverage related to COVID-19 and diabetes focuses only on the higher hospitalization and death rates. My hope is that sharing my story of recovery can help ease others’ fears. Diabetes definitely makes it harder but I was able to recover at home.
I’d also say, listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to seek emergency care if you feel you need it. Try to stay as healthy as possible and shoot for good blood sugars – I fully believe this aided in my recovery.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! I am so glad you are okay and feeling better!
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