My story, and the coping mechanisms I used in case it happens to you.
By Liana Grieg
This essay details what it’s like to go through a rough case of COVID. If you’ve been diagnosed, you might find my story helpful, or if you are mystified about the pandemic, and the toll the virus has imparted upon millions, here’s a firsthand account from someone in your network.
* Throughout this post you'll find a few recipes, resources and research I trust, all information is voluntarily provided without any lucrative motive.
Healthy Not Impervious
Usually I am considered the token “healthy girl” in my friend circles. Not to say I am extreme, or that I’d never eat a mini lemon cake for lunch, in fact I only just flicked those crumbs off my keyboard. What I mean is that I prioritize vegetable heavy choices in my diet and move my body very often. If I bring something to a dinner party, it’s probably an overly elaborate grain bowl of sorts, and I would love more local kombucha recommendations if anyone has suggestions. Overall I care a LOT about what I put both in and on my body and by maintaining this lifestyle, I usually avoid getting sick with common colds or whatever bug is going around.
The experience of being diagnosed, and then battling COVID has been very humbling. Maybe it was Boyfriend who got it first, or maybe an asymptomatic carrier gave me COVID. We will never know exactly how we contracted the virus, but we got it BAD. I can’t help but feel the obvious resemblance of catching COVID to catching an STD. Suddenly a mask is the new condom and there is natural hesitation to keep the diagnosis a secret but you must swallow your pride and communicate the news. Millions have been infected, and that for the most part, those hit the hardest were responsible, and not deserving of judgement. Partly I feel that people may think I was careless or that I got it because I was recklessly engaging in risky behavior, but these days that includes not washing your hands maniacally. For a while Boyfriend and I were wiping down every item purchased that we brought into the house with diluted bleach. Did we get COVID because we stopped doing that? Honestly I don’t think so. But the point is that there is some undeniable shame around testing positive, especially when you’re the “healthy girl.” The shame is not unlike when as a yoga teacher I injured my spine very badly, and the comments followed suit, “but how could you end up like that?” If they only knew how much I asked myself that question.
Life went from July on the beach and making plans for August to waking up with a throbbing headache and deep muscle aches in places where I have old injuries. Next the hummus in my fridge was tasteless, and my famously voracious appetite had abandoned me. It wasn’t until we bought a thermometer I stopped denying that my alternating frigid and flaming discomfort was the result of a common bug. Knowing myself, it was the lack of appetite that served as the nail in the coffin. A few days and increasingly symptomatic nights later, a doctor called to confirm what we already suspected.
The first thing we did was contact all friends who we had seen, and potentially exposed. This is the first time I felt shame. It’s gut wrenching to tell someone you have COVID, and to fear that you could be the reason that they get sick, or even worse pass it to someone in poor health. I am grateful that my friends were kind, and that nobody else tested positive.
With the first step out of the way, it was time to stock up on the essentials. This is where the COVID recovery kit comes into play.
The doctor’s orders weren’t a regimen of pills but rather instructions to stay home and ride it out since there isn’t a valid treatment. This was going to involve a lot of healthy food and alternative medicine. I felt empowered knowing that we were in charge of our recovery, unlike Boyfriend who felt abandoned by the doctors and lack of scientific advice. In this way we are very different people, but I had my mantra, and this affirmation guided me. “This disease cannot attack my mind, or get into my soul” I repeated this, and it helped me protect my mental health, when my physical health failed me.
What it really felt like
Obviously every experience is different, but I was surprised by how hard it hit me. We hear on the news a lot about extremes… death or “mild to no symptoms”, but how about the in-between? Here were my major symptoms:
Loss of appetite
Lack of taste
Fever & chills
Aching muscles & pain
Dry, persistent cough
Shortness of breath
Home Suite Home
In late February I arrived back in Barcelona to dedicate myself to Juno House, and a couple weeks later Boyfriend flew in. Despite both having lived many years in this city, neither of us had an apartment. Right before the state of alarm we found a great looking hotel, excellent location, stylish, with breakfast included. Woo hoo! Simplified. The staff, breakfast and ambience were charming so we extended our stay for another day, then another, soon it became clear that lock-down was being fully enforced. The owners were flexible (hello small business!) and kindly let us extend our stay to pay monthly and we made a community with the remaining staff members, together we rode out the wave as the quarantine was extended every fortnight.
After the first week of confinement we were upgraded to a studio with a kitchenette. Risks of infection was too great, thus the shared kitchen was off limits. Armed with nothing more than a paring knife, immersion blender, electric kettle, microwave and a mini egg boiler, the challenge was to create the most nourishing food possible.
Did we order delivery on occasion? Obviously.
Did our generous friends drop food off for us from time to time? Bless them, yes.
Did I push my culinary creativity daily? Absolutely.
I have always had a goal of documenting that you can pull off a healthy diet in trying conditions with the bare minimum, and I'm proud to say I put that kitchenette to work. When you're confined, arranging something beautifully on a plate goes from mundane to gratifying.
The dishes stacked up and the walls caved in by the end of our COVID journey, but we were lucky to have a sunny terrace with natural light, and each other. See the adorable quick sketch below by my beloved illustrator.
Home Suite Home, all 20㎡.
COVID recovery kit
Like many people, during the original quarantine we got used to ordering fruits and vegetables that were delivered in banana boxes supporting local businesses and farms. For dry goods I discovered a website with thousands of options that pass my requirements of no parabens, palm oil, preservatives, plastic packaging or added sugar, among my other demands. Boyfriend’s incredible fruit & veggie guy came to understand our situation and since we weren’t able to cook anything that ruled out the usual potatoes and eggplants so he hooked us up with a very special MEGA supplies box. Thanks to experimenting with the Raw Food Diet in the past I was prepared to make whatever showed up in that box work for us.
Let food be thy medicine is an absolute mantra in my household. I am a big fan of trying to cure most ailments with plants, herbs, supplements, amino acids, minerals, honey, intentional dietary regimens, acupuncture, Ayurveda, ocean dips, mountain air, laughter and things that can’t be purchased at your 24 hour pharmacy. I don’t trust magic pills except for Motrin for period cramps because good god, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. With that as my disclaimer let me make this clear, if you get diagnosed with COVID and start showing symptoms get the following items ASAP.
A fresh cayenne pepper or two
Red wine vinegar
Coconut oil (link explains why coconut oil is essential in virus fighting)
Echinacea, capsules or liquid
Natural cough syrup , based with agave or honey versus sugar
Natural sleeping aid , look for ingredients like melatonin, tryptophan and valerian root
Tired of people telling you to hydrate? Yeah me too. But think of it this way, my brother who is currently a medical student, once told me; “Liana, every process in your body requires water. Make it easier on every one of your systems by never creating a scarcity.”
Now apply that to this situation, Corona Virus attacks every system in your body. It really gets in deep, so with all systems on high alert fighting the cause don’t make lack of water, something you can so easily take care of, an issue. Get a variety of tea, kombucha, low sugar juice, squeeze lemons in water, whatever it takes for you to get a bare minimum of 3 liters per day. This is going to be harder than usual because you won’t be very active but consider it a non-negotiable. For those of you just trying to avoid COVID, consider this part of the strategy.
COVID can have a lasting effect on your respiratory system. The coughing can turn hideous and give you some really scary moments. The desperate news in springtime surrounding the lack of ventilators and the major brands who went from producing one technology into full steam ahead ventilator producer started to make a lot more sense. There were plenty of moments where it got to be really hard to breathe, sometimes between coughs all I could inhale was a tiny sip of air and my face turned beet red trying to keep the coughing suppressed long enough to exhale. This was the scariest part, Boyfriend was moments from taking me to the hospital in the middle of the night on several occasions and my insistent, albeit wordless protesting is the only thing that prevented it. That and we weren’t sure a cab would take us with the state I was in. While I felt with confidence I would make it through without a trip to the hospital, you shouldn't hesitate if you're not sure.
There is very little information about what to actually do if you feel sick enough to need a hospital. While the news reported hospitals overflowing, here in Spain they insist that you call the main health line (061) but we were never given the name of which hospital to go to if we needed emergency care. This meant we were going to have to wing it. Lack of information added to our overall feeling of…“we’re basically on our own.”
Respiratory symptoms know no bias. Serious athletes, professional singers, yogis, non-smokers, and other unsuspecting profiles with enviable lung capacity have all been reduced to the same experience. We learned to be mindful of our energy and stay calm. It tends to come on strong upon rising and at night (4am for my Chinese medicine aficionados!) Supplies lived close to the bed. Which supplies? Homemade cayenne elixir of course (see below), along with the cough syrup and plain water.
One of the threats that COVID poses is blood clots, which can lead to a stroke. It’s something most healthy young people don’t think too much about but multiple studies sourced by this physician have shown that blood clots are a risk to a wider age group than usual when COVID is involved and that one of the best homeopathic treatments is cayenne pepper. In layman’s terms here is one of the reasons that plants are cool. When you take a prescription or OTC medicine it’s typically tasked with fixing an issue, perhaps you have an excessively or under-performing action that needs to be corrected. When using certain plants they can be capable of correcting both inefficiencies, and once they’re administered in the body, they know which to do! Cool right? So not only are blood clots an issue in COVID patients, but hemorrhaging as well. Cayenne is an excellent treatment for both those things. Given that your sense of taste and smell might be dulled, this is an opportunity to take advantage. Since Boyfriend is Latino, for once my spice threshold was on par.
How to make the Cayenne Elixir:
Short glass jar
Ginger, a thumbs worth
1 cayenne pepper, fresh
2-4 teaspoons honey, approximately
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
Peel and chop the ginger into little tiny cubes.
Try a thin slice of cayenne flesh (no seeds).
Depending on how spicy the cayenne is, add about a teaspoon, chopped. There should be much less cayenne than ginger.
Add honey then vinegar and stir.
Let sit a few days before using. ***Optional: add a rosemary stem, leaving it intact. It’s anti-inflammatory and an immunity booster.***
Consume daily, eat a few pieces of ginger, especially when coughing, and use the vinegar for dressing.
Groceries and Smoothie Life
The only way to consume the amount of veggies and fruits we obtained in a timely way, as well as packing in the necessary servings was by blending. Here is a formula for the morning green smoothie we made for nearly 40 days!
Green Virus Killer Smoothie
LEAFY GREENS: kale, spinach or salad greens
FRESH HERBS: cilantro or parsley
CITRUS: orange slices or lemon juice
VEGGIES: cucumber (preferred) or zucchini
FRUIT: grapes or berries
GINGER: knuckle sized piece
CHILLED WATER: approx 400 ml each
Along with the smoothie we’d share a large bowl of fruit. We got lucky to suffer the brunt of COVID in August when the best variety was peaking. The green smoothie and sliced fruit is one of the daily habits that has continued since we're back to normal and I LOVE it. Breakfast like this image below keeps me feeling light and makes me hungry for a good lunch.
Lunch would be a “Sorceress Salad”, the newest moniker from Boyfriend who perhaps doesn’t have my vision for veggies but doesn't mind eating almost the same thing daily. I got away with a limited ingredient variety by just changing the dressing, shape of the veggies, ratio of this and that, etc (more examples documented on @moving_health).
Bottom line, fruits and veggies will be the star of the show from morning till night.
Sleep is King
I didn’t figure this out till my late 20s’ but I finally learned. When you’re fighting Corona Virus you’re going to need a lot of sleep. Occasionally we’d wake up near noon (OMG), but mostly it was 9-10 hours of rest. Turn off all your alarms, sleep is the repair work period and honestly, it helps the long confined days go by faster. Naps might fit in, but if you’re like me then all the horizontal time starts to wear on your muscles and your sense of humor. Admittedly we watched many movies (Disney + was a good subscription) and I tore through many books but it was imperative to implement body movement breaks. These would range from a bare minimum of 10 push-ups (knees down, no shame) to some lunges and Sun Salutations but seldom went further than that. The body is too damn tired to work out.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Two weeks after the first positive test, we wanted to be better but the truth is that we weren’t. The PCR test came out positive again, we’d feel better for a day or two then crash with symptoms. Slowly the two good days would become three and the periods between our bad spells got longer. Ultimately we were self-quarantined for well over a month. In part this is because the hospital won’t issue another PCR test after a positive result until another two weeks has gone by. Boyfriend's third PCR tests came back positive so we gave it yet another week till the persistent coughing truly subsided. At this point the doctors listened to our case, and issued an antibodies test, by now I had opted for a private lab where I got the €60 antibodies test because the turn around is faster and the results are more clear. That being said the PCR is your black and white test that is best for those who are unsure if they’re infected. The antibodies test in our case was useful to indicate how advanced the infection was.
There’s a lot of bad information out there, and I am not a medical professional. Thankfully people I trust explained antibodies tests and this guide explains simply how to read your results. I was able to interpret that mine showed I was technically not in the infection period anymore but finally doctor called and confirmed that our virus was no longer active and that despite the third positive PCR test we ceased to be contagious. With so little information available, it’s important to err on the side of caution always and wait for doctors to tell you when you are no longer infectious, versus winging it.
Back to normal?
Not exactly. Easing back to real life has been strange, we thought we’d run back to our friends but we continued to spend a lot of time inside. Summer is gone, and maybe we missed some things, but I am more aware than ever of my mental and physical strength. If you would like to chat with me in private about your own experiences or fears let me know. We talk so much about COVID, without really talking about COVID. Let’s change that among women, in this space.