Those infected say variety of symptoms hit fast, hard
Albertans who have caught virus say symptoms liable to change day to day
When Tara Main woke up with a tickle in her throat in early December, she had no reason to think she'd been in contact with anyone who might have COVID-19.
Nevertheless, Main, 41, booked a test for that day, and started keeping her distance from her family and wearing a mask.
Within 16 hours, her test results came back positive, and that's when things got bad. She said she got progressively worse every day, with a range of symptoms.
“It rapidly changed, every day,” she said. “The symptoms changed and it turned into something else.
“With the flu, you kind of have the same symptoms every day. With COVID, it was as though it was trying every other thing to get me.”
One of her symptoms was a relentless fever that would no go down, even with Tylenol.
And she said the weakness and fatigue was almost unbearable.
“I can't even explain how bad it is. I couldn't move. I was trying to explain to my friend, squeezing my hand was difficult — almost painful. That's how weak my body was.”
She also developed a cough, a common symptom, although it didn't get too bad in her case.
However, she said the worst feeling was several days after her positive test.
“It was the middle of the night. I couldn't swallow water,” said Main. “I couldn't swallow saliva. I was scared. So that's when I went to the hospital.”
Main called 811 to talk to a nurse.
“I didn't know if I was overreacting. She said, `No, you need to call an ambulance because your airway could close.' ”
Hannah Kastelic, 20, also was struck by the way symptoms of COVID changed from day to day. She said the only constant was fatigue.
“My very first symptom was fatigue shortly followed by headache, runny nose and body aches all in one day,” said Kastelic. “By the next day, I had a cough. The headache, runny nose and body aches went away, but the fatigue and cough stayed.
“By Day 3 of symptoms I completely lost my sense of taste and smell, and I became weaker as it progressed, to the point where I couldn't stand up for more than a couple of minutes without feeling like I might pass out.”
She said the body aches were unlike anything she has ever experienced.
“It felt like it was in my bones — not just muscle aches,” she said. “It started in my hips and would shoot down my legs and eventually my whole body was aching.”
She said her body aches passed within a day, but her mother, who also caught COVID, suffered from that symptom for much longer.
Kastelic described her cough as very different from a cold.
“It felt like something was tickling the top of my lungs from the inside, and it makes you go into these coughing fits as your body instinctively tries to get rid of the tickle,” she said. “Your chest and body, of course, start to ache after coughing non-stop for days on end, so it's hard to say whether the chest tightness and slight pain was caused by the coughing or just another symptom of the virus itself.”
Kastelic also experienced the most unusual symptom reported by so many people who've tested positive — the loss of taste and smell.
Unlike with a cold, where a stuffy nose might make flavours taste off, she experienced a complete loss of smell, despite being able to breathe through her nose.
“I tried putting my nose up to candles, hand sanitizers, anything with a strong smell, you absolutely can't smell anything.
“The taste thing is also really unfortunate because you can't taste flavours, you can only taste whether something is salty or sweet. So suddenly chocolate tastes like a mouthful of sugar with no flavour, and savoury foods just taste like flavourless salt.”
She said even a raw clove of garlic tasted like nothing. She could only feel the physical sensation of burning. Main was not admitted to hospital, although they did treat her with steroids and fluids by IV for dehydration before releasing her back to her home, where she continued self-isolating in her room.
She also lost her sense of smell, which eventually returned just before Christmas.
Main documented many of her symptoms on Facebook so friends and family could understand it wasn't just a flu she was experiencing.
The virus took a toll on her whole family, even though she was the only one who got it, because of the stress and fear of it all. She said her husband had to miss work to stay home and look after her.
“We hear a lot on the media about — these are your symptoms, this is what you look for — but where's the experience? I want to hear someone who's actually had it. I want to know exactly what they're going through. And I can't find a lot of that out there.”
Kastelic said more than a month after testing positive, she still has some lingering fatigue and feels winded after climbing stairs.
She also has a rash on her face that emerged in the middle of her worst symptoms and has still not gone away.
“People also don't really talk about the toll it takes on your mental health,” said Kastelic. “You are locked up isolated for an extended period of time, no one wants to come near you — for good reason — and it can start to feel very depressing.
“Even afterwards there's a feeling that lingers, it feels like people still don't want to be near you once they know you've had COVID, even if you've recovered. It's definitely interesting to navigate life after having COVID.”
I couldn't swallow water. I couldn't swallow saliva. I was scared. So that's when I went to the hospital.