CBA Nov.-Dec. 2020

My Covid-19 Journey By Judge Kristal Rivers

I wrote this firsthand account because I want people to know that Covid is something to fear and should be actively protected against until a vaccine is created or a cure is found. I spent Saturday, August 8, 2020, preparing my mother’s house for sale. I felt fine, but throughout the day, on my husband’s trips to remove items, he kept telling me that I “looked bad.” When I was finished for the day and I arrived home, my husband said I looked terrible. Although I have no memory of the conversation, he tells me I suggested he sleep on the couch. I woke up countless times that night, and I remember think- ing I wasn’t going to live long. I felt as I imagine a centenarian must feel. My every tendon, muscle, and joint throbbed with pain. To go to the bathroom, I walked hunched over with agony reverberating throughout my body. Before the night was over, I’d taken 12 Advils, 6 Alleves, and 2 Tylenols. I was sure I’d die soon. The next day my husband and I spent hours online looking for a Covid-19 testing site that was open on a Sunday and didn’t require a doctor’s note. At 5:30 p.m. that day - August 9, I paid $150 for a rapid test and 27 minutes later, learned that I was positive for Covid-19. I spent the next 14 days isolated in my bedroom. I’m lucky; mine was considered a mild case. By noon that Sunday, I only felt tired and achy, with a migraine, mild cough and low-grade fever. Three days later, I completely lost my ability to smell or taste. Fortunately, my oxygen level never dropped below 94%; any less and I would have needed supplemental oxygen. I tested negative on August 23, but the effects of Covid-19 continue, months later. For three weeks I had a nonstop migraine. After four weeks, I had one every few hours. Eight weeks in, I had regained 20% of my ability to taste; however, I still can’t detect complex seasonings. For example, I can identify a lemon by taste and smell, but when eating gumbo, I

only taste salt. Ten weeks after diagnosis, I still felt exhausted, easily requiring a five-hour nap. My breathing is some- times labored, and walking the 400 steps to my chambers has left me winded and panting. While standing idly, my heart feels heavy, and my heart rate might race past 100 bpm. I was warned not to exercise. After a series of tests, doctors told me that Covid has caused my heart to become dilated – a condition that can cause a major heart attack or stroke. I consulted two cardiologists,

Photo courtesy of of Justice Michael B. Hyman

and neither could tell me how the condi- tion will affect me nor do they know if the dilatation will decrease. If it increases I may need daily medication, a pacemaker, or a heart transplant. Complications, like my long-term symptoms, are a reality, rather than a remote possibility. Their effects should not be disregarded. I recently read about Dmitriy Stuzhuka, a 33-year-old fitness guru who died from complications of Covid-19. No one dies from Covid-19 itself; it’s always the com- plications. Despite being a pillar of health, Stuzhuka was taken down. For me, a thin, then healthy 48-year-old who ate well and worked out, I managed to live through the initial days of the virus. Yet, truthfully, no one can predict my ultimate outcome from the complications. Fearing Covid-19 is not aWeakness The focus of Covid-19 has been on who survives, and who dies. This myopic view fails to take into account people like me, who recover, but live with long lasting Covid-related symptoms. Since most who contract Covid-19 will recover, some think it’s a good idea for everyone to contract the disease for future immunity. Currently, scientists theorize that immunity lasts only three months. In

cases where people have contracted Covid twice, the second bout had an increase in severity. While death is certainly the worst out- come, lingering Covid symptoms should not be overlooked. The impact on health, healthcare, the workforce, and the overall economy will be devastating. A study con- ducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine indicated that nearly 40% of its respondents reported symptoms lasting over three months. These include damage to nerves and organs, chronic fatigue, loss of hair, brain fog, loss of smell, debilitating migraines, and loss of taste. Fearing this disease is not a weakness, nor does it undermine your faith. It is accepting that there is a monster out there that could permanently alter your life. It is a monster that you can pass on to someone whose life may be irrevocably changed. It is a monster that you should do everything to avoid.

Judge Kristal Rivers is a judge of the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois.


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