Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scary Account of Two Young Adults With COVID-19

Scott Denning is a climate scientist at Colorado State University. I don't know him personally, but we've had several good conversations on the phone when I've had questions -- his specialty is the carbon cycle. He's been very generous with his time. On Facebook he posted this account of his adult children's experience with COVID-19. Well worth reading; it's quite scary, especially if you're not a young whippersnapper anymore, and, as this account attests, even if you are. Note that neither of these people were counted in the numbers being used to measure the pandemic.
Scott Denning is with Madison Denning and Nate Denning.
As many of you are aware, both my kids got sick in April with COVID-19. I want to share their experience so you get an idea of what it's like for patients with very low risk.

Nate is 26. Maddie is 22. Both were robustly healthy before getting sick, and both became extremely ill from the virus.

Maddie works at a supermarket and was almost certainly exposed to the virus at work. This is what we mean by "essential workers:" the ones who are virtually certain to get exposed because (a) their jobs must be done no matter what; and (b) they don't have a job that can be done from home. Nate probably picked up the virus from Maddie when they visited each other a few days before Easter.

Both kids initially reported flu-like symptoms: cough, body aches, headache, fatigue. Neither ever developed a fever. After several days of worry but nothing too serious, each of them got much much worse (Nate about a week after Maddie).

Maddie had one very bad sleepless night where breathing was quite difficult and then several days of painful lungs and wheezing. Thankfully, she then started improving and was symptom-free about a week later.

Nate had a more difficult time. He developed burning lungs and had a very hard time breathing, for many days and nights. He couldn't get his blood oxygen above 88, and he could barely sit up in bed. Eating and going to the bathroom were very difficult for about a week. We talked with him every day on the phone, and it was like talking to somebody running a marathon. He wheezed and gasped about every two or three words. It went on and on and didn't get any better though thankfully neither did it get much worse from there.

He was scared. We were scared.

Both kids contacted our family physician when they first came down with symptoms. Both were diagnosed via "telemedicine" (over the phone) and neither were offered a SARS-CoV-2 test. I'm pretty sure neither is counted as one of the "cases" in Larimer County, because they were not tested. Makes me wonder about the case counts we see on the internet.

Both kids were very strongly discouraged from visiting the doctors' office. Each was told to go to the ER if they took a sudden turn for the worse. Each was told that if they didn't improve on their own they could receive a prescription for a steroid inhaler to make breathing easier by reducing inflammation.

Testing, hospitalization, and even inhalers are not being used in northern Colorado for low-risk patients like my kids. They are still scarce enough that they are reserved for more serious cases.

Nate called in several more times during the course of his illness and was eventually prescribed the inhaler, about two weeks into the disease. This was after almost 10 days of being extremely ill, certainly the most severe illness of his life up to now.

The inhaler relieved his lung inflammation dramatically, to the point that he immediately was able to get his blood oxygen above 90 and he began to recover quickly. Within three days of starting the inhaler he was pretty much completely recovered.

As some of you know, Nate was nearly killed in a horrific car accident 10 years ago, when he was 16. At that time, he spent 3 weeks in the hospital with a broken spine & pelvis and then three months in a wheelchair. He now says his bout of COVID-19 was about as bad as the recovery from the car accident, maybe worse.

Like almost everyone who gets COVID-19, my kids both survived. Unlike some, they are both pretty much back to normal -- that is, to the robust good health that most 20-somethings take for granted. Of course they were both very low-risk to begin with.

We are very grateful!

Having watched the virus ravage these two healthy young people, I can't help but think how much worse it's likely to be for me or Jennifer, or for friends our age. Or for people who are older or sicker than we are.

Please take precautions to keep yourselves and your loved ones healthy. It's true that some people have mild or even nonexistent symptoms of this disease. It's also true that many people considered to be at low risk will develop extremely serious, even life-threatening illness.

And when you pick up your groceries or get them delivered, think about the millions of minimum wage heroes toiling away day and night in masks and gloves behind the scenes, risking a terrible illness to keep the milk flowing!

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