My Hardest Days With COVID 2 : "I had symptoms despite getting a negative COVID report"

I had nausea too with occasional vomiting. I had lost my appetite totally. I was very tired. However, my body temperature was 99° F only. I did not experience any breathlessness either.

My Hardest Days With COVID 2 : "I had symptoms despite getting a negative COVID report"
66-year-old Sowrirajan suffered from chronic cough and throat trouble. Deciding not to take it lightly, he went in for a COVID test, which came out negative. Problems continued as he had to be admitted following a decline in lung function. Read to know how a misdiagnosed COVID test landed this senior citizen in the hospital.

I have a very sensitive throat. I keep getting Pharyngitis attack - throat irritation, fever and hoarse voice - atleast twice a year, every year, right since my childhood. I religiously go to the doctor, get antibiotics prescribed and consume them for 3 to 5 days and get well. This has become a routine of sorts, over the years.

By the middle of September 2020, I got the same infection signs. I immediately consulted my family doctor who knows my condition very well. He prescribed antibiotics, paracetamol and antihistamine tablets and I was hoping that in about 5 days from then, I would be all right. It was not to be. Though the fever came down, there was no respite from throat irritation and dry cough. I called on the doctor again and inevitably, the name of Corona figured in our talk. The doctor said he can't rule that out, but said that 5 days of antibiotics already taken, may distort the swab test result. Again, knowing my susceptibility to throat-related ailment for long, he prescribed another stronger antibiotic. This time, he was very clear that I should come and report to him after 3 days, without fail, if my discomfort continues.

Not only was there no improvement, but my coughing also worsened. I had nausea too with occasional vomiting. I had lost my appetite totally. I was very tired. However, my body temperature was 99° F only. I did not experience any breathlessness either.

On the 3rd day, after taking the second course of antibiotic tablets, I felt quite uncomfortable and coughed non-stop. Unfortunately, I could not get my doctor over the phone on that day and I decided to go for Covid test on my own. My throat and nasal swabs were collected from my home by a reputed Diagnostic Centre. The same evening, the test result came and I had tested Covid Negative. Wow !!
I was relieved. However, this was rather short-lived.

I could talk to my doctor over the phone on the morning of the next day. I was heavily coughing and my tiredness was showing in my voice. The Doctor wouldn't rest on that Covid Negative test result. He insisted that I should immediately go for a CT Scan of the Chest, which would give a clearer picture. I got it done the same day and even before I returned home, the CT Scan result was advised over the phone by the Scan centre to my doctor. I came to know later that the CT Scan result indicated the presence of Covid Pneumonitis, with about 15 % of my lung volume on both the right and left sides getting affected.

My family members underwent a Covid Swab test and all of them fortunately were 'Negative'. Since no one had complaints of cough or fever, the CT Scan was not advised for them.

My family doctor helped me in getting admission to a reputed private hospital in the suburbs of Chennai. I found myself in the hospital bed in no time. It was on 24th Sep 2020.

The hospital plunged into action. I was started on IV fluids, IV antibiotics, IV steroids, antivirals ( one medicine hitherto not so popularly known and has become widely known in the post-Covid outbreak is Remdisiver and I had 6 doses of the same ), Vitamin C, Zinc supplements, anticoagulants, mast cell stabilisers, etc. etc.

The oxygen saturation level, BP, Sugar levels, temperature were frequently monitored.
Chest x-rays were also taken through the mobile x-ray unit. Various blood tests were taken on a daily basis. The hospital doctor said my medicines were started before damage to the lungs became very severe. The hospital managed me well without oxygen support or ICU admission.

After 7 days, when all the parameters showed an improvement, another Covid Swab test was taken which showed 'Negative' and at my request another CT scan was taken, though the doctor over there said it is not required. The hospital doctor said that there are improvements in my CT Scan report also and that I will be discharged the next day. Accordingly, I was discharged on 2nd Oct, after 8 days in the hospital. I was advised to be in-home isolation and rest for two weeks from the date of discharge. Some medicines were also prescribed.

Only on reaching home, I chanced to see my discharge summary and various test results including the CT Scan report of the previous day. I had no access to it when I was in the hospital.

The exit level CT Scan test taken on 1st Oct 2020, ( after 7 days of my hospitalisation ) showed RT-PCR positive ( CORADS 6 ) which pointed out the presence of Covid.
The scenario was no different from the entry-level. It was Action Replay - Swab test showing 'Negative' and CT Scan showing RT- PCR positive. I panicked. Immediately, I consulted my sister-in-law who is a doctor. She pacified me and said it will take weeks to months for the CT changes to resolute. That is the reason why they don't go for a repeat scan within a short time interval. Treating Doctors normally get guided by clinical observations and oxygen saturation improvement. In addition, the exit scan talked of "...fibrotic bands..." which was indicative of the healing process, as the fibrotic bands get formed like scar, when the healing happens.
Subsequently, the hospital doctor who treated me also confirmed this when I contacted her on a video call for follow-up , after 5 days of discharge. I was given a prescription to continue a few medicines for further 2 weeks and was cleared to resume my normal routine after the isolation phase originally advised.

As on the date of writing this , which is over a month from date of discharge, there is no fever, no throat pain, no coughing. Oxygen saturation shows a consistent 99 reading, which is great. But, two things continue to bother :

An increased heart / pulse rate ( pulse oximeter shows it around 100 all the time and at times when I have even the slightest exertion , it goes near 130. It comes down gradually once I rest. I am informed by the doctors that this condition called tachycardia will be there in the post-Covid recovery phase in some people and that it will settle down gradually. The prescription for this is pranayamam ( breathing exercise).

The second thing to bother me is my continuing weakness. I feel quite exhausted even though I don't do anything that normally causes physical or mental stress. The fatigue I experience , even after one month of my discharge from the hospital is quite baffling.
Here again, I am informed by the doctors that the condition is not uncommon in this phase and will wear off gradually. The prescription is that I should eat well and rest.

Well, here are the take aways from my Covid experience, which may be of use to the readers :

1. Covid virus spares nobody. No one can be sure of not catching it ( or getting caught by it, more precisely ). I am still at a loss to know how I contracted it, despite my care and general habits. If it is destined to catch you, it will. No, I am not philosophical. I am only practical. Precautions like maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, not stepping out to crowded areas, washing hands frequently , etc are surely mitigating factors , but , unfortunately don't guarantee one from getting affected by the virus.
Any slightest provocation is sufficient for the virus and one wouldn't even know what it is
Some people ( thankfully a minority ) who religiously adhere to the above discipline end up getting the virus attack. On the other hand, people who are absolutely indifferent and throw all precautions to the winds go scot-free.
This is not at all to be construed as saying that there is no need for taking safety precautions and that they are futile. I am only highlighting that despite the care, in some cases, repeat, in some cases, it is possible to contract the virus.
There are many other contributing factors like one's general immunity level, presence or absence of co-morbidities, the infection level of anyone, one may come into contact with.- even if briefly, etc, etc.

So, without getting shocked , asking "why me?' or "how me?", one has to accept it can affect anyone anytime. Such a state of mind will go a long way in facing the situation boldly. This is important because it is the mind that matters the most.

2. It should be understood that a 'Negative' result in the Swabs test does not rule out the possibility of Covid-19 infection and it may be due to mutations / inhibitory substances.
Detection of SARS-Cov2 is dependent on factors like proper collection technique, time of the testing, etc . For example, Covid presence may not be detected in the incubation period. Some patients may have CT Chest findings and negative RT-PCR for SARS-Cov2 , as it happened in my case.
So, what is to be noted is, Swab test result should not be the sole guiding criterion. The result must be interpreted by a doctor who will clinically correlate it to his observations including CT imaging contexts. In short, an early celebration of 'Negative' test result is to be avoided if the conditions suggest otherwise. Leave it to the professional wisdom of a doctor to zero in on the diagnosis.

While on this point, I would also like to emphasise the need for following the Doctor's advice, if it is for hospitalisation without arguing or settling down for home quarantine . I shudder to think what could have happened to me without all those medicines and monitoring at the hospital.

3. One should understand the importance of Mediclaim Insurance Policy. It is important to have the policy renewed every year in time, to keep it alive , notwithstanding the steep hike in insurance premium one may encounter. In my case, I had not made a single rupee claim in all these 6 years of my post-retirement life , as I was fortunate not to have fallen sick warranting hospitalisation. But, this year is a different story. No one can predict when a dire need will arise.

Also, if you have an Id card issued by the Insurance Company with your membership number / policy number, etc., keep that handy. It will relieve you of a lot of avoidable tension in an atmosphere already full of stress. I should admit here that in my case , things relating to hospitalisation happened in such a hurry that I didn't have the Insurance details handy. One of my friends who is ex-colleague took care of the requirements and ensured that the process was smooth . Not everyone can expect good Samaritans to be present all the time . So, keep the insurance particulars handy.

4. After successful treatment at the hospital , the patient is generally advised to be on home isolation and rest for 2 weeks. In my view , this is the most crucial period. Generally hospitals do not keep the patients beyond absolutely necessary period, as home offers a more conducive atmosphere for convalescence. Here, the point I would like to emphasise is, it is not only about isolation but also about rest. Non-adherence to doctor's instructions in the recovery phase , in some cases , sees inflammation , complications in lungs, cardiac problems, etc.. That is where breathlessness, fatalities occur.
Rest, isolation, medicines intake and pranayamam ( proper breathing exercise ) are important in this context.

5. Much has been said about what dietary routine is to be followed in the post-Corona recovery phase. Many do's and many more don'ts. New concoctions are prescribed. Suddenly you find experts all around you. I am informed by well experienced doctors that there are no specific dietary restrictions from Corona angle. Eat well, Eat nutritiously - are the only two prescriptions I received. I find it easy to follow.

6. Last but not the least, there is one greatest positive that emerged from this Corona experience. The love and affection of the near and dear ones found expression and the prayers and good wishes simply poured in . It was really a very humbling and moving experience. Anyone who undergoes such an experience will resolve to be more compassionate and more affectionate towards not only the close knit family and friends, but towards the fellow human beings at large.

Well, in conclusion, I would like to state that one can't evict Corona just by wishing it away. While a vaccine to prevent the dreaded virus is still elusive , medicines for treating it once contracted, do exist thankfully. Strict adherence to professional advice received from the doctors will ensure early bouncing back to normalcy.

Take care. Stay safe.

Written by R. Sowrirajan

Times of India (Re-published by Kangla Times in public interest)