As watchers of this space know, I have taken COVID-19 seriously since almost Day 1—helping my fellow entrepreneurs navigate this situation through my columns, CEO Forums, LinkedIn Live shows, and beyond.
But amid all the conversations and brainstorms and lean-on-me moments, there’s one scenario I hadn’t given much thought to: Getting COVID-19 myself.
Early on the morning of Sunday, August 9th, I noticed a text from my 20-year-old son in St. Louis: “Woke up with a fever and a bad cough. Called the doctor and she thinks its Covid. Would definitely recommend y’all lay low until my test results are back, 48 hours from 8 a.m.” We had just spent a week with him in Colorado, he drove straight back to college in St. Louis, while I drove home to Austin with my wife and two younger sons.
Thus began our up-close-and-personal journey into COVID-19.
Like most people, I’ve paid attention to the news about tests and cases. I generally know how things are going… but I didn’t know anyone who’d actually contracted the virus. I mean, sure, my clients’ nephew’s wife’s friend had it months ago, but I didn’t have any real firsthand knowledge about it.
Now I do. And I’m sharing my story because I want to try to demystify it a little bit. My hope is that my experience can help give a more human perspective on all this—and maybe ease some fears, while serving as an important reminder that the virus is still very much with us.
First, a Word About Testing
After getting that text from my son, we got up and decided that we should all get tested. Maybe my naivety is showing here, but I was not prepared for how bizarre the world of testing would be!
First of all, there are several different tests you can take. After a couple of quick Google searches, we decided on the one with the fastest results. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a 19-year-old kid in a hazmat suit who asked us for our driver’s licenses and handed us a glorified Q-Tip. “Stick this as far up your nose as you can until it’s so painful you can’t handle it anymore,” he told us. “Swirl it around for five seconds. Then do the same thing in the other nostril.”
Two hours later, we got word back that we had all tested negative. I was skeptical, so I decided to dig a little deeper. It turns out that the rudimentary test we did is called an “antigen test,” which can return false negatives in as many as 50% of tests! FIFTY percent!!! Couple that stat with the fact that I’m sure I’m not the best nose-Q-Tipper in the business, and I might as well have flipped a coin. We spent $130 each on the equivalent of a coin flip.
Even after the negative result, we went to bed Monday thinking we should be careful. We thought we’d be in the clear, but still wanted to be safe.
Then Come the Symptoms
Everything changed when my son called us at 8 a.m. Tuesday with the news that he tested positive. This was enough to convince me that the rest of us we were all probably false negatives. Especially me, as I was starting to feel some effects of the virus. In fact, it was comical how many symptoms I was having. Cough? Check! Fever? Check! Aching Muscles? Nausea? Headaches? Check, check, check! Diarrhea? Sorry… but check. The only symptoms I didn’t seem to have were the taste and smell problems that many have recorded.
From that point on, we assumed I may have it. But since no one else in the Austin clan was showing any symptoms, things got interesting.
When you’ve got the virus causing a global pandemic, things change for you really quickly, even in your own house. Sensibly, I banished myself to the guest room and to my garage office. But when I came ANYWHERE near other members of the family, you would’ve thought I was a zombie going door to door for donations! I heard things like, “the eagle has landed, avoid, avoid!!!” I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere in the house without a mask, and I certainly wasn’t allowed in the kitchen. I was passed food through the dog door, full-on prison style!
I scheduled a telemedicine appointment, and honestly there wasn’t much talk of treatment. I was advised to take it easy, drink plenty of water, sleep, and take vitamin C, D, and Zinc supplements. The doctor also encouraged me to buy a $30 pulse oximeter to measure oxygen flow in my blood. Evidently that’s one of the most telling signs that things are out of whack—anything under 90%, I was told, means you should go to the emergency room ASAP.
While following the doctor’s orders, I decided to retest just to be sure. This time, I elected for the molecular test (also known as PCR or RNA test), which is supposedly more accurate. I went to an emergency clinic and had a more, shall we say, professional experience. A nurse practitioner met my car as I drove up. He gathered my vitals and even wrote down a quick medical history. Then an actual medical professional came out and administered the swab. It was the same painful Q-Tip, just a little more professional this time! Two hours later, I got the call confirming what I already expected—I had COVID-19.
By the time I got the positive result, I had already been effectively self-quarantined for four days, so the results didn’t change much for me. Well, I guess it gave my family all the more reason to want nothing to do with me!
Meanwhile, love and support started pouring in from people OUTSIDE my family. I’m truly thankful to everyone who reached out offering to help and keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. A friend dropped off a bunch of treats for us and a former employee even sent me some gifts from Amazon! I do wish someone had answered my call for Deep Eddy Vodka and ice cream, but alas, I’m dry.
One aspect of having COVID-19 that I wasn’t expecting is the amount of curiosity people have about it. The pandemic has been a part of our lives for almost half a year now, and even though it’s affecting everyone in deeply personal ways, few people know someone so directly who’s actually contracted the virus! I can’t tell you how many “Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?” and “Are your dead relatives calling out to you?” type questions I’ve gotten!
But for all the jokes, there are also legitimate questions about how my symptoms are showing up, why I thought it was the virus and not just a run-of-the-mill cold, and how I’m keeping sane in true isolation. For the most part, the symptoms I had stayed mild and have mostly subsided now—I’ve been very fortunate thus far. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, and there’s so much we still don’t know about the virus’ long-term impacts, even on asymptomatic patients, but my experience with it has been, thankfully, pretty benign.
All in the Family
My wife thinks it’s “funny” that I have it. I’ve been outspoken about needing to open up the economy for fear that the impact of a broken economy outweighs the cost of the health side of the pandemic. She’s got a point, and like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to have a mild case, when so many others haven’t.
With two positives in the family, everyone was playing it safe and hunkering down at home. After my second test came up positive, the other three Wilkins decided to get a second test… which came up positive as well. Suddenly I wasn’t some scary zombie anymore! I was welcomed back into the rest of the house, which was bittersweet. I was getting used to having my own little world where I wasn’t expected to help with any chores around the house!
We think the worst is behind us. My St. Louis son is still taking it easy in isolation, but he seems to be on the road to recovery. My symptoms are clearing up with a few exceptions. My middle son and my wife haven’t shown any symptoms at all, and my youngest only has problems with taste. That’s one of the stranger parts of all this—the kid is fine, no cough, no fever, but any food or substance (particularly toothpaste) that stays in his mouth for longer than a second tastes like dirt! What on Earth is this thing?
Luckily, we seem to have a mild collective case. Soon we’ll be officially in the clear and we can move on knowing that we had it and got past it. We continue to pray for everyone who has contracted the virus, as well as the millions who have been impacted in so many other ways.
While trying my best to follow doctor’s orders to take it easy, I have gotten a little work done in my isolation. The CEO Forums took a one-week hiatus, but everyone is so fascinated by my journey, it seems like they’re living vicariously through me. I have also followed through with my Survival and Thrival series on LinkedIn, although I recorded them via Zoom so my team didn’t have to be in the same room as they usually are. Small price to pay for my team’s health and safety!
I’m going to continue to take it easy for the rest of this week, partially because it’s doctor’s orders, but also because I am still exhausted! Hopefully I can get back to full speed soon. No matter what, I’ll be quarantining for more than the 10 days widely recommended.
Part of me wonders if most of us will end up getting COVID-19 before all this is said and done. If that’s the case, hopefully my experience can help others who are afraid and confused. I’m only one person and our experiences with this once-in-a-century virus will vary, but my own story makes me hopeful that others can and will survive this thing. It’s easy to latch on to the scariest of headlines and political talking points—and I wish the media reported more about milder cases like mine, of which there are many—so I hope sharing my own real-world journey leads to a fuller understanding.
With COVID-19, we’re definitely not out of the woods yet. But I remain cautiously optimistic that we continue to learn more about the virus, how to prevent and treat it, and we’ll continue to return to some level of normalcy. Stay safe – stay strong – and Let’s Go!
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