I reported on the coronavirus for 3 months - then I got it. Here's what my battle with COVID-19 has been like.

New York Coronavirus

  • I've been reporting on the coronavirus pandemic for Business Insider since early January.
  • Two weeks ago, I started feeling mild symptoms: body aches and chills. A week later, I had trouble finishing a sentence without gasping for air.
  • Two doctors told me I had COVID-19, but my case wasn't severe enough to test or to admit me to the hospital. I've been waiting it out at home.
  • I had prepared all along for this possibility, but it seems my local and federal officials hadn't.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

If I've learned one thing from covering the coronavirus pandemic for nearly three months, it's to prepare for the worst. When New York state announced its first case on March 1, I immediately purchased two weeks' worth of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, food, and coffee. I ordered a 30-day supply of essential medications.

For the next two weeks, I fielded my friends' frantic questions about whether they should continue to go to workout classes (probably not) or if it was safe to take a walk outside (yes, but stay 6 feet from others).Advertisement

When New York City ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, and schools on March 15, I made a pact with my two roommates and our four neighbors that we would only see each other from then on. We were seven people in total - well within the Trump administration's mandate to limit social gatherings to 10 people or less.

Two days later, my body started to ache.

The timing, I knew, was suspicious, but I was comforted by the fact that I had none of the virus' main symptoms: a fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing.
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I also knew that the people most likely to develop severe cases of the virus are older men with underlying health problems. Since I check none of those boxes, I wondered whether my illness was psychosomatic.

But doctors had told me that every person is vulnerable to infection. So when chills set in within 24 hours, I knew something was wrong. I could see why people might mistake symptoms like mine for the flu, but there was something unique about the pain coursing through my body. It felt like I had run a marathon, then been hit by a car. I decided to self-isolate inside my apartment. Advertisement

In the weeks to come, my reporting helped me understand what was happening inside my body and when to seek medical help. But none of it could have prepared me for the way it felt to sit alone in the emergency room, struggling to breathe.

Turned away at the emergency room

The aches lasted for a few days, then got progressively better over the first weekend of my illness. I assumed my health was on the upswing. I had forgotten my mantra to expect the worst.

Almost a week after my symptoms started, I started to feel pain in my rib cage. There was a pressure, too - as if someone was squeezing my lungs like an accordion. My breathing felt heavy.Advertisement

I scheduled a virtual appointment with a doctor, who told me to go to urgent care if my symptoms worsened. By that afternoon, I was having trouble finishing a sentence without gasping for air. A trip from the bedroom to the bathroom in my small New York City apartment left me so winded that I had to sit down - all this for someone who had been running 6 miles every Saturday along the East River.

The 1-mile walk to urgent care left me panting. I took breaks along the way.

When I arrived, I was given a face mask and escorted to a waiting room. No one else was there, and the doctor saw me almost immediately. He confirmed what I had suspected: I almost certainly had COVID-19. But the urgent care clinic wasn't administering tests. Advertisement

Aria Bendix in hospital

Instead, the doctor took my oxygen levels and asked me to walk and talk at the same time. Then he gave me a choice: I could be taken to the emergency room in an ambulance, or go home and try to ride the symptoms out.

Having written about the US's coronavirus testing issues, I knew that New York's capacity was woefully limited. I also knew that hospitals were starting to overfill with COVID-19 patients. I went home to lie down.Advertisement

By the evening, I couldn't take the searing sensation in my ribs or the race to catch my breath any longer. I asked a friend to drive me to the ER. Both of us wore face masks.

I sat in the waiting room, alone, for about an hour. Then I was taken to a pressure-controlled room about the size of a closet. When the doctor arrived, she told me there was nothing she could do to treat my symptoms. The fact that I could speak full sentences was a good sign, she said. In fact, she added, I was an example of why young people with mild cases needed to stay home. Since New York City hospitals are currently reserving tests for people with the most severe illnesses, many of the city's reported cases are acute patients. But research from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that most coronavirus cases are mild, suggesting that the majority of infections in New York City - including my own - don't factor into the official case count.Advertisement

"We unfortunately just aren't able to test everyone, even though we wish we could," Megan Coffee, an infectious-disease clinician in New York City, told me. "Right now we're having to focus on everybody who needs intubation and critical care."

Still, data from the New York City health department shows that people under age 44 represent about a fifth of the city's coronavirus hospitalizations and the majority of the city's diagnosed cases. Of the more than 36,000 cases reported at the end of March, more than 15,000 were among those ages 18 to 44.

My case is far from an anomaly. But as far as the data is concerned, it doesn't exist.Advertisement

In the emergency room, I asked the doctor what it would take for my case to no longer be considered mild - or even to warrant a test. The doctor said I would have to struggle to breathe while seated. (I certainly felt that way, but what more was there to say?) The hospital could do a chest X-ray, the doctor added, but it would only confirm what they already knew: I had the virus.

Before I was discharged, the doctor told me to come back if my condition deteriorated. I could barely imagine what that would feel like.

We shouldn't wait for death to spring into action

After about another week of sleepless nights and labored breathing throughout the day, I started to feel like I could inhale normally. That was around the same time that I developed a sore throat. For around 24 hours, I struggled to swallow food or liquid. Advertisement

By day 14 of my symptoms - the day I was supposed to no longer be contagious - the aches returned. I felt like I was back to square one, but at least I could breathe.

Now it takes a few laps around the apartment to make me winded. My body still feels like it has been run over by a truck. A clinician has advised me to remain indoors until my symptoms subside, whenever that may be.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was interviewing people confined to their apartments in Wuhan, China. Advertisement

I had prepared for this to become reality from the outset of my reporting. My political leaders, however, did not.

"There was so much optimism at the beginning," Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me a few weeks ago. "There was not a sense of urgency in the government writ large. People were downplaying the risks and telling people that there wasn't reason to be concerned." From a testing standpoint, the government didn't take the crisis seriously until mid-March, Alex Greninger, assistant director of the University of Washington Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory, told me. By that time, many Americans - including me - had already gotten sick. Advertisement

"It would have been helpful to know that it was spreading here," Greninger said. "Unfortunately it took real morbidity and mortality. It took the Italians. It took spread in Europe. It took death - I don't know another way to say it - to really invoke social distancing."

It also takes death, or at least the imminent possibility of it, to be admitted to a hospital or receive a test in New York City. Given that, I'm grateful I didn't require either.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.

And get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

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