In late October, I had a breakthrough case of COVID. Despite being fully vaccinated and being careful with my mask wearing, the virus managed to enter, replicate, and infect me. I’ve already shared my experience with some others but wanted to write and preserve this for others who may want to know what those who have tested positive have gone through.
To jump to the end, I am doing fine and have not had any on-going issues.
To begin, my exposure likely came from work where I serve as one of the primary people conducting rapid tests for our employees and students who are concerned they may be positive. While I have a pretty good idea of the occasion that led to my infection, those details are not important to my story. I just wanted to share that despite my precautions, I was more likely than many others to be exposed.
On a Tuesday evening, I started feeling a bit congested in my sinus passages. This is not unusual for me, especially in the fall when ragweed is out and triggering my allergies. Thought nothing of it and went about my night without worry.
Wednesday morning started with a runny nose. Knowing that was a symptom of the Delta variant, I conducted a rapid test on myself when I got into the office and it was negative. Figuring I had a cold at that point, I went through my day, but still was a bit more careful. To be clear, I am a regular mask wearer at work, even when I am not in our school buildings where it is required. That evening, my wife and I went to dinner and celebrated my daughter’s senior night for marching band. That event was outside and kept moving at a nice clip so there was no one within the close contact definition of being within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes.
Thursday morning started as normal. I woke up and started getting ready. The first “oh shit” moment occurred when I sprayed my usual spritz of cologne and could not smell it. I then sprayed another directly into my hand and again, could not smell it. I finished getting dressed and went downstairs and got a rapid test from my briefcase (remember, I’ve been testing people at work!) and administered it. By the time I turned around to throw away the packaging and then back around to the test, the bright pink line indicating a positive result was already showing. That led to my second “oh shit” moment. I donned a mask and went back upstairs to let my wife know of the positive test result.
After gathering a few items, I relocated to our basement. I feel very fortunate that we have a finished basement complete with a bedroom, a full bathroom, my home office, a leather couch, and a TV. I was set except for food! At this point, I continued to have some congestion (not bad) and a runny nose. There have been worse colds going through my body! I spent the morning letting my coworkers know. A few would be considered close contacts, soI made sure they would monitor for possible symptoms and get tested when recommended to do so. I’m thankful that none of them tested positive.
Friday continued much the same way and I worked remotely all day. Still a bit congested, the flow from my nose had ceased. At the recommendation of my aunt (a registered nurse) I had reached out to my primary care physician to ask about getting Regeneron, an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. I met some of the criteria (thanks to a BMI higher than it should be) and late that afternoon they provided guidance on who to contact to set an appointment. While I still felt fine, I did follow-through and contacted the office. This was at about 4:00 Friday and their next appointment was Monday at 11:00am. I took the appointment and continued on with my day in the basement. Pizza was delivered to the top step and I watched some quality TV!
Saturday morning arrived and now more congestion was present in both my head and in my chest. I also felt more fatigued than normal, but again, I was in my basement. I, sadly, missed my daughter’s band contest that day, and really just felt more lousy as the day progressed. The congestion was worse and I was running a fever by the afternoon. Unfortunately, I was also missing out on visiting my son who had come home for the weekend to see the band. I’m glad he came so that my wife had company at the band contest.
Speaking of my wife, she was definitely a close contact. She had her initial two vaccines in March and had gotten a booster (or a 3rd dose) in late August as she is immunocompromised. She tested numerous times after my positive test and thankfully remained clear! This was my biggest worry while in the basement and I remain so so thankful that I did not pass it to her.
Saturday night was a low point. I slept fitfully with bouts of being cold (thanks fever) and then getting hot under the blankets. At one point, I had gotten up to go to the bathroom. I ended up laying on the floor just exhausted and unable to even get back to the bedroom. A couple of towels made a pillow and blanket while I dosed on the floor. I finally captured enough energy to get back to the bed and slept solidly for several hours. My high fever (at least as I measured it) was that night at 101.9 F. This was no longer just like a mild cold.
Low key would be my description for Sunday. My fever continued to ebb and flow through the day (as I took acetaminophen) and my congestion actually eased somewhat. While I had been skeptical about the Regeneron, I found myself on that Sunday looking forward to receiving it hoping it would make me feel better.
By Monday morning, I felt that my head congestion was gone but my chest congestion remained. My fever was still present, but lower than over the weekend. I was looking forward to getting out of the basement for more than getting food from the kitchen when I went to my appointment. I left at 10:50 for the 5 minute drive to the doctor’s officer where the Regeneron was being administered. I completed the on-line check in and after a 20 minute wait in my car, was told to go in.
The infusion was quick (25 minutes or so) and I watched the medicine drip through the tube into the top of my right hand. Once done, I was sent on my way and I took the long way home!
Monday afternoon (about 3 hours after the infusion) was quite the ride. I felt awful! Tired, shaking, cold. Like the side effects of the 2nd vaccine dose to another magnitude. While my mind knew that this meant good things, I wasn’t feeling it at the moment and just shivered under my blankets while on the couch. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt worse. Finally, at about 9 that night, the shivering stopped, the fever broke, and I started sweating profusely. I went to bed hoping that I could sleep. Thankfully, I did.
Tuesday morning, I woke up and felt great. No congestion, no fever, no fatigue. Once I showered (eww, sweat) I felt human again. While I continued to sweat despite doing nothing, all of my other symptoms (except the loss of smell) were gone! I joined a meeting remotely that afternoon (as I had been able to do the previous week) and ate a good meal that evening. I even did some laundry so that I could keep things fresh in the basement!
The rest of my basement isolation passed slowly. My symptoms remained non existent and remote work was supplemented with time to read and some extra sleep. For me, getting to Saturday meant freedom and the chance to see my daughter’s final marching band contest at the state finals in Detroit. Saturday morning arrived, I conducted a rapid test on myself to confirm that I was clear from spreading to others, and went up to rejoin my family and civilization as a whole.
My sense of smell was already beginning to return. I was getting what I would call hints of smell. Within a week, I had regained most of the sense. In a weird twist, I never lost my sense of taste. That was a bit freaky being able to taste my food, but not smell it.
So, I am fine now. I’m thankful to have been fully vaccinated as experiencing COVID that way was bad enough. I cannot imagine the suffering that may have befallen me if I had not primed my immune system. The Regeneron (monoclonal antibodies) certainly gave my system a boost and drove the remaining virus away. Thank you science!
I look forward to getting a booster (I have to wait 90 days from the date of my infusion) so that I can hopefully be prepared to fight off future variants (like Omnicron) and I hope that the preliminary studies suggesting hybrid or super immunity after a breakthrough infection prove to be accurate. Only time will tell. Science is imperfect and is always evolving. Unfortunately, so is the virus.
Brad, thank you for sharing your story with us. I am sure you did everything that worked because you have kept yourself informed about the virus and believe in the benefits of science. Bravo to you for being conscientious and caring enough to not just look out for yourself but for others as well.