“I’m 30 years old and I’m struggling to breathe”: A Torontonian with Covid-19 tells his story

“I’m 30 years old and I’m struggling to breathe”: A Torontonian with Covid-19 tells his story

The writer in his west-end home

On Thursday, March 12, I spent the morning at work, in a mall shoe store. When my shift ended at 1:30 p.m., I headed home. A few hours later, exhaustion hit me like a wave. Suddenly, my limbs felt heavy and weak at the same time. I could barely stand up. It was only 5 p.m., but I was so lethargic that I lay down to take a nap. When I woke up a couple of hours later, my skin was burning. I took my temperature: it was 38.3° Celsius. I didn’t have any other symptoms, like a cough or a cold, so I thought it might just be the flu. Still, news about the coronavirus was spreading fast. At the end of February, I’d gone to England for a couple of days to visit my aunt, so it might have come from there. I didn’t feel any symptoms until 12 days after I got back to Toronto, though, so I wasn’t sure. Either way, I decided I needed to get tested, especially since I work with members of the public.

That night, at around 8 p.m., a family member drove me to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, near my apartment in the west end. When I got there, eight people were already waiting in a separate Covid-19 room, which looked so sterile it was practically gleaming. We sat far apart from one another, as doctors and nurses in full-length gowns, gloves, masks and face shields hustled to get us into our own rooms and away from one another.

A nurse fed what looked like a long, flexible Q-tip up through my nose and all the way down my throat, until it tickled there for five seconds. The testing itself didn’t hurt, but it felt disgusting. As I sat there, I wasn’t worried about being near other people in the hospital who might have the virus. I was more afraid that I’d been wandering around, unknowingly giving it to my family, my friends or my customers. When I got the call from the hospital, they told me I’d tested positive. I’d have to quarantine myself immediately for as long as it took for my symptoms to go away and for me to produce two negative tests. I wouldn’t have contact with the outside world for weeks, or even months.

At first, the symptoms felt like a regular flu. But every day brought some new and aggressive horror. On Friday, I developed a two-day migraine so bad that my eyes ached and I couldn’t look at bright lights. On Sunday, I felt good—I even had a reprieve of about six hours when I felt great, and I thought the worst had passed. Then the coughing fits started. By Tuesday, I felt terrible, with a fever, full-body exhaustion and a dry cough. My lungs felt like they were constricting. The shortness of breath is the worst part by far. I can’t even summon enough breath to talk on the phone. Any activity—from eating to walking to the bathroom to drinking a glass of water—leaves me gasping for air. I’m having coughing fits so violent that I have to take two-hour naps to recover when they’re finally over.

A week after my diagnosis, I went back to the hospital to see if they could do anything to help me breathe easier. It turns out I have pneumonia, but because my oxygen levels are okay, I’ve been instructed to stay home and monitor the situation. I’ve been taking Tylenol to help with the headaches, and taking naps to try to feel normal again. It’s not working. I live with one of my brothers, and we’re keeping a wide berth from one another. The only other people I’ve seen are my mom and my other brother. He’s brought me Pizza Pops, Eggo waffles and Gatorade. We’re doing food drops on the porch for now to make sure we’re not passing on the virus.

I’ve seen so many people, especially younger people, saying that this virus isn’t going to affect them and they shouldn’t be too worried. That’s dangerous thinking: it weakens your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to other illnesses. It’s not just the virus people should be worried about. It’s everything that happens around the virus: the extra infections, the possibility of infecting other people. Mild doesn’t mean what you think it means. I’m 30 years old and I’m struggling to breathe.