Please note: Brianna’s experience and the medical care she received are not medical guidelines and are intended for informational and anecdotal purposes only. Please speak with your medical care provider if you are not well.
As a medically complex adult with an extremely rare autoimmune disease and compromised lungs and heart, COVID-19 scared me and omicron’s surge made my fear even more present. Because I was sick much of 2020 and 2021, I was more cautious about avoiding COVID-19 than most people. New medicines enabled my health to improve, however, and I spent the last 6 months of 2021 building back my strength and fitness.
Entering 2022, full-on pandemic fatigue hit me and with my improved health, I decided to try to live the “new normal” as best I could. I was vaccinated and boostered, wore masks, stayed distanced, and washed my hands. I was as prepared as I was ever going to be. I was thrilled to be playing indoor soccer, coaching my kids’ hockey teams, and seeing my mom friends again.
I thought I would have a fighting chance against COVID-19. I was feeling stronger, my doctors agreed that my health had improved. I watched countless friends catch COVID-19, recover quickly, and without complications. I was wrong.
On Sunday, January 16th my husband tested positive.
He was asymptomatic and tested as a precaution so his positive result caught us by surprise. I had been sick for weeks prior but repeatedly tested negative. My symptoms were chalked up as just another mystery of my autoimmune disease. On that Sunday when my husband tested positive, I still tested negative. This was the calm before the storm.
The following day, I tested positive and I was upset. The few weeks leading into this had been stressful medically. I was confused by my symptoms. Could I have had COVID-19 the entire time and just repeatedly tested negative? Were my symptoms going to get worse? Would the vaccine do its job? Would my lungs be able to handle it?
I called my primary care doctor. She immediately ordered a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis which was indeed positive. At this point, I didn’t feel great, but not markedly worse than I felt the weeks leading into this. My priority was continuing my normal asthma treatment the next day. Without this asthma medicine, my lung function would decline quickly, and my medical team agreed that receiving this treatment was critical.
As a medically vulnerable adult with compromised breathing, my COVID-19 infection had my doctors on alert. On Thursday morning, my primary care physician called me to discuss possible treatments I would be eligible for as a high-risk patient. She mentioned monoclonal antibodies and said they were in short supply. I later learned that while the delta variant responded to several types of monoclonal antibodies, omicron only responded to one (*as of the time of this publishing). This meant the limited supply of monoclonal antibody treatment was even more scarce and that there were much tighter restrictions on who could receive it. I reached out to my pulmonologist to inquire about this treatment.
As Thursday progressed, my condition deteriorated. My symptoms worsened and my lungs were starting to show signs of struggle. I developed a cough, and my oxygen levels were dropping below my normal range.
My pulmonologist informed me that I was not a candidate for the monoclonal antibody infusion. Due to the limited efficacy for omicron, it was only offered to severely immunocompromised patients. While I understood this, my heart sank.
Then my doctor mentioned Paxlovid. I had no idea what this was.
She explained it is an antiviral medication that can be taken at home. There were a lot of medicine contraindications for my daily medicines, as well as bureaucratic hoops to jump through. For an hour, she walked through my unique medicine list to determine its safety for me while simultaneously calling all pharmacies within an hour of my home. Thanks to her dedication, she found it at a pharmacy 45 minutes away.
I took the first of 10 doses of Paxlovid that night. I would take 3 pills every morning and night for the next 5 days. The hope was that it would stop COVID-19 in its tracks and prevent it from further attacking my lungs (and the rest of my body).
Friday morning I woke up in excruciating pain. I was terrified. My oxygen was still dropping, my chest hurt and felt tight, and my cough had worsened. This felt different. I could barely sit up to take the morning dose of Paxlovid. I did a nebulizer treatment for my asthma, took my regular daily inhalers, drank some water, and laid back down.
In those moments, I knew if things didn’t change soon I would be in the hospital by the end of the day. My lungs couldn’t hold on. Around 10 am I drifted off to sleep. When I woke up at 4 pm, I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew in that instant I would be ok. My oxygen was stable. Friday night I took my 3rd dose of Paxlovid and was overcome with gratitude knowing that it stood between me and a hospital admission.
Saturday morning I still felt terrible. But it was the kind of terrible I had expected with COVID-19, not the “my life is in danger” terrible I experienced one day before. My chest pain was no longer acute. My oxygen levels were stable on my typical asthma medications. My cough was improving. I took my morning medications, along with Paxlovid.
By Sunday morning, I was out of the danger zone. My lungs were doing as well as they were the week before. While I was still feeling the various effects of COVID-19 infection, my symptoms were much milder than I had anticipated for day 6. I took that as another sign of Paxlovid doing its job.
Due to the varying timelines of infection in my family, we stayed in isolation for another week. I finished the full course of Paxlovid and continued to recover and heal. During this time, I processed everything that had transpired.
My doctors’ and nurses’ proactive, quick thinking, and dedication to keeping me safe is something I can never repay. They each played a role in helping me fight and survive COVID-19. Words will never do justice to the fear I felt that Friday morning.
As a medically complex person, I am closer to my care team than the average person. They know my kids’ names, ages, and interests. They’ve cried with me and celebrated with me. They’ve seen me at my sickest and at my healthiest. They know sports are my life and do everything they can to help keep me active.
While I continue to battle post-COVID complications, I recognize my recovery is easier than it might have been had I not taken Paxlovid.
If you are at high risk for complications with COVID-19 and test positive, please ask your medical team if you are a candidate for any of the treatments for COVID-19.
I am extremely fortunate that the FDA granted the emergency authorization of Paxlovid mere weeks before I tested positive. Had I gotten COVID-19 in 2021 or before, I might not be writing this now. Healthcare workers are doing everything they can to help us, and now they are getting more tools to use.
Paxlovid and the other new treatments are not a free pass to get COVID-19 without risk. As with any resource, it is still in extremely short supply. Please continue to wear a mask (an N95 if you can), wash your hands, social distance, and get vaccinated.
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The vaccine gave me thrombocytopenia so I cannot be vaccinated anymore. Paxlovid has literally been a life saver for me. With my asthma and history of thrombocytopenia getting COVID is terrifying. I am praying to God that this remains an available treatment that the virus does not develop resistance to! Of course I would not recommend young healthy persons take this med. Like antibiotics overuse could result in resistance and COVID for young healthy people is not anymore dangerous than the common flu.