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Covid-19 survivors tell their stories and offer tips for staying well and preparing in case you don’t

By Brenda Langdon

My daughters, Liana and Marisa, have always shared everything: a life on the road through many countries and continents with their humanitarian aid parents; Spanish as a first language; the same university; close ties to Vermont and professional interests in health, society, policies and practices.

Liana will graduate as an MD in May and Marisa is an epidemiologist with the New York City Department of Health. They rarely go a week without seeing one another and live about 25 miles apart. And now they share something new: coronavirus.

It all started when Liana was finishing a month’s field experience in a remote part of Bangladesh, working with the Hope Foundation on fistula and gynecologic emergencies among both the Rohingya refugees and low-income Bangladeshi women and girls. (Unfortunately, pregnancy starts as early as 13 there.) She flew back from Cox’s Bazar to Dhaka on March 1, and then caught ongoing flights to Dubai and Newark, NJ — about 40 hours in transit. Then (being 30), she took a four hour exam with 20 other medical students on March 3, the day after her arrival, followed by three more days of classes in an NYU-affiliated hospital. The same facility was treating Covid+ patients in isolation wards, but apparently there was only one common cafeteria for all staff.

She then met up for a reunion with her great friend and classmate, Annabelle, on March 6. Annabelle had been working a rotation all week with a coughing resident on their main campus, a top-50 medical school, and hospital on Long Island. In turn, they met up with six other friends and spent Friday night cooking a surprise brunch for another classmate.

Enter Marisa on Saturday morning, at the brunch for 9. Liana, Marisa, and Annabelle then took off to NYC and spent Saturday night together at Marisa’s studio apartment on the Upper East Side.

So it’s a mystery as to who made who sick. Was it Liana, importing the virus from Bangladesh or along the way? Was it contagion at the hospital in the cafeteria? Was it Annabelle, passing it on to Liana? We may never know, but Liana has agreed with the Rockefeller Foundation that she will give her genetic material for research after she has tested negative, to contribute to the understanding of the disease.

The medical school is on lockdown and about 5 classmates are likely contaminated, pending test results.

Following are the personal accounts of Liana and Marisa of their experience with the coronavirus. By sharing, they hope to help others prevent it — and cope with it in the case it is contracted.

Liana

Hi folks! I wanted to share my story in hopes that it helps others during the coming weeks. My sister Marisa, one of my best friends Annabelle, and I all have COVID-19. We are 28, 27, and 30 years old respectively. We still don’t know exactly where we got it but we have all been sick for 1-2 weeks now after the three of us spent a weekend together. My own symptoms began last Tuesday. I woke up in the middle of the night with a 102 degree fever, intense body aches and a sore throat that radiated into my chest. My fever remained high for three days, and during this time my sore throat transitioned into a burning chest pain that was worse when I took deep breaths. I became short of breath when talking and could hardly get out of bed for the first three days. On Day 4, I developed a dry cough, which I still have today on Day 9. I am tired and low energy. I lost my sense of taste and smell. I still have intense body aches. My temperature is now 95-96 degrees, oddly enough. I started to feel like I was getting better, but today I am again without any energy. Marisa and Annabelle have variations of the same symptoms and we are all young, healthy, active gals who couldn’t have imagined getting sick like this. Two doctors soon to be, and an epidemiologist. What a crazy time we live in right now — I want to offer an ear if you would like to ask any questions or talk through anything. I can’t stress enough the importance of social isolation so that you and your loved ones are spared the illness.

Love to everyone and healthy wishes.

Marisa

Hi everyone! Like my sister, I wanted to share my story in case it helps you during these next few weeks. I want to preface this by saying I am a healthy 28-year-old living in New York City. I am a runner, I work out 4 or 5 times a week, I eat healthily and I have no underlying medical conditions. I rarely get sick. A couple weeks ago I contracted Covid-19 after spending a weekend with friends, including my sister Liana and friend Annabelle. The three of us became sick shortly thereafter. On Tuesday, my sister developed a fever of 102. A couple days later, I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I had a sore throat, severe muscle aches, lethargy and overall weakness. I found it difficult to get out of bed. I’ve had persistent chest pain that feels like shards of glass in my lungs. I find it difficult to talk because I’m short of breath. One night, my chest pain and shortness of breath became so severe that I took an ambulance to the hospital because I was afraid I would stop breathing in my sleep. I’ve lost my sense of taste and smell. I’ve had no fever, in fact low body temperature of 96 degrees. I’m on Day 8 with some improvement in symptoms, but still feel lethargic and weak. My sister and Annabelle have had similar symptoms. We are all healthy, young adults and this virus has wiped each of us out.

If you are not social distancing right now, please know that each of us is susceptible to contracting this virus. Staying home and limiting contact with others is the only way to contain Covid-19. I haven’t been sick like this before and I would do anything to spare others from experiencing this illness. I cannot imagine how older adults with underlying medical conditions will get through this — they are the ones we need to protect most. I don’t want to frighten anyone but I do want to describe the reality and gravity of the situation we’re dealing with. Please stay home, stay safe and protect those around you. If you have questions, feel free to reach out.

Lastly, if you do happen to get sick, here are a few things I did that helped:

1. A couple weeks before I got sick, I stocked up on foods, medications, a thermometer and household essentials, enough to last two weeks. If you get sick, you will want broth-based soups, lots of electrolyte-containing fluids (coconut water and Gatorade have saved me), Sudafed, NyQuil, acetaminophen, cough syrup, vitamin C, tea, a good thermometer, non-perishables and frozen fruits and veggies — enough to last you for 2+ weeks since you will be in isolation for at least 14 days.

2. Have your insurance information, photo ID and credit card on hand. Figure out where your closest hospital and urgent care centers are. Prepare a hospital go-bag in case your symptoms worsen and you need to seek medical care. If available, get a mask that you can wear en route. Call ahead of time so your doctor can make special arrangements so that you don’t expose others.

3. Do your laundry. You are gonna be isolated for at least 14 days and you want clean clothes. Clean your apartment. Take care of errands. Fully prepare yourself to be indoors for 14 days at a moment’s notice.

4. The moment you feel sick or think you may have been exposed to someone who is sick, STAY HOME. I work at the NYC health dept on the same floor as the staff leading the city’s outbreak response. I stayed home as soon as I found out my sister had a fever, even though I hadn’t developed symptoms yet. At that point, I was contagious but asymptomatic. Had I gone to work because I was feeling fine, I would’ve exposed the outbreak response team and many other coworkers.

The guidance for Covid-19 is constantly changing. If you live in NYC, the most up to date info is on the NYC health dept’s website at www.nyc.gov/coronavirus. You can also text COVID to 692-692 for the latest NYC updates.

Love to everyone. Stay healthy and stay safe.