As an emergency department pediatrician on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was taunted by the daily thoughts of getting infected by the COVID-19. Even though I was worried about getting sick, I was even more worried about bringing it home to my spouse and kids.
COVID-19 has a breadth of symptoms that range from mild to severe, and everyone's manifestation is different. The fear of not knowing what symptoms I would manifest if I got infected bothered me during each workday.
At work, I did everything right when it came to precautions. I wore appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to see patients, maintained recommended social distancing with colleagues, and had a disinfecting routine when I arrived home.
Even though I did everything right, I knew I was that being on the frontline was still a high risk—and it wasn't long before I did in fact, get sick with COVID-19.
I realized that we have spent a lot of time teaching people how to reduce their risk of getting COVID, but we also need to let people know what to do if they get sick. I recommend that you read this thoroughly so that you can prepare yourself and your family.
Remember, this guide should be used in conjunction with your health care provider's guidance; your provider is always your primary source of information as they can advise you based on your medical history.
First, here is what it was like to have COVID-19
I developed my symptoms on my way home after an overnight shift. I felt extremely tired and weak. Within a few hours, I got chills and a fever and an intense headache. I had suffered from Influenza before and this felt worse. I also knew that Influenza season hadn't started so I suspected I had been infected by SARS-COV2. I got tested and I was positive for COVID-19.
Over the next few days, my symptoms progressed to congestion, cough and excessive fatigue with the inability to get off the bed some days. My symptoms were undulating with a day of feeling better and the next extremely sick again. By day six of illness, I developed intense chest pain and shortness of breath that lasted about 24 hours. I had a home pulse oximeter on which I checked my oxygen levels to help me decide on the need for medical care and luckily that remained stable.
My symptoms lasted about nine days with different symptoms manifesting on different days.
I was initially isolated from my family but within a day, everyone developed a symptom, so I didn't need to isolate myself from my family members for a long time. We all quarantined at home for the recommended period per our department of health.
COVID-19 symptoms vary and the severity can also differ. I am one of the lucky ones who had mild symptoms, and currently, I have no residual symptoms.
How to plan ahead in case someone in your home gets COVID-19
First, it's important to make plans before anyone in your home gets sick. Early planning makes execution easier if someone gets sick.
1. Plan your isolation areas.
Ideally, the sick person should self-isolate in a separate room with a separate bathroom. However, this is not possible in all homes, so decide on how this will be done effectively. Consider having the sick person go to a different home or hotel if finances permit.
2. Make backup plans for who will care for the kids if one or both parents get sick.
- If one parent gets sick, the other parent can take care of the kids while they all quarantine.
- If it is a single-parent household or situations where both parents get sick, make plans on who will help care for the kids outside of the home.
- If it is a child that gets sick and needs to be isolated, decide which parent will isolate with the child.
3. Exchange numbers with neighbors and relatives who will be your support and likely delivery system.
4. Speak to your children (who are old enough to understand) about COVID-19 and the plans you are making if anyone gets sick.
There are currently no recommended over-the-counter medications for treating COVID-19 so most medications for mild symptoms are for supportive care.
These are things you might need, but discuss with your physician:
- A functioning thermometer
- Fever reducing and pain relievers such as Tylenol and ibuprofen
- Pulse oximeters: This may be needed to monitor your oxygen saturation but it is important to discuss with your physician before purchase to ensure you choose a reliable option.
- Refills of prescription medications used by family members.
- Face masks: This will be useful for homes where full isolation isn't possible. The sick person can wear this in the home to reduce viral spreading.
6. Stock up on cleaning supplies, hand soap and alcohol sanitizers.
7. If you have kids, stock up on games and activities to do during the period of your isolation.
8. Know where the closest adult and children's emergency department is to you.
What to do when you or someone in your home gets COVID-19
If someone develops symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for COVID-19, here are the most important steps to take.
Reduce the risk of spreading COVID to others
1. Stay home and isolate yourself immediately from your family members as previously planned.
Recommendations for isolation have changed from the previously advised 14 days to 10 days after symptoms onset. However, it is ideal to confirm from the department of health as this might change again.
2. If anyone who was previously well at home develops symptoms, call your physician to get them tested and recalculate their duration of isolation based on symptom onset.
3. Maintain hygiene.
This is essential, and particularly important if a family member is unable to fully isolate, as it will help to decrease viral volumes. Here are the steps that should be taken:
- The sick person should put on a mask if they will be near other family members or if others are entering the room to minimize spreading the virus.
- The bathroom knobs and countertops should be cleaned with disinfecting household cleaners after use by the sick person.
- Encourage everyone to cover their cough and sneeze.
- Avoid sharing cups, forks, dishes and other utensils.
Manage your COVID symptom
1. Take pain and fever control as needed and as recommended by your physician.
2. Stay hydrated as much as possible. Start your hydration plans early enough; water is always the best option.
3. Sleep. One of the commonest symptoms of COVID-19 is fatigue. I was exhausted on some days to the extent that I could barely get off the bed.
4. Optimize your nutrition. It is not unusual for your appetite to decline when ill but be sure to get a lot of our fruits and vegetables.
Know when to seek emergency care for COVID-19
1. Monitor your symptoms.
Different people get varying severity of illness so be sure to continue monitoring yourself on how symptoms evolve. If you have a pulse oximeter, check your oxygenation and ask your physician what numbers indicate an emergency for you.
2. Call your provider every day.
Keep in daily contact with your family physician (preferably through phone) in case your symptoms progress to help you decide when to seek care. If unsure, visit the closest emergency department.
Take care of your mental health.
The mental effects of suffering from COVID-19 should not be neglected. Isolation can take a toll on your mental health. If you have kids at home, make sure you have a discussion with them often on what to expect. The unpredictability of the illness and the isolation at home can take a toll on them, as well. Check-in on your family member who is isolated and ask kids how they are feeling. Remember to call the suicide hotline if anyone starts to feel depressed or suicidal.