I’m fully vaccinated, and I had COVID-19. The words sound strange, even now, two weeks later. It was unfathomable. Me? Positive? My husband? Positive? Everyone is at risk; everyone has a blind spot.
We’re not alone in our breakthroughs. Though they’re touted as rare, I’ve heard through the grapevine of more and more vaccinated ’Sotans getting sick. In the most recent reports on COVID in Minnesota, the state is seeing a six percent positivity rate among tests (tests, which have becoming insanely hard to come by in recent weeks, might we add!). Minnesota has seen 9,664 breakthrough cases, which is about 0.32 percent of fully vaxxed folks. Of those, 682 were hospitalized, and 69 died, meaning that 0.02 percent of fully vaxxed people were hospitalized and 0.002 percent died. These are small numbers, but not to be brushed off.
Exactly one month after I married my high school sweetheart, during a celebratory ice cream date, my new husband mentioned he had a bit of a sore throat. That was just the beginning of a smoky-sky week that made us all feel (and sound) like life-long smokers, so we shrugged it off. Two days later, he had a full-on cold. Sniffles, aches, fever, tiredness—the works. We scheduled a COVID test for him out of “an abundance of caution,” we kept saying.
We’re both vaccinated—and have been for months. We’ve made it through several large events with no close calls: a wedding, a honeymoon, a few flights (germy events in normal times). It seemed like such a low chance we would get sick now.
On that night, my husband opened his test results email. “Oh… positive.” Suddenly all jokes were off. We sat in silence for a while, soaking in the shock.
As a friend said: Treat it like a pregnancy test. Take two!
So, he did. Two days later, he was positive and down and out with a nasty load of symptoms, and I came back negative. Whew.
I was the queen of the world, invincible against these breakthrough cases dominating our newsfeeds alongside Olympics coverage.
Our apartment is in 900 square feet. One bedroom, a bathroom, and a wide-open common space where we cook, eat, work, and hang. Add in working from home and sharing a bed, and you have an inescapable spread situation.
Two more days. Another test.
This time I came back positive—but still no symptoms. I crossed my fingers that I would duck out the other side unscathed. Meanwhile, COVID was laughing villainously.
The next morning, like clockwork, I had a sore throat. The kind where it hurts to breathe, hurts to talk, hurts to drink water. After about five hours, the congestion sunk in. And then the fever. This was the kind of fever that felt hot to my own palm.
We were likely exposed at a large outdoor event (that shall remain nameless because we’re not entirely sure and don’t want to point fingers) that took place in semi-rural Minnesota the weekend before the flood of Delta variant data and the CDC’s changed mask recommendations. This was the week when we started learning more about breakthrough cases, how supposedly rare they were, and the chickenpox-like spread of this new, super-charged strain.
Our hunch is that we were infected with the Delta variant, and friends, would not recommend.
We’re in one of the lowest risk categories, but were still itching to get our vaccines last spring. (I’ll deny it if anyone asks, but there were tears in my eyes when I got my first shot—and not because it hurt.) We are both the type of motivated, push-through people who show up and put on our game faces whether we’re at 1 or 100 percent. And besides that wouldn’t have shown up anywhere anyway (cough, contagiousness period, cough), we couldn’t lift ourselves off the couch for days. This is serious shiz—not to be mistaken for a cold or the flu.
I woke up 24 hours after the onset of the sore throat and I felt like a pressure cooker. A raging headache that wouldn’t die, body aches, the full-on fever-cold combo—even nausea, shortness of breath, and joint pain.
You know that whirring fan sound when your computer is running on overdrive and cooling itself off? My body felt like a hot motor trying desperately to cool things off and run the immune system to fight back.
I’m not a nap person—no judgment on nap people, but I despise them. That week, my body craved sleep in a way it never had before. I took long naps daily, slept late in the mornings, went to bed early—essentially adhering to the sleep schedule of a toddler.
This is nothing to shake a stick at (to echo my grandpa). The way this drop-kicked me, I pondered whether I’d have landed in the hospital if I hadn’t been vaccinated.
Another 24 hours later, I felt substantially better. This is the trap, where the capital-C beast lures you in and takes you down. I pushed myself a bit too hard Wednesday, thinking I felt a lot better, thinking I had recouped the day before and was ready-ish for action again.
Then Thursday came. Another day of the full menu of symptoms, another mixed bag of naps, aches, Tylenol, and water.
Friday: Stop and Smell… Anything
It started to dawn on me that I hadn’t been able to smell anything for days. The floral and citrus was missing from my showers, my hair mask had no lingering rosemary mint, and—the worst thing of all—the curls of my coffee were just empty steam. While smell isn’t something I miss dearly (I’ll let you know when—if—it comes back), it does round out how we experience the world, and I’m pining for those homey smells of daily routine.
First agenda item post-COVID: Walk into a coffee shop and inhale that warm, spicy scent. Roll in it, drink it in.
I never lost my taste—just my smell, lucky me. But my husband lost both but has since regained them.
By the weekend, I was feeling pretty much myself and all symptoms had subsided, except some nagging sinusy congestion and that elusive sense of smell.
It was a glorious feeling, to wake up itching to do something besides go back to sleep, to have enough energy to stand for more than 10 minutes or go on a walk, to be able to make food without waves of nausea.
What Would I Do Differently?
Even as I write this, it’s hard to believe that it’s been two weeks since the onset of my symptoms. That week-plus feels surreal: the illness, the naps, the quarantine, the curbside groceries, the Zooms with family and friends.
You never think it’s going to be you—or your husband—never your household, never your family. It’s our stubborn false bulletproofing, our infallible belief in our bodies, our health, and the rightness of the world that tells us that it couldn’t happen to us, that this is someone else’s nightmare.
But, as the person still feeling the tight lung capacity from my COVID breakthrough infection, I’m here to tell you that if you think it could never happen to you enough times, eventually it will happen to you.
Knowing what we know now—that the vaccines are about 66 percent effective against the Delta variant—would I have done things differently?
I certainly would have masked up at stores and restaurants, I would have thought twice about going to an outdoor concert in an area struggling to raise its vax rates, I wouldn’t have packed into the crowd in front of the stage. Would I have skipped out on one fun thing with friends, so I didn’t miss out on two weeks of plans and parties and people? Probably.
I’m not saying don’t live your life. But just like you wear wrist guards and a helmet while rollerblading, you can wear a mask and get vaccinated to protect yourself against COVID and the veritable multi-headed dragon of variants. The protection isn’t perfect. You might still roll your blades over a stick and fall, but the injuries won’t be half as bad as if you weren’t wearing your protective gear. You can still do the things but do them safely—because there’s no use in strapping on a helmet to treat the concussion. There’s nothing you can do to protect yourself after the fact.
The strength of your skull and vastly improved concussion treatments aren’t reasons to ditch the helmet. The worst that happens is you look a little silly rolling around your neighborhood in your helmet and plastic wrist wraps.