One Year of the Coronavirus Pandemic, From Infection to COVID Vaccine

A doctor's record of her experience from the first days of the Coronavirus to getting her second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and everything in between

COVID-19 VaccineEndocrinologist Disha Narang MD receives the COVID vaccine.

March 2020

As news of Covid-19 was ramping up in early March 2020, everything shut down. That included my endocrinology outpatient clinics, in addition to my husband’s cardiology clinics. Among many unprecedented things that occurred during that time, every patient was quickly switched to a virtual visit, and we were suddenly both working from home. My cousin, a college student in Chicago, was unable to go home abroad, and rushed to our house when her school also quickly shut down.

I have to selfishly admit, at first, I loved it. Like, absolutely loved it. All of a sudden, I had time to exercise regularly, we found fun recipes to try nearly every night, and my 3-year-old son was thrilled to have my husband and I home with him. Truthfully, we had never been able to spend this kind of time as a family, in our own little bubble.

We took walks daily, came up with fun activities for our son to keep him occupied while we finished work, and then it was play and dinnertime. We were lucky enough to have a live-in nanny to watch our son, which we knew we were very blessed to have given both of our demanding full-time work schedules as health care providers. We also understood that not all families were so lucky during this time, and obviously for the many months that followed.

We did not leave our home. Groceries were delivered. Our only trip out was to take our nanny home to her family on Fridays, and to pick her back up on Sunday evenings.

During this early time in the pandemic, the issues outside of our home were the struggle to get adequate PPE for our hospitals and front-line workers. Universal masking had not yet been recommended in other areas, with a mere fraction of people wearing masks in indoor spaces. As COVID-19 cases were escalating, our nanny even suggested that she stay over the weekends for the foreseeable future to avoid any exposure from her family. We agreed that was the best idea.

Twelve days into our nanny’s stay in late April, I developed mild congestion and a heavy head. Thinking nothing of it except a mild cold, I continued my telehealth clinic and my daily routine. That afternoon, we got a call that our nanny’s adult daughter had tested positive for COVID-19. We were a little worried, but then again, our nanny had been home with us for almost two full weeks at that point. Later that night, I lost my ability to smell and taste. I still figured, well that’s a little fast to lose my smell and taste, but it can often happen with a cold, I’ll just keep an eye on it. It was a Wednesday. It’s amazing what our brains do to convince ourselves that everything is okay.

May 2020

"I got a COVID-19 test on Thursday because my sudden loss of smell and taste was just a bit too suspicious. Friday, May 1st, I checked my own medical chart for my result, and sure enough, it was positive."

I got a COVID-19 test on Thursday because my sudden loss of smell and taste was just a bit too suspicious. Friday, May 1st, I checked my own medical chart for my result, and sure enough, it was positive. My husband was negative. If we had not known the symptom profile of COVID-19, as not enough of the public did at that time, we would not have bothered to get tested.

Now we had to figure out how to quarantine, but not before I broke down with the fear of whether I would be intubated on a vent by the next day, as that was my fear every single day during this time period. Who would take care of our son? Should I take the air mattress down to the basement? Should I wipe down everything I had touched in the house? Should I be wearing a mask at home?

We are a dual-physician household. We are used to handling problems and emergencies in a systematic way. We were completely in over our heads and panicked by this point. Knowing what we knew about what could happen was numbing. I moved everything down to the basement to start my quarantine.

My husband’s repeat COVID-19 test was again negative.

Like many people at that time, our nanny thought we were being silly. She did not think it necessary to wear a mask at home, and she felt fine and told us we had just been outside walking around with our son too much and caught a cold.

Then our nanny woke with a headache and dizziness, looking pale. She was 65 years old. Her family wanted her to come to home immediately, so sent her home. At that time, we knew that her age and comorbidities (being overweight, hypertension, diabetes) were major risk factors for becoming ill from COVID-19.

I woke with a low-grade temperature of 99.1. My colleague was kind enough to drop off a pulse oximeter at our doorstep, since there were none available immediately at the time. O2 saturation was usually 95-99%, within a healthy range.

"My husband prepared each meal and would set a plate at the top of the stairs for me to eat. I would come up to the top of the stairs in an N95 so as to not expose anyone, and quickly go back down because it was difficult to breathe in it."

My husband took over the day-to-day responsibilities of childcare and maintaining our home, with my cousin there to help. He read up on any available literature (which was overall limited at the time) and stockpiled several vitamins that he would give me daily. My parents, who live a little over an hour away, dropped food off on our doorstep every 3 days. Needless to say, they were also beside themselves. My husband prepared each meal and would set a plate at the top of the stairs for me to eat. I would come up to the top of the stairs in an N95 so as to not expose anyone, and quickly go back down because it was difficult to breathe in it.

Most of all, he took care of my son who had no idea why Mommy could not touch him or play with him.

Then my son woke with a low-grade fever. I was in tears even hearing this, given that I could not be of any help, in addition to the fear of what this virus would do to us as a family. This thankfully resolved after giving him Tylenol, and he continued to play and behave normally. He did not get COVID-19 testing at that time. We would find out 4 weeks later that he too was COVID-19 positive when trying to figure out what to do about childcare, but luckily, he remained in that category of overall asymptomatic children.

My cousin developed congestion and a headache. Her COVID-19 test the following day was positive. She would need to start quarantining in the guest room of our home.

By this point, we had shut off the vents and central heat to prevent air exchange between rooms and started to use space heaters. Northern Illinois, where we live, is still relatively chilly during this time of year. We did this for the majority of the month of May, as total quarantine time for our family extended to about 3 weeks given my cousin’s positive test. Luckily, our nanny also had overall mild symptoms and started to recover.

I developed a dry cough a few days after my diagnosis that lingered for about 4-6 weeks, and for which I finally required an inhaler to improve. It took about 3 months for my taste and smell to fully return, although I still occasionally question if things still seem “off”. I took Aspirin for at least 6 months, due to the increased risk for blood clots with COVID-19.

Given how booked my clinics were at work (I am normally booked out 4-5 months), I agreed to still do half-day clinics to keep myself busy down in the basement. Through this whole ordeal, I never technically took a day off from work. I was simply too fatigued and achy to start clinic at 8 each morning. In retrospect, a little time off to rest would have done me some good. We are used to constantly running in overdrive, I should have listened to these cues to take some time to focus on my health and prevent burnout. As we all know now, it was going to be a long year.

July 2020

After nearly 4 months of being remote, I restarted seeing patients at work, about 50/50 in-person and telehealth visits.

"I have worn an N95 and full facial PPE with every patient I have seen in person. There are at least a few patients per day that decide to take their masks off in the clinic room, or keep it below their nose, or are unable to keep it snug on their face. I had immense fear that I would get re-infected, and there was little to no data available as to what would happen then."

Needless to say, given our ordeal in May, which occurred with us just sitting at home, I was terrified returning to work. Since that first day back, I have worn an N95 and full facial PPE with every patient I have seen in person. There are at least a few patients per day that decide to take their masks off in the clinic room, or keep it below their nose, or are unable to keep it snug on their face. I had immense fear that I would get re-infected, and there was little to no data available as to what would happen then. Antibody positivity post-infection was expected to remain for only about 3 months.

I must say, I absolutely loathe the N95 mask. I am thankful that it has kept me safe through my time at work, as I come home to my husband and son, and my family is very involved in his care when my husband and I are in need of their help. The N95 has protected them as much as it has me. But it hurts my face. I have to talk to patients in clinic all day – my face is sore, I have welts all over my face when I take it off, my head hurts because it is so tight. The goggles are uncomfortable and fog up sometimes when I speak, and the mask causes acne. It’s just been hard. My quality of life has been impacted.

Our inpatient list is busier than ever before, as the COVID patients who are admitted often need high-dose steroids, which causes their blood sugar to rise. So, we need to help adjust their insulin doses throughout the days and nights. By insulin, I mean several patients who often need over 150-200 Units a day because of how insulin-resistant they are from the infection and the steroids. We are not technically even on the “front lines.” Imagine their burnout and fatigue.

COVID-19 VaccineDr. Narang after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine.

December 2020

"The best news we received all year: the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA. Christmas came early. I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on December 18, 2020, followed by the second dose on January 8, 2021."

The best news we received all year: the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA. Christmas came early. I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on December 18, 2020, followed by the second dose on January 8, 2021. As many healthcare workers who received the vaccine have expressed, it was overwhelming, emotional, and a massive relief.

As humans, we are certainly resilient in the face of adversity, and often tend to compartmentalize our lives when dealing with a constant source of stress. Getting the vaccine somewhat forced us all to really contend with what we had been dealing with for the greater part of the year, and that was an overwhelming feeling. It was especially emotional thinking back to when I initially tested positive, to coming full circle and getting the vaccine. We were grateful to science and this opportunity to make our lives just a little safer.

It’s been hard not to be upset with the way that so many people have been treating this virus. We go to work at the hospital or clinic day in and day out, and have tracked all the trends of how full the hospitals are, how many patients are on ventilators, and how many have unfortunately lost their lives. It is absolutely devastating. We fear for our lives each time we find out that someone we know or were around at work tested positive. And yet, here we are in January, almost 1 year into this, and rates are worse than they were back in the spring of 2020 when all of this started.

"I made it a point to jot down my symptoms following each dose of the COVID vaccine. For that 24-48 hours of mild discomfort, it was completely worth it compared to being infected with the Coronavirus again."

I made it a point to jot down my symptoms following each dose of the COVID vaccine. For that 24-48 hours of mild discomfort, it was completely worth it compared to being infected with the Coronavirus again. Truly, the most significant side effects of the vaccine were hope and gratitude. Vaccines in the generations before us have rid our world of polio, smallpox, measles, rubella, and the list goes on. Our world is safer and healthier, thanks to these vaccines. Our scientists knew what they were doing in its development, and our bodies are so brilliant that with this vaccine, they can now recognize this virus and its variants, and our immune systems can put up a fair fight against the virus. Now with the COVID-19 vaccine finally being distributed around the world, there is the promise that our world may once again restart.

While there is immense relief now in being fully vaccinated, my practices of putting on that N95 and facial PPE to see my clinic patients will not be changing any time soon. Until at least 80% of our population is vaccinated, our current world situation will not change.

Disha Narang MD is a board-certified endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. She completed her undergraduate and medical education at Vanderbilt University, prior to completing her internal medicine residency and fellowship at the University of Chicago. Dr. Narang has a general endocrinology practice, but she is especially interested in diabetes, medical weight management, and culinary medicine. You can find her sharing recipes and other insights into integrating food and medicine on her Instagram and Twitter.

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