A year ago today I was recovering from covid19. Yes - you read that correctly. I had covid19 in 2019. How is that possible when covid didn’t exist in America until 2020? Well – I’m here to tell you it did exist in America in 2019, it just didn’t have a name yet.
Between September and November 2019 I traveled to 7 different countries. One of which happened to be China. After working in China for a week I hopped on over to the Maldives for a few days of rest. Then headed to Sri Lanka for more work. On my way home, with a layover in Japan, I spent 16 beautiful hours bouncing around Narita…#blessed? Yes. But also…I chose to get into the fashion industry for this very reason. Travel feeds my soul in a way nothing else can. This is what a global economy looks like. This is what international business is. This is how covid spread at the speed of light without anyone being the wiser.
There have been many jokes made, that I was patient zero. But if you look at how many thousands of people were coming and going from Asia and Europe, just as I was from October 2019 to February 2020 - you'll realize there are thousands of patient zeros. While some may have never shown a single symptom, I was not so lucky.
Within two weeks of getting back to the states I started having issues. Runny nose, congestion, headache, cough, fever. I was due to leave the country again for another work trip and quickly stocked up on otc meds and hopped on a plane to Guatemala.
That week I was exhausted. Having worked in the industry for over a decade, I was all too familiar with jet lag. This was NOT jet lag. But even so, I sucked it up. Popped some Dayquil, Mucinex, drank crazy black pepper tea I had picked up in Sri Lanka. Fought through it and after returning from Guatemala, headed back into the office.
Strangely, everyone there was getting sick, including my boss who had been with me in Sri Lanka. I thought eh, ya know, flu season...While I still didn't feel well, I thought I was on the mend and went about my business. That weekend I woke up feeling terrible. My head was pounding. I had a fever. I was exhausted. Nauseous. What did I do? What any red-blooded American would…I ignored all of this and I went skiing.
On my way back I had the most excruciating stomach pains. I thought for sure I was going to faint while I was driving. I could barely sit up straight. I made it home. I laid down in the fetal position and I cried. The pain in my stomach was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I ran to the bathroom. I vomited blood. I laid back down. Got up...vomited blood again. And again...and again. Finally, I called an Uber and went to the hospital.
As someone with lupus I am not unfamiliar with illness, pain or the standard string of questions they ask at hospital check-in. Never in my life had I been asked if I had traveled outside of the country recently. But that day in November 2019 they asked, “Have you traveled outside of the country in the past 60 days?”. Hunched over the nurses’ desk I laughed, "How much time do you have?"
After listing off all 7 countries, the nurse then motioned to another nurse. They looked at the list, nodded at one another and pointed me to a separate waiting area 40 feet away from the area everyone else was waiting in. My waiting area was completely empty. “Weird,” I thought to myself. Thankful to have 2 armless chairs to fetal position across, I didn’t give much more thought to the waiting room segregation until months later.
I was quickly brought to a separate isolated room. “Weird, that was so fast...also weird, what a nice, quiet, quarantined room I have here,” I thought as I crawled into the hospital bed where I was immediately IVd with anti-nausea meds and fluids while they ran test after test. Finally, a doctor came to tell me if I wanted to go home I should, so I could rest more comfortably. They wouldn’t have most of the results back until the next day.
I awoke the next day. Barely able to stand. I got back in an Uber and went back to the hospital. They told me they couldn’t figure out what it was. But it was "something". The doctor said maybe it was stomach ulcers. She told me traveling as much as I had been, working as much as I had been, could make anyone sick. She thought maybe I had caught a bacteria while traveling. Perhaps flesh eating (lovely). Maybe it was eating the lining of my esophagus or my stomach. Either way I’d need to get a scope done and maybe some biopsies to know for sure. They made me an appointment to get scoped and biopsied that week, wrote me half a dozen separate prescriptions to prevent me from vomiting blood and sent me on my way.
A few days later I went for my scope. They took a slew of biopsies from my esophagus down into my small intestine. Again, prescribed me another handful of medications and home I went to spend my Thanksgiving on the couch.
They had no problem ruling out ulcers right away. While there was definite inflammation/light bleeding it did not resemble the typical patterns of traditional ulcer. They would have to see what the biopsy results looked like. Unfortunately, those took weeks. I kept calling over and over for updates. The longer it took the more my mind wandered. Is it stomach cancer?
Come to find out the reason it took so long was the lab could not find a “domestic match” for what I was carrying. They said “it has to be some strain of Chinese…something” but “we really don’t know. We can give you some antibiotics and hopefully in time you’ll heal and feel better”. Frustrated and confused I headed into Christmas hopeful I’d have a fast recovery. After all it had already been a full month since my blood vomit episode.
Unfortunately, I suffered from many of the same long-term symptoms most covid patients now talk about. I struggled with extreme fatigue, brain fog, joint pain and nausea for another month. I didn’t truly begin to recover until February. It took me months to get my strength back and while I really hadn’t experienced many respiratory symptoms, it took even longer to get my full lung capacity back.
A year later and reports are now streaming out of China from whistleblowers literally risking their lives to tell the truth about the mismanaged government response to the virus. There are emails from doctor’s as early as September 2019 sounding an alarm that something was spreading. Of course, how do you know when “something” could turn into THIS? I was in China in late October. Nearly dying 3 weeks later, with no clue as to what I was carrying around with me.
This is not something I like talking about. This is not something many people know about, unless you’re a close friend or a family member that heard about it as it was happening. While I know it wasn’t at all my fault, I obviously had no way of knowing, I still harbor a lot of guilt. At this time last year, I was unknowingly spreading one of the most deadly viruses the world has ever seen, all over the damn place. So many people who had contact with me strangely fell very ill within two weeks. “This is the sickest I’ve ever been”, they all said. I mean holy hell...think about the story I just told. About all the people I had contact with.
Scariest of all, my 64 year old Mother with pre-existing conditions came to take care of me in Denver for two weeks. A few days after getting back to New York she became extremely ill. Initially she thought it was the flu. Then pneumonia. But really no medication seemed to help. It absolutely terrifies me to think I unknowingly could have killed her. She could have been one of the 268,000+ people that have now died from covid-19 in the United States. I too, could have been one of those people.
While I never had a positive covid test to prove with 100% certainty that’s what I had; I have absolutely no doubt, that that’s exactly what it was. Knowing what we know now about this virus, there’s nothing else it could have been. Knowing what we know now about how quickly it spreads, there’s no doubt in my mind my friends, family, and co-workers, had it too.
I have apologized to nearly all of them over the past few months. While I can’t tell you how much of a relief it has been to have their forgiveness, I can tell you without an ounce of doubt, had I known what we know now, you better believe I would have worn a damn mask. And now, knowing what we all know, what science has proven, I would wear a damn mask all day, every damn day, to protect the people that I love.
The question is – would you?
Stay safe, stay stylish, stay humble.
Founder & CEO, Love Saves Apparel PBC