Recovery Trip Report

COVID-19

(FALL 2021)

Dates: Fall 2021Trip Report #: 504

An Ongoing Recovery Trip Report for Covid-19

In Fall 2021, I came down with the dreaded Covid-19 that had swept across the globe for nearly two years at this point and seemed to have no end in sight. Covid-19 hit me pretty hard (although not as hard as it hit some). I was hospitalized for 5 days, and the recovery took several weeks to get back to normal. I proceeded to write this "recovery trip report" to document my experience with this nasty virus.

Intro

In Fall 2021, I came down with the dreaded Covid-19 that had swept over the globe for nearly two years at this point and seemed to have no end in sight. Among other symtoms, Covid-19 primarily affects the respiratory system by weakening the lung's ability to absorb oxygen normally. Covid-19 hit me pretty hard (although not as hard as it hit some, since I didn't ever reach needing a ventilator stage). I was hospitalized for 5 days, had pneumonia as a complication, and the recovery took several weeks to get back to normal.

And since it's bound to be a question on the mind of anyone reading this trip report, no, I was not vaccinated at the time I contracted Covid-19. I had my reasons for not getting the vaccine. I do believe that the vaccine is keeping people out of the hospitals, but I also am concerned about the possibility for long-term effects of a vaccine that has not been time-tested. People should have the right to make their own decisions. Plus, I figured that since I was young, fit, healthy, and rarely get respiratory illnesses, if I came down with it Covid-19, it would be just like a bad cold (as it had been for a few people I knew who had already gotten it). And then I would have natural immunity, which just sounded better than a quickly-produced, no-long-term studies shot. But there were several factors I didn't quite factor in. One important factor is the fact that I have underlying autoimmune issues, and over the years despite being quite healthy otherwise I have proved to be pretty susceptible to infections [I've had five bladder infections between the ages of 6 and 37, bacterial pneumonia in 2007 (23 years old), a MRSA bone infection in 2010 (27 years old), a few bad tooth infections between 2006 and 2020 (23 to 37 years old), multiple bouts of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth from 2012 to 2021 (29 to 38 years old), H1N1 in 2018 (34 years old), and now Covid-19 (38 years old)]; so my immune system was just not up to fighting the Covid-19 away before it got serious. Another factor that could have further weakened my immune system in 2021 was the increasing workload of my PhD studies (Applied Math at CU Boulder), including my constant preparation for an upcoming important preliminary exam, and the stressful certainty that I would fail the exam (and I did fail). A sign my immune system was weakening was a cold I got in August that hung on for awhile. It also didn't help that mid-July to mid-August there had been a stretch of forest fires in the west that had brought smoke to Colorado, and excising in this is not great for the lungs. So looking back it was a perfect storm of events that led to my getting Covid-19. At times I have questioned and perhaps vaguely regretted my decision not to get the vaccine, but of course that is easy to say in retrospect. Life is a choose your own adventure where you cannot always know the outcomes (both short term and long term) of different life choices.

My Covid-19 was near the beginning of a spike in Covid-19 cases in Colorado that occurred in Fall 2021. I am not sure of how exactly I contracted the Covid-19. Perhaps on campus (I had just begun to attend classes in person for the first time in a year and a half), at the climbing gym, from a gas pump or grocery store, or from an asymptomatic friend. Viruses are just on a mission to spread so ultimately it's practically impossible to avoid exposure somewhere. No one I knew came down with Covid-19 when I did. In the couple of weeks leading up to my getting Covid-19, I didn't associate with too many people, with the main people I came into close contact with being Nate, a couple of other climbing friends, and my parents. Nate thinks he may have had Covid-19 during the time I did (he just managed to fight it off better), and none of my other friends or my parents caught Covid-19 from me.

The acute symptoms of the Covid-19 were a short part of the entire experience. The shortness of breath and accompanying fatigue, weakness, and brain fog that followed encompassed the bulk of my experience. A major fall-out was an utter lack of motivation for my academic studies and life in general. I couldn't seem to find my normal energetic adventure-loving self. I didn't care about climbing. I felt out of shape. Life lost its excitement. I ended up deciding to take a medical leave from CU Boulder for the rest of the semester to try to bounce back. After a few weeks of searching for a job that would help pay the bills and give a sense of productivity to my days, I found a 3-month contract job that would take me through the end of the year. This would be perfect timing to restart my studies at CU in the Spring semester.

This page keeps an account of my experiences with my fight against Covid-19. It wasn't much fun, but I survived it. Although the acute symtoms lasted only a couple of weeks, getting back to feeling 100% again took awhile, much longer than for the common cold or flu. I continued the report until I felt nearly back to normal.

Day to Day Timeline

Days (-28)-(-20): First wave of cold symptoms (pre-Covid)

During this time, I started experiencing symptoms like sore throat, headaches, mild fatigue. It felt like a minor cold (and perhaps thats all it was). It wasn't enough to prevent me from still getting out climbing, hiking, and running. I think this was just a mild cold, but it did contribute to weakening my immune system so that the Covid-19 had an easier time taking hold later.

On August 15, I took an at-home Covid-19 test. Negative. I'm fairly sure I did not have Covid-19 at the time, since it was over a month later (September 24) that I got the positive Covid-19 PCR test result, and Covid-19 should not be in the system for a month. The range of the incubation period—the time from exposure to development of symptoms—for coronaviruses is 2-14 days with average of 5-6 days, with delta variant usually having a fairly short incubation period of 3-5 days with an average of 4 days. My first fever was on September 16th. So I most likely officially got Covid-19 in my system sometime between September 2 and September 14. For the purpose of nailing down a date, I will assume a one-week incubation period and call September 9 "Day 1 of Covid-19". But looking back, I feel like I was dragging a bit from mid-August onward. I believe that my initial cold was the start of the progression that led to Covid-19 for me.

Day-by-day breakdown:

  • August 12 (Th): Climbed at the Crags.

  • August 13 (F): Studied applied analysis.

  • August 14 (Sa): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Progression on Sundance).

  • August 15 (Su): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Grapevine on Sundance). I had had a sore throat through the week, and experienced mild dizziness on this day. Just out of curiosity and the fact that they had recently become available in stores, that evening I picked up an at-home Covid-19 test at Walgreens. The result was negative.

  • August 16 (M): Studied applied analysis.

  • August 17 (Tu): Studied applied analysis.

  • August 18 (W): Climbed the Second Apron up at Mt. Evans.

  • August 19 (Th): Climbed in Boulder Canyon for half a day. Studied applied analysis for the rest of the day.

  • August 20 (F): Climbed in Boulder Canyon for half a day. Studied applied analysis for the rest of the day.

Days (-19)-(-1): Another wave of cold symptoms (pre-Covid)

From August 21 to September 10, I felt pretty normal, and squeezed in a fair bit of climbing, hiking, and running. But looking back, I do recall feeling a tad more fatigued than my usual self during this time. And at times I had a mild sore throat along with a mild cough. As I mentioned above, I probably officially got Covid-19 in my system sometime around September 9.

On August 24, I had a preliminary exam in applied analysis. I had been studying hard for this exam since May. It was an important exam, as I needed to pass it to officially enter my PhD program at CU Boulder Applied Math. But I knew as soon as I finished the exam that I had failed it. Failure was confirmed a week later. Admittedly, my angst during studying and the hard hit of failure undoubtedly increased my stress levels and probably depleted my immune system a bit. Covid-19 crept closer.

Day-by-day breakdown:

  • August 21 (Sa): Climbed one pitch in St. Vrain Canyon and, wanting more exercise, I hiked up to the top of Twin Sisters. I recall feeling pretty energetic.

  • August 22 (Su): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Slim Pickens on Sundance).

  • August 23 (M): Climbed Black Dagger on The Diamond. A big alpine day. I felt pretty fit and strong. I doubt I had Covid-19 at this point.

  • August 24 (Tu): Preliminary exam in applied analysis.

  • August 25 (W): Climbed in Boulder Canyon for half a day. Spent the rest of the day kind of bummed out about how I felt about my performance on the preliminary exam the previous day. I was certain I had failed.

  • August 26 (Th): Didn't really do anything. Pretty bummed out.

  • August 27 (F): Climbed in Eldorado Canyon for half a day.

  • August 28 (Sa): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Bushes on Sundance).

  • August 29 (Su): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Guillotine on Sundance).

  • August 30 (M): Climbed Spear Me the Details on The Spearhead. A big alpine day. I felt pretty fit and strong. I doubt I had Covid-19 at this point. But the great day out was tarnished by an email that I had indeed failed the preliminary exam.

  • August 31 (Tu): First day of my classes at CU Boulder. I had two classes I was trying to choose between so I planned to attend both for the first couple of weeks of the semester. One class was in-person and one was remote. The in-person class sounded much more interesting, but I also preferred to be remote. This was the first time I had attended classes in person since classes has gone remote in March 2020.

  • September 1 (W): Climbed in Boulder Canyon for half a day. After that, homework, research work, and weekly (remote) meeting with my advisor in the afternoon.

  • September 2 (Th): Did research work and attended classes (one in-person, one remote).

  • September 3 (F): Climbed in Boulder Canyon for half a day. Did research work for my advisor and homework the rest of the day.

  • September 4 (Sa): Overnight hike Devil's Causeway in the Flat Top Wilderness. I do recall having a stuffy nose and mild cough that night.

  • September 5 (Su): Overnight hike Devil's Causeway in the Flat Top Wilderness. Due to my symptoms the previous day, that evening I took another at-home Covid-19 test. Negative again. (I had bought two boxes of at-home tests the previous week, so I had a few extra tests laying around to use.)

  • September 6 (M): Climbed Lone Eagle Peak (solo). This was quite a big day (nearly 26 miles and a fair bit of elevation gain and loss). I recall feeling like I was dragging a lot more than usual.

  • September 7 (Tu): Did research work and attended classes (one in-person, one remote).

  • September 8 (W): Climbed The Casual Route on The Diamond. Even though our time was my personal fastest yet (7 hours 45 minutes car to car), I was definitely dragging more than usual and fell well short of the goal to break 7 hours. Weekly (remote) meeting with my advisor in the afternoon.

Days 1-7: Covid-19 Incubation period

As I mentioned above, the range of the incubation period—the time from exposure to development of symptoms—for coronaviruses is 2-14 days with average of 5-6 days, with delta variant usually having a fairly short incubation period of 3-5 days with an average of 4 days. My first fever was on September 16th. So I most likely officially got Covid-19 in my system sometime between September 2 and September 14. Attending classes in person probably put me at greatest risk for exposure. Of course campus has a strict mask policy that I have always obeyed, but I'm of the mindset that facemasks are basically ineffective in an enclosed space full of people. Ineffective in most situations, probably; I've obeyed mask rules and still got Covid-19. Hence I conclude that facemasks are not worth their annoyance. But I digress. For the purpose of nailing down a date, I will assume a one-week incubation period and call September 9 "Day 1 of Covid-19".

Day-by-day breakdown:

  • September 9 (Th): Did research work and attended classes (one in-person, one remote). This was the last time I attended in-person classes, as after this I dropped the in-person class in favor of a remote class, choosing to go with the convenience of remote over interest in material.

  • September 10 (F): Worked on research in the morning. In the afternoon, drove to South Dakota for a weekend climbing trip at the Black Hills Needles.

  • September 11 (Sa): Climbed at the Black Hills Needles of South Dakota. I recall having a mild cough but otherwise feeling pretty normal this weekend. So the fatigue I had experienced the previous week seemed gone, but possibly not since I was also not exerting myself nearly as much in South Dakota.

  • September 12 (Su): Climbed at the Black Hills Needles of South Dakota.

  • September 13 (M): Drove back from South Dakota. Spent the evening up late doing homework.

  • September 14 (Tu): Did research work and attended class (remote).

  • September 15 (W): Climbed a half day in Boulder Canyon. After that, homework, research work, and weekly (remote) meeting with my advisor in the afternoon.

Days 8-10: Covid-19 hits me

  • September 16 (Th) (1 week after contracting Covid-19): Did research work and attended class (remote). Had a fever and delirium all night. My chest felt a bit tight too.

  • September 17 (F): Felt okay despite the rough night. Climbed at Boulder Canyon for half a day. Because of my symptoms the day before, I took yet another at-home Covid-19 test. (Some may see this as a sign I was quite worried about getting Covid-19 and wonder why I didn't just get the vaccine if I was so worried, but at this point I still just assumed Covid-19 would be a pretty mild experience and preferred not to get an injection over natural immunity). Negative again. I suspect now that this was a false negative.

  • September 18 (Sa): Climbed at Lumpy Ridge (Bookmark Pinnacle) and Mary's Bust. I started to feel progressively worse in the evening. Had a rough night.

At-home Covid-19 test. Probably bogus but I would have taken heed to a positive result.

Day 11: First Urgent Care visit

  • September 19 (Su): Woke up feeling terrible. I went to Estes Park Urgent Care and was told I had bacterial walking pneumonia and was given a course of antibiotics (Azithromycin) and steroids (Prednisolone) and an inhaler (Albuterol). Despite a shortness of breath, my oxygen saturation was 92% (pretty normal for at 7,500 ft). I did not have a fever at the time. I was also given a Covid-19 PCR test, which showed a negative result for Covid-19. Good, I don't have Covid-19! Given what followed over the course of the week, I now suspect this was a false negative.

Days 12-15: Worsening symptoms

Despite the antibiotics, my health continued to deteriorate throughout the week. I began to be have alternating fever and chills at night, along with delirium. My appetite was also dwindling away. But I did still maintain my senses of smell and taste. By the end of the week I was experiencing extreme fatigue and starting to have difficulty breathing well.

In an awful coincidence of bad timing, my parents were on their way to visit me at the end of the week, with plans to stay for four days and visit with me, go hiking, and see my new life in Colorado. I had not seen my parents for nearly 2 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of the Canadian border (my parents live in Canada). The border had recently opened, and we had been eagerly anticipating this weekend for a long time. They were driving down to see me, which was a 3-day drive from Canada. I crossed my fingers I would feel better. With the negative result of the PCR test, I figured I would feel better soon. Wishful thinking for sure. (Just as a sidenote: If I had tested positive for Covid-19 on September 19, I would have immediately called my parents and told them to turn around. Even though they were fully vaccinated, I would never want to put the two most important people in my life at risk.)

During this time my viral load was probably rather high. Fortunately I did not associate with too many people, and of those I did climb or associate with, none of them got Covid-19. Whew.

Day-by-day breakdown:

  • September 20 (M): Climbed at Eldo for half a day (I had made plans before the weekend, and I didn't want to bail out despite the fact I wasn't feeling great). It was all I could do to get up the pitches and everything felt way harder than it should. (By the way, my partner that day didn't get Covid-19 from me. Whew.)

  • September 21 (Tu): Did research work and attended class (remote). I experienced quite a bit of delirium that night.

  • September 22 (W): Homework, research work, and weekly (remote) meeting with my advisor in the afternoon. I experienced fever and chills that night.

  • September 23 (Th) (2 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Did research work and attended class (remote). I was beginning to experience extreme fatigue and couldn't stay awake during class or while studying, which had never been a problem before. My parents arrived in Estes Park in the evening. I visited with them for about an hour before they retired to their hotel to go to bed. I mentioned I hadn't been feeling well, had tested negative for Covid-19, and hoped it was just a minor walking pneumonia and that I would feel better by the next day.

Day 16: Second Urgent Care visit, Day 1 in hospital

  • September 24 (F): I had a rough night (shaking chills followed by fever) and woke up feeling worse than ever. At this point it was beginning to be quite difficult to breathe. I tried to do a hike with my parents but got about 100 feet down the trail before realizing it was a bad decision. My parents were understandably quite concerned, and we went to the Estes Park Urgent Care again. I got a chest x-ray, was tested for the flu (negative), and had my temperature checked (fever of 102.6°F). Due to my shortness of breath and low oxygen saturation (low 80%'s), I was put on supplemental oxygen. Because of the low oxygen saturation, I was advised to check into the Estes Park Medical Center. My parents drove me to the hospital. I was admitted, given a round of blood tests, a full respiratory panel, and another Covid-19 PCR test. This time the PCR test gave a positive result for Covid-19. I was also diagnosed with Covid-19 pneumonia. (A vague thought that "I might just have pneumonia and not Covid-19 too" was abolished by the unusual and rather frightening shortness of breath I experienced over the course of the week; I had actually had pneumonia about a decade before, and the shortness of breath from the pneumonia alone was totally different character and much less frightening than the Covid-19 shortness of breath I experienced.)

I was put into a quarantined room. This was a supreme bummer, because I would be unable to see my parents. I asked the nurses to ask my attending doctor if there was any way they could visit and he said he would think about it. I was given Remdeservir (an IV antiviral drug that has can potentially shorten recovery time for patients hospitalized with Covid-19), Dexmethasone (a steroid to open bronchials to get more oxygen transference), Lovanox (to prevent blood clots and carry away damaged cells from the base of my lungs), and Tylenol (to reduce my fever). I was kept on constant supplemental oxygen (they had to increase it from 2 L/min to 3 L/min over the course of the evening). Despite my lack of appetite, I was able to eat dinner, knowing my body needed energy to fight the infection. Probably because of the supplemental oxygen, I was quite alert into the evening, and texted my parents and watched a movie on my laptop (which my parents had dropped off for me along with a couple of novels and the textbook for the course I was taking). I felt quite lonely. At least that night, I slept better than I had slept all week.

As an interesting sidenote, I was the only Covid-19 patient currently at the Estes Park Medical Center during this week.

Click image to see pdf of detail notes from my admittance into the hospital.
My room. The vent by the window was installed specifically for the Covid-19 era.
The supplemental oxygen regulator. The water is to add moisture to the oxygen to keep the nose from drying out.
The view from my hospital room at the Estes Park Medical Center. Hard to be stuck inside on such a bluebird 75° early fall day!
The cafeteria at the Estes Park Medical center has one of the best gluten free chicken burgers in town. Also a pretty good gluten free chocolate chip cookie. Although I lack an appetite, I feel fortunate to still have full sense of smell and taste, and hence the ability to at least enjoy good food.

Day 17: Day 2 in hospital

  • September 25 (Sa): This was the day I began this "Covid-19 trip report". So there may be a subtle switch from past tense to present tense in my entries. It took the better half of the day to backtrack my Covid-19 timeline off of my photo records and memories, which at least gave me something to do in the hospital.

Despite the fact I hardly moved all day, it was a pretty busy day. Nurses were in and out to check on me about every hour. I spent the day on my computer. My head is much clearer and I was much less fatigued than I had been all week, likely due to the supplemental oxygen.

My respiratory nurse gave me an incentive spirometer, a device that facilitates a sustained slow deep breath. I am supposed to breathe into it 10 times every hour. This will help my lungs to inflate more fully and hopefully work some of the mucous and damaged cells. My respiratory nurse also advised me to lie "prone" (on my stomach) for about 15 minutes every couple of hours; lying prone is known to increase ventilation by causing changes in pleural pressure (I was kind of bad about this because I was trying to get work done on my computer all day, but knowing it was helpful I did lie in the prone position at least a few times during my Covid-19 recovery in the weeks to come).

Throughout the day, I was given more Remdeservir, Dexmethasone, Lovanox, and Tylenol. I was also given a saline IV when I reported I had only had to pee once in the last 24 hours and was probably quite dehydrated. My pulmonary function actually worsened today, since my supplemental oxygen had to be increased from 3 L/min to 4 L/min (as a reference, room air is 21% oxygen, so 4L/min means breathing air that is about 33-37% oxygen); even on oxygen just getting up and using my room's bathroom leaves me quite out of breath.

I pleaded with my attending doctor about being able to see my parents, and he decided they could come visit, but they would have to be outfitted with N-95 masks and full protective suits. They hung out with me for a couple of hours. It was so good to see them. It was difficult too, though, since I couldn't help but think about the whole 4-day schedule I had mapped out full of hikes, colorful aspen groves, elk-watching, the fridge I had loaded full of some of my favorite meals I wanted to share with them, and hanging out in the evenings and enjoying good conversation. I kicked myself that this whole situation was probably avoidable.

Nate had invited my parents over for dinner. This meant a lot to me. They enjoyed the grilled elk burgers I had been telling them was my favorite new dish since moving to Colorado.

I was feeling pretty well rested after all day laying around, so I watched a movie on my laptop. I slept pretty well that night (apart from a middle-of-the night IV and pump replacement fiasco), as it was the first night without major chills and my fever was pretty low.

Due to my continued need for a high level of supplemental oxygen and wanting to make sure I was not going to get worse, my attending doctor advises that I remain in the hospital for at least a couple of more days.

Fruit, cottage cheese, and pudding. The pudding tasted like pure chemicals and I thought maybe Covid-19 was finally getting to my taste buds, but the fruit and cottage cheese tasted normal. I was probably just tasting the pudding for what it was.
Remdesivir.
Saline IV.
Incentive spirometer.
Reading material.
Again the cafeteria at the Estes Park Medical center impressed me. One of the best sandwiches in town. The chocolate cake was too rich for my tastes.
My parents in their plastic suits and N-95 masks.

Day 18: Day 3 in hospital

  • September 26 (Su): The respiratory nurse told me I need to start getting up and walking around the room, to give my lungs some more action. It feels good to get up and move a bit, although all of the tubes I am hooked up to are quite annoying. I also tried to spend most of the day sitting, rather than laying down, to get my body weight off of the back of my lungs to allow those alveoli to begin to heal better.

My attending doctor told me that I need to get my supplemental oxygen needs down to 2 L/min before he feels comfortable releasing me to carry on my recovery at home. This gives me more motivation to try to move around the room and do breathing exercises, since I would rather be at home and I also want to see my parents again before they begin their long drive back home to Canada tomorrow. Despite my efforts, today I stayed at around 3-3.5 L/min.

I gotta stop eating these cookies....but the nurses know I like them and also that I eat gluten free so each new nurse goes out of his or her way to bring me another....a testament to the fact that the nurses here are pretty cool. I cannot wait to start to exercise again as I feel soft and my fitness slipping away...

Day 19: Day 4 in hospital

  • September 27 (M): It was the first night in over a week where I did not have fever and chills so I woke up feeling pretty well-rested. My morning bloodwork showed that my C-Reactive protein has continued to decrease (it had been quite high when I was first admitted), indicating reducing levels of infection-related inflammation in my body.

The attending doctor came in mid-morning to assess my condition and said that he is still not comfortable with discharging me today, but that if I could wean myself down on the oxygen a bit over the course of the day, I can perhaps be discharged tomorrow. He also added a daily dose of Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, and Zinc to my pill intake, since these have been shown to help with recovery from the Covid-19.

Given that I am not getting out of the hospital before my parents leave, the attending doctor was also open to the idea of my parents coming to visit again, as long as they dressed in their N-95 masks and PPE equipment. The doctor suspects that at this point I am no longer capable of transmitting Covid-19 anyway. It was great to be able to see my parents one more time before they begin their long drive back to Canada. I hoped it wouldn't be 2 years before I saw them again....

Just talking with my parents and being slightly more active while they were here caused my oxygen saturation to increase enough that my oxygen was lowered to 2.5 L/min. This gives me hope that I will be discharged soon, perhaps even tomorrow.

My parents second visit. The gal on the right is Michele, my "respiratory therapist" who was responsible for monitoring my oxygen saturation throughout the day and giving me tips on things to do to be trying to improve my lung function. She was super nice.

Day 20: Day 5 in hospital + released!

  • September 28 (Tu): I woke up feeling bored and ready to get out. Shortness of breath is still real if I come disengaged from my oxygen, but all of my other symptoms (fever, chills, headache, fatigue) are gone and my energy is pretty good.

I was discharged in the early afternoon, after completing my fifth dose of Remdeservir. I actually don't need to quarantine at this point, since I am now symptom-free (aside from needing oxygen and being tired and weak), plus I had started my Covid-19 symptoms long enough ago that I am deemed non-contagious by the doctor. Nate picked me up, and on the way back to his place (5 minutes from the hospital), I picked up my prescription for Dexmethasone (a steroid to open bronchials to get more oxygen transference). Other than vitamins this will be the only medication I will be taking. I also picked up a fingertip pulse oximeter at the drug store, to monitor my blood oxygen levels to make sure I dip no lower than about 88% and can adjust my oxygen supply appropriately.

The plan is to stay with Nate in Estes Park for the indeterminate future as I recover. I'm grateful to Nate for being so willing to care for me (and this isn't the first time—he had done the same when I had my knee injury and then surgery about exactly a year before). (Unfortunately, a few days later, I ended up deciding to return to Boulder (5,300 ft), since I was struggling too much to breathe in the higher altitude air of Estes Park (7,800 ft).)

In the afternoon, a load of oxygen tanks and a plug-in machine that generates its own concentrated oxygen was dropped off at Nate's. While at home and overnight, a long tube runs from the machine to a nasal cannula in my nose to supply me with oxygen. The tanks are for if I ever need to leave the house. The tanks range from 7.5 to 10 lbs, portable enough to put in a small pack, so perhaps I could do some short walks to get some exercise. I will try tomorrow! My respiratory nurse at the hospital sensed my eagerness to get back to my normal activities and she warned me not to overdo it, but at the same time had told me that mild walking around would be good for my lungs.

Doctor's note. It is looking like I may have to take a medical leave this semester - I've just fallen too far behind.
My oxygen setup. The black box plugs into the wall and produces an endless supply of oxygen. I can connect to it with a 50 foot tube. The bottles are portable and allow me to go out of the house like to do errands or a walk. I have to ration these as there is no resupply.

Days 21-23: At home, on supplemental oxygen

  • September 29 (W): Since I don't need to quarantine, I drove myself to Boulder (with portable oxygen tank in tow) to pick up some stuff at my apartment, and then drove back to Nate's place in Estes Park. It feels good to get out and move after five days in the hospital. I spent the afternoon working on my computer trying not to check my oxygen saturation stats too obsessively (keeping it above 90% is important—breathing deep and walking around really seems to help bring it back up). I also finally made the decision to take a medical leave from CU Boulder for the rest of the semester. The current plan is to re-start in Spring semester.

  • September 30 (Th) (3 weeks after contracting Covid-19): I slept in, sat around most of the day searching job postings and applying for jobs, ate a couple of protein shakes (a staple in my diet I had missed in the hospital), tutored a student for an hour online, went on a short walk around town with a portable oxygen tank in a pack, ate a protein-rich dinner, watched a TV show, and went to bed by 8pm.

  • October 1 (F): Pretty much a repeat of the previous day. For the most part, I am feeling pretty tired and out-of-shape. Low-level depression has set in and its difficult to stay motivated or up-beat despite my efforts. The best part of my day was definitely my short hike at Lumpy Ridge, which got the air flowing through the lungs and gave me hope for getting back to normal activity some day.

Fingertip pulse oximeter. Just need to keep my oxygen saturation above 88 or so according to my respiratory therapist's suggestion at the hospital when I left. Currently keeping it at 88 on a 1.5 L/min flow which is improvement for sure.
An easy 1.5-hour, 3.7-mile hike. Oxygen tank and nasal cannula in tow. Lungs are feeling like they are moving more air but the shortness of breath due to Covid-19 is still quite real and the supplemental oxygen is definitely still needed to keep my oxygen saturation from dropping too low. It feels like even if the lungs are clearing out, the Covid-19 prevents full oxygen exchange in the lungs.

Days 24-27: Getting off supplemental oxygen

  • October 2 (Sa): It was a bit of a rough night of sleep: waking up with a bloody nose from the oxygen drying out my nose, a gut ache, and the constant and not-too-quiet hum of the oxygen machine. I tired to go off the oxygen a bit in the morning and found myself so out of breath and my oxygen saturation in the low 80s. Plus, I was so cold. And quite miserable overall. This just wasn't fair to Nate. We both decided it would be best for me to get to a lower elevation, so I drove back to Boulder (5,300 ft), which would be 2,500 feet lower elevation than Estes Park (7,800 ft). Indeed, I feel much better in Boulder, and am able to maintain low 90 oxygen saturation without the supplemental oxygen.

  • October 3 (Su): I had the oxygen machine on the lowest setting (1L/min) most of the night, but turned it off in the early morning. I spent the day sitting in the sun searching job posting sites and applying for jobs. I spent the evening straightening up my apartment in a frenzy of productivity. I hardly thought about breathing all day and actually felt pretty normal. I might get through this after all.

  • October 4 (M): I woke up feeling the dark cloud of low-level depression, so forced myself out the door with the idea of doing some walking and bird photography at Barr Lake State Park. But I couldn't find any enjoyment in it and drove right back home and napped and moped around in my apartment for the rest of the day, trying not to be a dark cloud to anyone but myself. On a more positive note, this night was the first night that I went without supplemental oxygen. Good to be off the oxygen! My dried out sinuses are happy too.

  • October 5 (Tu): Bad patient that I am, I cancelled my post-hospital check-up and drove my oxygen tanks and oxygenator back to the distributor (where they made me sign an "against medical advice" form to give them back). With my health returning and my medical leave underway, I find myself out of sorts and suddenly having no vision in life. I spend most of my time looking at job postings, applying for jobs, and doing interviews. Finding a job can turn into a mentally-exhausting full-time endeavor in itself.

Logic puzzle. This is about the extent of my mental capacity at the moment.

Day 28: Trying to climb again (feeling ~50%)

  • October 6 (W): It has now been just over a week since I left the hospital. I spent most of the last week just resting and doing very little exercise, wanting my body to heal and not wanting to overdo it. But I am beginning to go a bit crazy from lack of exercise, and feeling kind of soft and out of shape. I started the day with a mellow 15 minutes on my exercise bike, which is progress but way more exhausting than it used to be. Later in the day, I climbed for a couple of hours at Eldo (The Bulge (4p, 5.7) ). My body felt very unsure of itself and quite weak, but it really felt great to be outside in the sun and on the rock.

First climb since becoming sick with Covid-19: The Bulge (4p, 5.7) in Eldorado Canyon.

Days 29-31: Trying to hike again

  • October 7-8 (Th-Fr) (Th=4 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Nate and I hiked 2 miles into Rocky Mountain National Park and camped overnight amongst the aspen. The campsite was at 9,200 ft. I felt pretty fatigued and even a bit shaky from the short hike, but I am trying to see the improvement from less than a week previous when I had been struggling to breathe in Estes Park (7,800 ft) on supplemental oxygen. Thanks Nate for planning this overnight adventure to get me out in nature with my current abilities.

  • October 9 (Sa): I had stayed in Estes Park at Nate's. I woke up feeling pretty normal and energetic. I decided to take advantage of it and go to the local gym for an hour to get on the bike machine (30 min), elliptical (10 min), do some core exercises (25 min), and pushups (5 min). I have noticed my body composition over the last couple of months deteriorating to softness, so I guess I have my work cut out for me this fall and winter to get back some muscle tone. I was feeling pretty good after my relatively mild morning workout, and in typical Steph fashion decided that meant I was fine to join Nate and his visiting brother and brother's fiance on a 2 hour flat hike at Lumpy Ridge; I was so blown out by the (usually easy) hike that I was breathing hard and my heart was racing, I had to stop several times on the hike out, and when I got home my entire body was shaking, my oxygen saturation was at 85%, and I had to take a nap, I was ravenous when I woke up, and I went to bed at 7:30 with my chest still feeling tight. Some private tears of frustration may have been shed—it's just such a mental beat down to feel like your body is on the fight of its life on a hike that is normally just an easy approach to a full day of rock climbing.

Above: Pretty yellow aspen in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Right: Nate's brother Seth and Seth's fiance Rachael were visiting. We played a few rounds of Blockus. Quite fun!

Day 32: Another day of climbing (feeling ~60%)

  • October 10 (Su): The take-away I got from the previous day is that if I want to get outside and move around a bit, I need to go to lower elevation and try to keep my heart rate and breathing needs down. So today I climbed a bit at Combat Rock with Nate. It was one of those perfect warm fall days. We climbed 6 pitches of 5.9-5.11. I am pleasantly surprised to be climbing pretty decently despite how fatigued my body feels, but I am also pretty humbled at how difficult the short and usually-easy approach felt to me.

I returned to Boulder after climbing at Combat Rock. After a couple of hours of being in Boulder, the tightness in my chest and constant body fatigue I had felt while 2,500 feet higher in Estes Park has dissipated. This experience certainly confirms that Covid-19 affects the respiratory system by weakening the lung's ability to absorb oxygen normally. (An interesting study I found notes that "no evidence-based knowledge is presently available on whether and how altitude may prevent, treat, or aggravate Covid-19". I can certainly vouch for the fact that being at altitude aggravates the symtoms of Covid-19, but the benefits or harm of altitude on recovery or susceptibility to Covid-19 is an interesting question. I imagine I would feel downright normal at sea level.)

Nate leading The Diagonal (5.9) at Combat Rock.
No wonder I feel so much better in Boulder. I'm oxygenated!

Days 33-37: Starting to be productive again

  • October 11 (M): This was probably my most "feeling like myself again" day yet. I started off the day with some mild core exercises and 20 minutes on my exercise bike, and from there it was a ping pong match of tutoring, doing an interview, going climbing at Eldo for a few hours, squeezing in a blitz trip to Target, and rushing back home to tutor again. By the time I finally relaxed it was nearly 8pm. It's nice to have stopped moping around all day.

  • October 12 (Tu): I continued to test the waters by doing a short morning session (15 autobelay pitches) at the climbing gym. My body feels the weakness of not climbing in the gym for awhile, but it was an enjoyable session. Nice to be getting back to my normal routine again too.

  • October 13 (W): Climbed at Clear Creek Canyon. 8 pitches 5.9-5.10d. Didn't do any leading though.

  • October 14 (Th) (5 weeks after contracting Covid-19): The first "this is not a bill yet" arrived in the mail: $35,000 and change for my 5-day stay in the hospital. Of course insurance covers the amount after my deductible, but it's not like my deductible is super low. (The actual "after insurance" bill payment I owed ended up being about $4,500).

  • October 15 (F): Core workout, 20 autobelay pitches at the climbing gym, 30 minutes on the exercise bike, and soloed the First and Second Flatiron. My lungs are still not ready for jogging (shortness of breath sets in if I get my heart rate too high), but the body is starting to feel sort of normal again. Also, I am back to only feeling the need for 5-6 hours of sleep a night again, instead of 12-14 hours of sleep a day when my fatigue was at its worst.

Fun crack climbing on Pitch 3 of Bastille Crack at Eldo.
Clear Creek Canyon gneiss.
$35,187 for my 5-day stay in the hospital. I ended up owing about $4,500 after insurance.
The breakdown.
Flatirons. I should do these more often just for a nice cardio workout.
Soloing the First Flatiron. This is one of the 5.6 sections higher on the route.
A bluebird day but windy!

Days 38-39: Weekend climbing (feeling ~70%)

  • October 16 (Sa): Climbed nine pitches 5.8-5.11b at Combat Rock. The short approach still winded me a bit, but not as bad as it had on the previous weekend.

  • October 17 (Su): Climbed a couple of pitches on Thunder Buttress at Lumpy Ridge. I felt a bit more fatigued than I had at Combat because of the higher elevation, but had to remind myself that a week previous I had barely survived the same hike (without the additional uphill scramble to the base and climbing). Still, though, once I reach a certain level of exertion, it feels as if I am reaching the maximum amount of oxygen that my lungs can process at once and the shortness of breath sets in.

Climbing at Combat Rock.
Grove of yellow aspen at the base of Combat Rock.
Nate leading (Scott belaying) the first pitch chimney on Twenty-Two Ticks (5.7 R) on Thunder Buttress at Lumpy Ridge.

Days 40-44: A job!

  • October 18 (M): Day 1 on my new job! Because I had decided to take a medical leave from CU Boulder, I had spent much of the last few weeks just applying to jobs and going to interviews. I had probably applied to about 200 jobs and done about 10 interviews. With my two masters degrees that I worked quite hard for, the number of rejections was humbling and frustrating. When I was offered a contract job doing data entry for a pharmaceutical company in Boulder, I decided to take it. The job would end at the end of the year, allowing the option for me to continue with school in the Spring and also time to keep looking for a more long-term job at a less frantic pace. It's much better to be looking for a job when you already have one. (One might wonder—as a couple of my friends had already asked me—why I did not just take this medical leave as an opportunity to go climbing. After all, Yosemite and the desert are perfect this time of year. I definitely considered it, but ultimately determined that my body needed more recovery. Plus, I realized I lacked the desire to go just climb with random partners, when I have such a great and devoted partner— Nate—near home; and leaving to go on a climbing trip for awhile just didn't seem fair to Nate, when he had been so patient already with me out of commission for awhile with Covid-19 and also with an even longer stretch of me being out of commission with my knee injury the previous fall. And of course a job makes money, and money is necessary to pay the bills. And there are a lot of them these days.)

  • October 19 (Tu): Long day of work, but better than sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I worked from 8-5, and then tutored calculus for 2.5 more hours that evening. It is difficult to turn down a tax-free $50/hr for helping someone do fun math problems, especially considering that the data entry job is much less enjoyable and pays only a taxed $20/hr. Plus, after a decade of graduate studies, I am unsure of what to do in the evening other than schoolwork. At some point I need to start studying for the analysis preliminary exam I had failed in August and need to re-take in January, but I think it's probably wise to give myself a little longer to just heal from the Covid-19 before increasing my stress levels more than they need to be.

  • October 20 (W): Now that I am working, my morning routine is to wake up early to do some core exercises, exercise bike, and every other day or so a 1 hour session at the climbing gym before continuing onto work. I cannot wait to replace the exercise bike with a jog, but my lungs cannot yet handle jogging.

  • October 21 (Th) (6 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Repeat of the previous 3 days. The 8-5 office job is not really my style, but I suppose its good style of job to have while I recover from Covid-19, as it forces me to not overdo things and allow my still-recovering body to rest most of the day.

  • October 22 (F): Repeat of the previous 4 days. Except this morning I went on a 20 minute jog! This was my first time jogging since before I got sick with Covid-19. I was definitely sucking wind once I hit the point where my lungs seem to not be able to process any more oxygen, a different feeling than just breathing hard from exertion or being out of shape. But overall it just felt great to be able to jog again.

Days 45-46: Weekend climbing (feeling ~75%)

  • October 23 (Sa): Climbed a 5-pitch 5.7 route on The Book at Lumpy Ridge with Nate. I led only 1 pitch and I still feel a lot more fatigued up here than I do 3,000 feet lower in Boulder, but every weekend I see a tad bit of improvement over the previous weekend.

  • October 24 (Su): Woke up to a light drizzle and cold temperatures in Estes Park. Unable to convince Nate to go to Boulder Canyon for a day of climbing in the sun ("too crowded"), I drove back to Boulder and hiked to the top of Green Mountain (~6 miles, 2300 ft elevation gain/loss). I found the hike pretty easy. Now just over 6 weeks from contracting Covid-19, when not exercising I feel completely normal and when exercising I feel about 75% of my normal self, at least in the relative low lands of Boulder. There have been some people claiming to have cognitive issues after recovering from Covid-19, but my cognitive function seems pretty normal, with perhaps a little bit of short-term "scatterbrain" going on, but that could be due to life changes such as getting a new job, feeling out of sorts with my new schedule and less rigorous exercise, feeling down on myself for being out of shape, etc. Many people would probably consider themselves to be fully recovered by this point, but I won't consider myself fully recovered until I loose the heightened shortness of breath I get when I jog or when I exercise at altitude.

Looking up Osiris (5.7, 5p), the route on The Book I climbed at Lumpy Ridge with Nate.
Green Mtn hike.

Days 47-51: Back into a "normal" life routine

  • October 25-29 (M-F) (Th=7 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Wake up, 30 minutes core exercises, 30 min jog, 20 min bike, 10 autobelays at climbing wall on way to work, sit in a cubicle all day, come home, eat dinner, read book, go to bed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I am able to exercise again, but have some shortness of breath when jogging and just in general feeling more sedentary, heavier, and less fit than ideal.

Days 52-53: Weekend climbing (feeling ~80%)

  • October 30-31 (Sa-Su): Spent the weekend climbing at Elevenmile Canyon in the South Platte. Nate led most of the pitches (thanks!). Feeling pretty normal on the rock again but approaches (especially uphill with a pack and at 8000 feet altitude), I cannot seem to find enough oxygen in the air. Nate tells me this is what it feels like to be a normal person. I hope the damaged tissues heals with time.

Elevenmile Canyon. A sublime setting.

Days 54-58: Social Implications

  • November 1-5 (M-F) (Th=8 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Pretty much a repeat of the previous week. I'm so accustomed to the academic life that the office job is not a norm in my life at all and I hope it never is. But it's nice to have a job for now before I dive back into my graduate studies Spring semester.

For awhile now, I've been debating whether or not I should write this next two paragraphs. But this trip report is a platform for me to record my experiences with Covid-19, and part of that is giving an honest account. The one thing I have largely avoided thus far is the divisive societal storm that has blown in with the vaccine. Yes, I chose not to get the vaccine. Yes, I got Covid-19. These two things are most likely related. On occasion I have questioned my own decision to not get the vaccine and vaguely regretted it when I think about the possibility that I could have avoided getting Covid-19. In general I believe that the vaccine is effective in helping to stop the spread of Covid-19 though the population and dulling the effects of the virus on an individual. But at the same time I have some well-thought and personally important reasons for not getting the vaccine. I think freedom of choice regarding my body is important. I am the only one in my family that is not vaccinated. Most of my friends and collogues are also vaccinated. About half of them respect my decision, just as I respect their decision. I really appreciate that. But about half of them don't. I've been called "uninformed," "brainwashed," "foolish," "caviler," "selfish". My persistent social distancing efforts are apparently meaningless. I've now been told by a family member that I should not come home for the upcoming holidays unless I am vaccinated, since I would be selfishly putting family members at risk. I acknowledge this concern, especially in light of the awful coincidence of my parents coming to visit during the time that Covid-19 put me in the hospital and my regret that I put the two most important people in my life at risk. But it also makes me kind of sad. And a bit confused by how people don't seem to quite trust the vaccine yet are still angered when someone chooses not to get it. I am looking forward to when this whole Covid-19 thing is a thing of the past. If it ever is.

Days 59-60: Weekend climbing (feeling ~85%)

  • November 6-7 (Sa-Su): Climbed on The Book at Lumpy Ridge both days. It was one of those perfect warm November weekends, climbing with my favorite partner, so and no better place to be. I led several pitches 5.8-5.9 and was feeling as strong as ever. The uphill portion of the approach is still had me huffing and puffing but it becomes a bit easier every week. Seems that at this point my body is back to normal for anything not too cardio.

The view out from Lumpy Ridge. Wow, huh?
Splitter crack on George's Tree (5.9) at The Book at Lumpy Ridge.
Nate climbing Howling at the Wind Pitch 1. I would have been proud of this lead even before I got Covid-19. Felt as strong as ever.

Days 61-65: Autoimmune flare-up

  • November 8-12 (M-F) (Th=9 weeks after contracting Covid-19): I've noticed that since I contracted Covid-19, my autoimmune system has flared up. For me, this is largely manifested in gastrointestinal issues (gut aches, abdominal bloating, water retention, constipation, indigestion). I suppose an autoimmune flare-up is understandable given the immune response my system underwent as it fought the Covid-19. Fearing a likely autoimmune flare-up was one of the reasons I had chosen not to be vaccinated.

Also, I have noticed that I am loosing more hair than usual. I'm guessing this is related to the peak of my Covid-19 symptoms when my body was clearly suffering and diverting all of its resources to fighting the Covid-19.

Days 66-67: Weekend climbing (feeling ~87.5%)

  • November 13-14 (Sa-Su): It was a super windy weekend. Nate and I tried to climb at Lumpy Ridge, but only managed one pitch before the 50 mph gusts caused us to back down and hike out. Feeling the need for more exercise after a week of sitting in a cubicle, I went on a 6 mile hike to the top of Deer Mountain (summit ~10,000 ft). Without the climbing pack I had on earlier that morning, I felt pretty normal on the Deer Mountain hike. On Sunday, we tried to escape the wind by heading down-valley, but again only managed one route before deciding it was too windy for comfort. Oh well, we tried, and it was just nice to be outside and hanging out with Nate. I spent an hour on my exercise bike that evening. It's nice to have my energy levels back to normal.

Horsehead Rock. The rock looks so warm and sunny, but 50 mph gusts caused us to do only route route before hiking out.

Days 68-71: Feeling no lingering effects

  • November 15-18 (M-Th) (Th=10 weeks after contracting Covid-19): Was a busy week. I woke up at 4am every day to fit in my morning exercise before work, then tutored calculus for a few hours most days. I'd say that for daily life in Boulder I am feeling no lingering effects of the Covid-19.

Days 72-74: Weekend climbing (feeling ~87.5% still)

  • November 19-21 (F-Su): Spent a three-day weekend sport climbing and camping at Shelf Road. The climbing here is steep limestone. Nate and I climbed over 20 pitches from 5.9-5.11. Having climbed mostly moderate routes this fall, it felt nice to get pumped and challenged. My body is still feeling a bit weak overall (5.11 moves feel harder than they would have in the past), but it's probably the indirect effects of Covid-19 such as getting a bit out of shape from being sick and having to recover rather than any direct lingering effects of the virus. An enjoyable weekend of climbing in the sun!

Steep limestone walls at Shelf Road.

Days 75-77: Hospital bill payment

  • November 22-24 (M-W): Short week due to Thanksgiving. The "what you owe after insurance" bill for my $35,000 hospital stay finally arrived: I owed about $4,500. Worth it for getting me through Covid-19 without suffocating, but still a big hit for a grad student. About the same I will earn working my contract job through the end of the year.

Days 78-81: Thanksgiving climbing trip to the desert (feeling ~87.5% still)

  • November 25-28 (Th-Su) (Th=11 weeks after contracting Covid-19): It was Thanksgiving weekend, and both Nate and I had 4.5 days off (mid-Wed through Sunday). Time for a climbing trip! We desired steep splitter sandstone cracks in the sun, but without crowds. Paradox Valley sounded like a great option. We spent three days climbing. Hauling a heavy desert rack up and down the approaches was a bit more exhausting than it has felt in the past, but otherwise I was feeling pretty strong on the rock. I love sandstone splitters.

I love sandstone splitters.
Shadow fun.
Pyscho Tower. A wild route we climbed on our third day.

Days 82-86: Work week

  • November 29 - December 3 (M-F): xxx

Days 87-88: Weekend climbing (feeling ~xx%)

  • December 4-5 (Sa-Su): xxx

Medical Bills (Approximate totals before insurance)

Medical Bills COVID 19
$35,187 for my 5-day stay in the hospital. I ended up owing about $4,500 after insurance.
The breakdown.

previous and next adventures

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