How COVID-20 got me started as a writer
Being a trail runner means doing some things for fun that don’t sound very fun to other people. It is an endurance sport that takes place amid wilderness and a lot of unpredictable challenges. Wildlife, bad weather, injuries, and a myriad of other possible problems. It’s rewarding to experience nature in this way amid all of these challenges.
“If you want to run, then run a mile. If you want to experience another life, run a marathon.” — Emil Zatopek
On one Friday night in May, three friends and I decided that we would run over 27 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail overnight. For fun. Little did I know at the time but it would be the start of a different kind of journey.
A harrowing journey of pain, suffering, and blessings.
We’ll get to that last part. But it’s going to get a little ugly first. So hang with me.
I also didn’t know that it would be the last time I’d be on a trail again for months. But there are positives in every circumstance. If pain is a gift and problems are opportunities, I had some really big opportunities ahead of me!
But first, how it all started.
There is something really special about running on a trail at night. The moon was one day past full on May 8th, the start of our run. It was bright. Almost so bright that we didn’t need our headlamps running on the gorgeous rolling trail leaving Cajon Junction headed toward Silverwood Lake.
Something was rumbling in my stomach and I was feeling oddly nauseous. The weather condition and scenery were perfect. My digestive system was not. I knew that it could end up being a long night if this continued. I was not happy about this thought but didn’t suspect anything unusual. One’s body can produce strange feedback when you decide not to sleep and instead run all night.
So I dragged behind my three friends all night long constantly thinking about where I might ‘go’ if these stomach disturbances turned into something more urgent. I was getting through by sheer perseverance.
I felt like death warmed over on the last long climb but knew there was a nice long descent to the car and breakfast on the other side. I decided to let the downhill rip no matter how bad it felt.
It was time to grit it out and finish. Put a smile on. Get some breakfast. Drink a beer with the guys. Go home and rest.
Saturday was a blur and I didn’t really second guess why I was feeling so horrendous. I had been running the entire previous night without sleeping. What more explanation is needed?
I turned in early on Saturday night feeling that I just needed to get some sleep and that things would be better in the morning. I had a regular volunteer gig with a homeless ministry I did on Sunday mornings. I planned to show up and serve well-rested. That would snap my life back to normal for sure.
I volunteered with the homeless ministry on Sunday morning as planned. But driving home, I was starting to sense that something was seriously not right. The nausea was building and my gastrointestinal system was at war with me. I was also feeling a strange sense of mental impairment.
Deciding to be cautious, I decided that we should not go to my wife’s parents’ home for Mother’s Day. I didn’t believe I had COVID but it seemed smart to call it off just in case.
Monday morning. The bottom fell out. I could barely sit up. Nausea was so bad that I constantly felt like vomiting. Body pain. Severe GI distress. Chills. Fever. Cloudy thinking and deep, overwhelming fatigue. No appetite. Uh-oh.
I was able to get on a video call with my doctor and he said “it sounds like you have COVID. You need to self-quarantine and get tested. You should also assume that your wife and daughter are exposed so they need to quarantine too.”
So we did. I had to notify everyone that I have come in contact with that there is a strong possibility that they had been exposed to the virus. The church needed to notify authorities and volunteers needed to be changed so as not to put anyone at risk.
I was able to make an appointment with a drive-through COVID testing site. But I was barely able to sit up due to nausea, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue. At this point, it seemed pretty obvious that I was one of the many who contracted COVID. It just needed to be formalized with a positive result.
The symptoms matched what I had been hearing without breathing problems. I had tightness in my chest. My gastrointestinal system was waging a guerrilla war against me.
I’m trying to keep this “G-Rated”.
Let’s just say that it finally became clear to me why people hoard toilet paper.
But then the test results came back. Negative.
My doctor was unimpressed. “We are seeing in our practice that these tests are pretty unreliable”, he told me. “You should go and get an antibody test.”
I did. Negative. At this point, I was two weeks in. The abdominal war had calmed down a lot. I had no more fever or chills. I thought that things might be near their end. The reality was that the end was not even close.
Quarantining gets lonely. You don’t eat meals with your family. I was 15 days into this and I was still mostly just confined to the back room of our home. My brain was fogged over and the nausea was ever-present. My usual release in times of stress is to go for a run. Running was not a possibility. Or walking. Or much else. There were not many options in my state.
I managed to get through several books but even reading was a challenge. Waves of fatigue would wash over me that meant not being able to do anything at all. I have never experienced this level of fatigue before.
I have completed a 100-mile endurance run and two over 60 miles along with lots of runs over marathon in length.
I was less fatigued after any one of those events than the fatigue waves that would wash over me daily in this illness.
I just knew things would get better. But every day was the same. Memorial Day had come and gone. May had come and gone. June 1st was on day 25 of this mystery. I was getting blood tests for everything imaginable.
Stuck in the same four walls with the same problems. Every single day. I can’t go outside and run. I can’t drive further than a few miles away from my home. I can’t even walk at a moderate pace without being completely wiped out for the rest of the day. Doing the things that made me “me” were not possible.
But what about writing? Could I try that? My writing mostly consisted of emails for the last 10 years.
I thought about it. Maybe it’s a blessing to not have any other options. But what would I write about? I went with business because it is what I know.
I didn’t know about Medium or any other online publications. I thought that perhaps I could write OpEds for small newspapers. I had no idea if anyone would print it but started writing since I couldn’t do much else.
These symptoms would eventually pass and maybe I could get an OpEd published. That would be pretty cool.
More days went by. More tests including another COVID test. No answers but more questions. The strangest suspicion I heard from my specialist was typhus. That test came back negative too.
All of these tests kept coming back negative but the waves of fatigue, nausea, and brain fog continued. Often I would be confused about whether I had completed a task or whether I had just thought about completing it. My cognitive state was compromised. Day after day.
So I continued writing during the times I could. Writing became a release from all of the frustration, confusion, and isolation. Kind of like the trail running had been for years. I was starting to really enjoy the time writing. But no newspaper I would submit to would ever reply back.
Ok, maybe my writing isn’t that polished. I wasn’t really sure what editors were looking for. But something was developing within me. And I wanted someone to read what I had to say.
On July 3rd, 57 days into my mystery health issue, the nausea and daily fatigue started to lift.
I will probably never get an explanation about what caused this ordeal. My specialist ran out of things to test for. And the symptoms are finally lifting.
He referred me to an infectious disease doctor. They are understandably very busy. None of the infectious disease specialists I have called would consider taking me as a patient right now. Unless I had COVID-19.
Maybe it was COVID-20.
My specialist told me “you’re not crazy.”
I didn’t know that this was up for debate.
“Something was definitely going on with you.”
Whatever the cause. It was brutal and caused havoc for 57 days of my life.
But it has blessed me with a new passion for writing.
There is no way I would have ever started writing stories had I not been trapped in my home and my mind. My business has suffered but I’m back and still writing.
I know. Not many people see my work. I don’t get all that many ‘claps’. I have double-digit followers. Let’s be honest, most of those are people I have personally asked to follow me. I haven’t really figured out much about building the audience yet.
But I found a new passion.
And it came out of one of the toughest ordeals in my life. There truly is something positive in every circumstance.
How have you turned your pain into opportunities? Share your story. What did you go through and what blessing came out of it?
It’s inspiring and I’d love to hear about it below.