My Experience with COVID and Its Impact On My IBS Symptoms

Contracting COVID-19 was just about the last thing I thought I would have to deal with after the new year. After all, I managed to NOT get it for 2 whole years. In a clear case of magical thinking, I figured that not getting it offered me some kind of special immunity. But it was just the luck of the draw.

My symptoms

January 3, 2022: The day began just like any other. I spent the morning working online as a health advocate, moderating and writing articles. By late morning I noticed a tickle in the back of my throat. I thought I might be dehydrated, so I upped my water intake and chewed gum. But the tickle persisted. I felt well otherwise, so I did my best to ignore it.

By early afternoon I developed a dry cough. Not able to ignore this turn of events, I fired up the vaporizer, convinced that the brittle winter air had parched my throat and caused this irritation. It didn’t help. Then things started getting strange. At 4 pm, a Medigap insurance broker called me. He reminded me that I would be turning 65 this year, and this was my only chance to sign up at this low price. We spoke for an hour and he threw a lot of information at me. I took notes and asked intelligent questions. Suddenly, I could no longer process what he was saying. I heard words but could not decipher their meanings. An urge to cry pushed up into my throat. I gulped it down long enough to tell the broker that we would have to continue the conversation another day and ended the call. I sat at my desk, unable to pull my thoughts together. My brain seemed frozen. It was 5 pm, long past the time I usually stop doing the business of the day. I was over-tired, that’s all, and overdue to put on some music, pour a Scotch, and kick back in my recliner.

Memory lane with multiple sclerosis

I picked through some CDs. One sported a familiar scrawl that melted me on the spot: a practice session of me at age 22 on flute and John Justus on guitar, circa 1978. We had both taught at Fisher Music in Toledo back then, and whenever we had some time between lessons, he would come to my room and we would read through Bach 2-part inventions and other concert literature, then randomly flip through the Real Book and play Charlie Parker heads, Bill Evans ballads, bossa nova standards, whatever caught our eye. Memories of these good times flooded in. But pain would soon follow.

Over the years, multiple sclerosis wrecked my fine motor function and I could barely even get a sound of the flute mouthpiece anymore. But here I was playing at peak form, seamlessly moving through registers, good intonation and technique, pleasant vibrato, spot-on phrasing, soulfully and yes, sweetly, interpreting the Great American Songbook. I wept. Forty-four years ago I was a musician, a lifetime ago. My dad was a tasty jazz tenor sax player, and through him, I met wonderful people and listened to the jazz greats, even met some of them. They were dead – all of them – dad too. My soft sobs deepened in my grief. Though it wasn’t the first time I’d thought about these things, it was the first time I had grieved so hard. But the drama did not stop there.

IBS symptoms and COVID

I woke up and looked at the clock, shocked that I had fallen asleep for an hour. Suddenly I was gripped by fear and paranoia. Was that conversation with the insurance broker a hallucination? Had I signed up for Medigap insurance with a scammer? What have I done? I struggled to remember what I did to ensure he was legit, but my memory was a blank. What in the world is going on? The people I have lost flooded my thoughts and grief welled up once again, breaking my heart, breaking me completely.

A knock at the door brought me back to my senses. My friend Robin was due to arrive at 7 pm and here she was, bouncing into my living room, beaming and chirping about her day—until she took a closer look at me. "Are you okay?" she asked. I burst into tears and collapsed in her arms.

During the next 5 days, I experienced symptoms similar to a bad cold. The tickle and dry cough worsened; mucus drained constantly; my head pounded. Stranger symptoms included blurred vision, which prevented me from reading, and an inability to comprehend the content, all of which persisted for most of those 6 days. I stopped trying to work online and opted instead to clean and organize my apartment. Emotionally I returned to normal after that harrowing first day. On day 7, I tested positive for COVID.

My IBS symptoms were affected, too. Usually, I have to manage chronic diarrhea, but my output slowed considerably and became more solid during that week of COVID. Looking back, the reason isn't mysterious. For most of those 6 days, I took Dayquil every 4 hours, and a side effect can be constipation. After I recovered and stopped taking Dayquil, my IBS–D returned to baseline.

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