Elizabeth Bolt recently recovered from COVID-19. She is also celebrating her 30th diaversary in November 2020. She graciously took the time to recant her coronavirus story (24 days in full) so that other people with diabetes could gain more understanding about the virus' impact.
Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Before we get into it, give us some background: who you are, where you live, when were you diagnosed with diabetes, and a typical day in your life with diabetes.
I'm a Louisiana native, football fanatic - Geaux Saints! - genetic genealogist enthusiast, creative writer with a soft spot for the desert, currently living in Texas. I recently relocated here to be closer to my parents.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 5 and spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. My first cousin on my dad's side was diagnosed when she was 12, so my mom recognized the signs (excessive thirst and frequent urination) and caught it early. I'll be celebrating 30 years of type 1 diabetes in November.
A day-in-the-life of diabetes management is looking a little different for me these days. I recently decided to go off the pump after 15 years and I have to admit, I am loving it. I was not anticipating how much I would enjoy not being hooked up to a machine. I use Humalog and Tresiba pens, and they're working great for me.
My last A1C was 6.7%, the best of my adult life! I check my blood sugar around 6-8 times a day, so I keep a close eye on it and how I'm feeling. I inject anywhere from 3-5 times a day, depending on what I eat and if I might need any corrections.
I live and work in downtown, so since moving, I've become super active. I walk to and from work and really, all over the place, as much as I possibly can. While living with my mom and stepdad my first two months in Dallas, my stepdad helped me learn to cook. I can say for a fact that being more active and cooking more at home has definitely had a tremendously positive impact on my diabetes and lowering my A1C.
Before you contracted COVID-19, what did you think about it? Did you know anyone else with it? Had you followed all of the protocols?
I follow the news, so I was staying updated on the novel coronavirus as it started to spread around the globe. I wanted to be aware and smart, but I wasn't overly concerned at the time. If anything, I was more worried about my parents, because they're high-risk due to age and some underlying conditions.
But did I ever think I would contract it? No! I think we all tend to err on the side of what are the chances of this actually happening to me?
I was exposed early on: March 9. The U.S. had 148 cases that day and North Texas had just recorded its first case. This was a couple of days before the WHO officially declared a pandemic.
So, at that point, though I had started washing my hands more frequently, they hadn't yet really started promoting social distancing, canceling all sports, closing schools and businesses, etc. So, I was doing what they had recommended at the time.
When did you start feeling sick? What were your symptoms like? Did you experience the different levels of symptoms we keep hearing about on the news?
I started having symptoms on March 12, three days after I was exposed.
I had a little bit of a cough late in the evening, but I felt congestion in my chest. I didn't think much of it because, on the news, they kept saying the cough associated with COVID-19 was a dry cough.
I decided to take my temperature out of curiosity and it was 99.2°F, so nothing to shake a stick at. By the end of the next day, March 13, I was coughing a little bit more and I felt absolutely exhausted. This was also the day I started to lose my appetite, though, at the time, I didn’t realize that was happening.
I booked an appointment with Urgent Care near my house; not because I was worried I might have COVID, but because I just knew I felt like I was coming down with something. It was a video appointment due to the changing circumstances. I had learned that someone I have weekly contact with was not feeling well, but I did not know this person’s symptoms, conditions, or if they had been tested.
The doctor asked me if I had traveled outside of the country or been in contact with anyone who tested positive. I said no, but mentioned my sick friend. After a few more questions, the doctor said it sounded like I had bronchitis and prescribed me an antibiotic and an inhaler. I was able to start those the next day, March 14.
I also started having diarrhea that day, but initially attributed it to the antibiotic. I took the antibiotic and used the inhaler for three days when I suddenly started to feel worse.
My breathing started to feel a little funny, kind of like if you were to quickly suck in a breath of cold air. I also started to lose my sense of taste, but (again) didn’t realize that's what was happening because it wasn’t being publicized at that time. I got take-out that evening and when I took a bite of my burger, I remember thinking, "Wow, they really messed this up. It seriously tastes like nothing!"
I really started to feel worse the evening of day four, March 15, when my temperature went up to 100.4°F.
So contacted my endocrinologist to ask her how concerned I should be given the pandemic. I wasn't calling with the intention of getting tested, I more wanted to know how worried I should or shouldn't be.
She got back to me the next day and after discussing my symptoms, my worsening condition despite the medications, and mentioning my sick friend, she said I should be tested.
I was tested March 18, at a drive-thru testing center.
The test was uncomfortable -- a deep swab in both nostrils. Once that was over, they gave me a one-sheet and told me to go home and isolate as if I did have the virus until my results were in.
Later that day I learned someone I had contact with tested positive. I was notified of a second positive contact the next day as well. As I waited for my results, I started to feel worse.
I developed a more pronounced shortness of breath. It felt like the air wasn't going very deeply into my lungs. My fever stayed over 100°F for five days. The highest it got was 101.1°F, so I was fortunate not to experience the very high fevers others were reporting.
At this point, I was dealing with:
- shortness of breath
- extreme fatigue
- loss of appetite
- loss of taste
Days 5-10 were when I felt the absolute worst. I definitely thought I was improving by day 8, but days 9 and 10 turned out to be absolute doozies. I was taking a turn for the worse.
I resolved on day 10 that if I wasn’t better the next day, I may need to consider going to the hospital because I was feeling so bad at this point. All of this was especially scary because I live alone and was navigating all of this on my own.
How did you finally know you had it? When was that? Did you ever go to the hospital?
Day 10 (March 21) is also the day I learned I had tested positive. My doctor called me early that day -- a Saturday -- to tell me my results.
She talked about the need to continue to isolate and told me what to look for in case I needed to seek emergency care. She also told me to rest, stay hydrated, and, of course, monitor my blood sugars.
Luckily, I felt a definite improvement in my breathing troubles the next day, day 11.
Although this was scary, I never felt like I was in danger as far as needing to go to the hospital. And while my breathing felt shallow, I never felt like I wasn't getting enough oxygen. Oddly enough, my coughing actually got worse as I started to get better and sometimes the fits left me gasping for air.
Once you knew you had it, what did you do? How did you protect and care for yourself? What was the full recovery process like?
I found out I was positive when I was at my sickest, so I really didn't change much about what I was doing. I had already been basically sleeping all day because I was so tired.
I was drinking a ton of water, which I'm not normally very good about. My loss of appetite was pretty bad. I think I went a week or so surviving on a few crackers, water, and Gatorade. I could not stomach the thought of food. I felt queasy at even the thought of trying to eat.
I had help in taking care of myself in that my parents were able to drop things off at my door as-needed. I was still checking my blood sugars multiple times a day, even though I wasn't eating much. My symptoms slowly started to lessen a little each day until they were completely gone.
From the start of my symptoms until full dissipation was 17 days.
It was strange because they went away simultaneously. It's not like one cleared up on one day and another the next. Then it was another week after that for my energy and appetite to come back.
In total, I was completely down for the count for 24 days.
How did all of this impact your diabetes? Did you see any major spikes in blood sugars? Was the coronavirus any different on your diabetes than any other sickness you’ve had?
Miraculously, my blood sugars remained relatively stable. I partly attribute this to barely being able to eat.
I did have a few readings in the 200s when I was at my sickest, and I had to adjust my insulin as I went longer with no appetite because I had a couple of lows.
But I didn't have any major or consistent highs. I've definitely experienced worse highs with other illnesses and I really can't say why that wasn't the case with COVID-19. This definitely did not feel like the flu to me. I've been hospitalized with pneumonia before and I honestly think the breathing difficulty was worse with COVID-19.
What would you tell other people with diabetes who are worried about contracting COVID-19?
As a person with an underlying condition, it is discouraging and worrisome that the majority of the coverage we get is strictly related to being-high risk and having higher hospitalization and death rates.
To other people with diabetes, I would say, "Please take this seriously. Please take all the precautions you can. Limit your news consumption related to the virus. Look for the positive stories of recovery."
I've read of several other diabetics who recovered at home and are doing much better. Though this disease is different for everyone it infects, diabetes doesn't have to mean that you'll be hospitalized and/or fighting for your life.
Is there anything you’ve taken away from your experience that you want others to know?
I celebrated my 35th birthday in the midst of all of this and I am really thankful to be here.
Though I never feared for my life, the stories of those who didn't make it are heartbreaking. I do sometimes wonder, why me?
It's cliche to say, but we really are not promised tomorrow. I'm so grateful to have moved closer to my parents and while I won't live my life in fear, I'm going to try to be better about thinking I have all the time in the world to accomplish, see, or do things, or connect with friends and family.
If you test positive for COVID-19 and are able to donate plasma after you recover, please do!
I heard about doctors using plasma from survivors to treat the critically ill while I was still sick. I knew immediately that I wanted to donate. It's so worth it because you could help save a life, and we are all in this together.