Dr. Robin’s Covid Updates

What To Do If You Get Sick With Covid

Twenty-Two Tips from the Trenches

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

So you got the dreaded email/phone call: you’ve got the Covid. Maybe you’re completely asymptomatic, or maybe you’re already sickly. No matter what, it’s a rough moment, and can be pretty scary.

Fundamentally, this positive test means you are infected and infectious (contagious) and you need to stay home for at least ten days after your positive test or onset of symptoms. What should you do now?

a) First thing: call your doctor. Let them know you’re positive and see what they have to say.

b) Then, right away, call everybody you’ve seen the last few days, and let them know you’re infected. Tell them they need to get tested five days after the day you were together, and tell them they ABSOLUTELY NEED TO STAY HOME til they get their test results.

c) Then, get yourself ready to be (hopefully not very) sick and self-isolated for ten days.

It super helps to be prepared ahead of time. Since you can’t leave the house — no shopping, no car rides with family or Uber, no post office visits — knowing you’ve got a “Covid Kit” standing by can be a real comfort when you get the news of a positive test.

What’s a Covid Kit? I wrote about it here before in detail, but basically a Covid Kit includes two important pieces of equipment — an oximeter and a thermometer — and anything that helps you feel better during a bad cold.

When I get sick with a bad cold, I myself like cough drops/throat lozenges, cough medicine, tylenol/ibuprofen/naproxen, a heating pad, some herbal teas, chicken soup, some spicy soup, and an updated subscription to Netflix. (And maybe a little bourbon.)

Other people like cold/flu over-the-counter medicines like NyQuil or Tylenol PM. It’s probably also a good idea to have some Gatorade or pedialyte on hand. (I can’t stand any of those things but they do help keep you hydrated.)

You want to be sure to have your basic fave foods in the house, whatever they are for you. And you should give some thought as to where you will isolate. A bedroom? A basement room? Can you have your own bathroom? Can somebody bring meals to your door?

You want the physical aspects of a confinement figured out ahead of time. Planning is power.

But it’s also good to be prepared for the logistical and emotional issues, too.

Think about these questions:

  1. Who is going to help take care of you if you need it?
  2. Who can go to the store for meds or food or a certain someone’s Chardonnay?
  3. How are you going to get/make food?
  4. How will you keep the kids away from you?
  5. Who will watch the kids?
  6. Who will take the kids to get tested and when?
  7. Who do you need to call at work?
  8. Is it your boss, Occupational Health, HR, more?
  9. Who do you need to call for support?
  10. Is it your mom, your BFF, your minister, your nurse friend from high school?
  11. Who is going to check on you a few times a day?
  12. Who is going to stay in touch with your doctor?
  13. Who will help you decide if/when it’s time to go to the hospital?
  14. Which hospital are you going to go to?
  15. What websites should you have bookmarked right now to get good info? It’s easier to have bookmarks marked ahead of time rather than googling “Quarantine Covid CDC” when you’re sick.
  16. Which Netflix shows are you going to binge?

As to the illness part, rest, hydration, and symptom relievers are the keys, just like with any other virus.

But there’s a couple of extra things with Covid:

17. We think it’s helpful to try to lay on your stomach (“prone”) as much as possible to improve breathing and oxygen levels.

18. We think it’s important to walk around the house multiple times a day, trying to open up your lungs and maybe reduce blood clots. Take deep breaths and “Every time you stand up, stand up straight!” (My sister-the-RN’s favorite line).

19. We think it’s very important to keep checking your oxygen with the pulse oximeter in your Covid Kit. If it starts going down a few points, call your doctor’s office. If it stays below 94 (from 100), get ahold of your doctor; you may need to go to an ER.

20. Checking for fever is also helpful but the most critical number is your oxygen level.

21. What else might help? There’s no clear data on zinc, melatonin, vitamin C, Pepcid. Some people are getting excited about Vitamin D but the data still isn’t definitive. Most of these fall into the “probably can’t hurt, maybe might help?” category but ask your doc about whether any of these might make sense for you.

22. If you’re a high risk person, you should be talking to your doctor about monoclonal antibodies which need to be given within four days after your positive test and can possibly keep you out of the hospital.

It’s important to remember that most of us — about 85–90% — experience Covid as a mild, medium or miserable illness, but never end up needing to go to the hospital.

But there’s a small subset of people (10–15%) who get markedly worse, usually around the second week, often Day Seven or Eight. Sometimes this is a new pneumonia but it could also be the “second phase” of the disease which can be very dangerous, with potentially bad events damaging lungs, heart, brain, kidneys, everything. So watch for getting a lot sicker on Day Seven — very much a danger zone.

What are the danger signs? Chest pain that isn’t from coughing, dehydration, confusion, getting more short of breath, just feeling like you’re going downhill. When in doubt, call your PCP!

Again, I try to remember that >85% of people don’t end up getting so super sick. We will have our fingers crossed that you and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Maskless are among the majority who don’t end up in the hospital.

But it is Uncle Maskless who is the biggest worry, especially now that there is an increasingly interesting (but not yet proven) theory that people who mask well get less sick (Maybe less viruses enter our mouths and lungs? Maybe a good antibody response once they’re there? Nobody knows yet.)

But Uncle Maskless has always been our biggest worry. And he will continue to be until a week after his second vaccination, that magic day of 95% protection from symptomatic Covid.

I can’t wait for that day.

{Robin Schoenthaler, MD is a Boston-based cancer doctor who has been writing straightforward fact-based no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.}

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store