I Am a Lung Transplant Recipient, and I Had COVID-19

I Am a Lung Transplant Recipient, and I Had COVID-19
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At the start of November, I was infected with COVID-19. My heart rammed repeatedly and rapidly against my sternum, which had been broken four years earlier by lung transplant surgeons. I was dizzy, reeling from the local health department’s phone call informing me of my exposure to a person with the virus.

Immediately, I knew I had the virus. The gut knows these things. I cursed myself for not being more careful, for taking stupid risks, for not embracing near-complete solitude.

But overthinking the past isn’t helpful in situations like these, so I smushed my feelings and snapped into survival mode. Many with cystic fibrosis know what I’m talking about: Your voice steadies and your body braces for pain. You crack your knuckles and start researching ways to kick your problem’s butt. Quickly, I popped vitamin D supplements and downed them with fresh orange juice, married my body to various vital sign monitors, and laid on my chest. Then, I left a message for my transplant doctors and contacted loved ones, repeating the familiar line of, “As usual, everyone is afraid for me except me. I’m an expert at being sick.” Classic CFer, huh?

Despite being an immunosuppressed, high-risk lung transplant recipient, it was ridiculously difficult to get a COVID-19 swab test. Two days passed before I got tested, then three more before I got my positive result. And this was before the Thanksgiving pandemic surge! By the time I got my results, I’d only experienced dizziness, a whole-head headache, confusion, and slight fatigue. I also had a two-day mild cough and congestion, plus borderline hypoxia, though my lung function remained stable.

That was the worst of my experience. I spent 20 days in quarantine, resting in gratitude that I was still alive.

This column isn’t about the virus being weak. Close friends’ loved ones have died from COVID-19 and a couple of friends have major heart damage. Maybe my CT scan in two weeks will reveal hidden damage. But even if the scan does uncover an unpleasant surprise, I count myself lucky not to have needed emergency intervention to survive.

Once I snapped out of survival mode, I returned to my frustration that I’d taken unnecessary, stupid risks. Life will go on after the pandemic as vaccines are distributed more widely. In hindsight, I wish I’d realized that trading more years of adventure for doing my own grocery shopping or sitting too close to a friend … well, those aren’t wise trades. The reality is these are not only my lungs. These lungs came from a donor and though he’d died before his lungs were taken, the lungs still could have been given to another person in need of a transplant. I must honor my second chance at life.

I’m big on washing my hands plenty, physically distancing myself, and wearing a mask. I admittedly dropped my guard at the time of my exposure. I didn’t know I’d been exposed until five days later, but I realized I was slipping up on the day of exposure, so I restored my protective habits. By doing so in the five days between my exposure and seeing anyone else, everyone I was in contact with tested negative for COVID-19. Had I not taken precautions and accidentally hurt someone, I’d be tortured by guilt today. And guilt is a heavy, heavy burden, my friends. Almost more painful is having a ventilator shoved down your throat — I know this firsthand. Wearing a mask is preferable.

This pandemic is a marathon. I lost endurance and determination, only to be infected shortly afterward. These slip-ups matter. A more contagious strain of this virus is now spreading amid holiday COVID-19 surges, but high-risk folk should be vaccinated in the coming weeks. Let’s push through this final stretch. Let’s remind ourselves daily of why we work hard to protect ourselves and others.

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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

Brad Dell is a Deaf 27-year-old with cystic fibrosis. He received a double-lung transplant from UC San Francisco in January 2017, then cochlear implants nine months later. He now lives in Hawaii, where he was raised. Usually he’s traveling the world, chugging coffee, mentoring college students, or studying theology. Otherwise, he’s working as the director of columns at BioNews, the publisher of CF News Today. (OK, he’s still drinking coffee while he works.) He writes to undo the taboos surrounding lung transplantation. You can learn more about his story by following @coffee.cats_ on Instagram or by visiting www.adamantiumjoy.com
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Brad Dell is a Deaf 27-year-old with cystic fibrosis. He received a double-lung transplant from UC San Francisco in January 2017, then cochlear implants nine months later. He now lives in Hawaii, where he was raised. Usually he’s traveling the world, chugging coffee, mentoring college students, or studying theology. Otherwise, he’s working as the director of columns at BioNews, the publisher of CF News Today. (OK, he’s still drinking coffee while he works.) He writes to undo the taboos surrounding lung transplantation. You can learn more about his story by following @coffee.cats_ on Instagram or by visiting www.adamantiumjoy.com

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