Getting COVID ('Eris' Variant) for the First Time in 2023
After successfully evading COVID for the last few years, it finally caught me.
Quite frankly, it was my own fault. I had a work trip to Philadelphia at the end of September, and for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I forgot my mask on a plane. To be clear, I didn’t forget to wear it; I forgot to pack it. In my haste to return from my hiking trip, do all the laundry, repack, and depart for a work trip within 48 hours, I simply spaced it out.
Fortunately, I stayed on top of my vaccinations and boosters each year. Since this year’s COVID booster was only just released mid-September, I planned to get it upon returning from my travels. Well, I guess it’ll be another couple of months before I get my annual jab!
In this post, I share my experience with COVID, namely the new "Eris" variant, the overall timeline and progression of symptoms, and my return to physical activity. As I mentioned, I got COVID during a work trip to Philadelphia; my best guess is that it happened on the plane. Let’s break everything down by week and day.
Week 0 - Traveling for Work
Boarded the plane around 3:30pm with an expected arrival time of 9:50pm.
Sat on the plane for over an hour (either waiting for the full crew or cargo to get on the plane)
Changed planes following a mechanical issue.
Eventually, I arrived at the hotel around 2:00am.
Felt a little tired but normal throughout the day. Given the lack of sleep the night before, I decided to head to bed early to recover.
That evening, I ran an easy 2 miles (made even easier at sea level) on a treadmill in the hotel gym.
About 1 mile into the run, I noticed a dizzy feeling, but I was able to keep running.
While winding down in my hotel room before bed, I noticed a slight headache and low-grade fever (my temperature was ever-so-slightly elevated). For me, this tends to happen when my body is run down, so I assumed it was a combination of travel, lack of sleep (from the morning of my arrival), and PMS (my temperature occasionally rises in the days around the start of my menstrual cycle).
Again, I felt pretty normal throughout the day; however, the same symptoms arose in the evening with a little more intensity than the previous day.
Before heading to bed, I ran an easy 3 miles on a treadmill in the hotel gym. Once again, the dizziness set in about 1.5 miles into the run, but it never felt severe enough to stop.
The headache and low-grade fever returned while laying in bed.
I bumped up my flight from Saturday morning to Friday night given my persistent feelings of general ickiness combined with an incoming tropical storm.
I opted out of physical activity today.
This time, I wore a mask (a co-worker gave me one of their extra disposable masks) throughout my travels.
Saturday (Ugh, I’m tired)
I made a point to sleep as much as my body needed, and I was surprised at how exhausted I felt.
My period already came and went (during my trip), so I ruled out PMS fatigue. Instead, I chalked it up to the exhaustion that comes with traveling and a busy week of work.
I hoped to complete an 8 mile run; however, I cut it down to 4 miles. My body felt too tired to give more. I decided to swap my Saturday and Sunday runs.
Sunday (I’m still so tired)
Still exhausted. I slept 9.49 hours and napped another 1.42 hours (not time in bed, actual time asleep).
Since I couldn’t complete my 8 mile run the day before, I wanted to complete it on Sunday. Only made it 3.5 miles, even less than Saturday.
It felt like a wasted weekend, since my body felt tired and unwilling to exert itself (whether through exercise or even regular work around the house).
Week 1 - Is it COVID? No. No. Just kidding, yes it is.
Monday (Day 1 of symptoms - WTF)
ALL the symptoms. Literally.
Fever, headache, congestion, muscle aches (primarily throughout the lower body), chills (I turned up the heat, piled on layers and blankets, and even broke out the space heater - and I was still cold), sore throat, and minor dry cough.
I contacted my local fire department (they were listed as a local resource for rapid COVID tests), and received a 2-pack of BinaxNow COVID tests.
I took the first test at home, and it read negative.
The muscle aches were so bad, I couldn’t sit or lay down without shifting constantly, so I broke down and took Tylenol and Ibuprofen for relief.
Once the medications kicked in (about 30-60 minutes later), the chills went away, my fever went down, and the muscle aches reduced to a manageable level (not completely gone, but hardly noticeable).
After 6 hours, I started alternating Ibuprofen and Tylenol to keep the symptoms under control.
Tuesday (Hmm…maybe I’m better?)
The sore throat was worse upon waking up, I still had the dry cough, and it felt like the early stages of an ear infection in my left ear.
I felt well enough to attempt an easy run outside, but stopped 0.5 miles in because my throat and nose felt like they were on fire. I walked the 0.5 miles back to my home.
To remain active, I completed a 3-mile walk.
Wednesday (1 Week since I left for Philadelphia - so much pain in my face)
So much pain in my throat, nose, and ears. I’m completely congested, and it refused to clear. I was convinced I had a sinus and bilateral ear infection.
My throat was so sore that I started choking on the mucus my body attempted to cough up. It was too painful to keep coughing it up, so I choked a couple of times.
I take the second rapid COVID test, per the instructions. Again, negative.
While outside on a 1 mile walk, I contacted my doctor’s office hoping to get antibiotics for a sinus and ear infection.
I set the appointment for the next day.
Daily napping begins today.
The cough progresses from dry to productive. I start coughing up mucus.
I started taking DayQuil and it vastly improved the pain and congestion. What a miracle drug! I took it every 4 hours (that’s the earliest you can take another dose) because my symptoms returned like clockwork after 4 hours.
Thursday (Goodbye smell and taste)
Congestion - still horrible, throat - slightly less sore, cough - still productive, ears - less painful but still achy.
I visit the doctor, tell him my story, and he decides to perform a triple swab (COVID, Flu, RSV). According to him, I had textbook symptoms for the new COVID variant. We laugh and bond over the magical properties of DayQuil.
My pulse oximetry reading was 90% on room air.
I continue to take DayQuil, though I’m able to make it longer than every 4 hours. I start stretching out the time between doses.
I take my dog on a 1-mile walk.
F*ck. I lose my sense of taste and smell. I decide to eat the things I need to get rid of anyway; I might as well make use of this symptom.
My swab results come back, I had COVID.
Friday (They’re coming back!)
My senses of smell and taste returned slightly.
I decided to start increasing my walks. I completed 2 miles.
I stopped taking DayQuil.
Still needed an afternoon nap.
Saturday (Just kidding…)
And, smell and taste are gone - again.
I walked 3 miles.
Completely off OTC medications.
Daily napping continued.
Sunday (1 Full week of symptoms - Time to enjoy food again!)
Smell and taste are probably 70% back to normal.
I make a salad with lots of fixings to refuel with tasty nutrients. Yay food.
Walked 4 miles.
Took another afternoon nap.
Week 2 - Getting Back to Baseline
Monday - taste and smell still returning to normal levels. 3 mile walk. Another day, another nap
Tuesday - resting HR is finally back within normal ranges at rest (for me that’s around 47 bpm). First day without a nap!
Wednesday - resting HR continues to fall within normal ranges. Started with an easy 1 mile run. My exercise HR was significantly higher than normal both during my run and 2 mile walk. The afternoon nap returns.
Thursday - resting HR remains normal. Easy 1 mile run. Exercise HR is still elevated. More napping.
Friday - normal resting HR. HR stays normal during my 2 mile walk - woohoo! HR does NOT remain normal for my 2 mile easy run. Ah well. Time for a nap.
Saturday - normal resting HR. 1 mile walk.
Sunday - after a full week of data, my resting HR is back to normal. I run 2 miles twice throughout the day for a total of 4 easy miles. Very slow, exercise HR is still elevated; however, it doesn’t feel elevated. I complete a 1 mile walk with the pup and wrap the day with another afternoon nap.
By week 3, I was running regularly again (6 days/week); by week 4, I was back to my regular weekly mileage (30-40 miles per week). My HR while running took a few weeks to start getting back to normal ranges; even now, it's hit or miss. It might be my Whoop and Garmin giving inaccurate readings at this point. Even if my trackers state my HR is way above my target Zone 2, it's never felt that way. I never felt any decline in my running performance. I just worked my miles up slowly to prevent my body from pushing too hard too soon; especially since COVID can impact a lot of systems within the body. And I wanted to avoid antagonizing it.
Key Takeaways for Navigating COVID:
If you think you might have COVID, go to a medical provider and get a PCR test; antigen (rapid) tests are producing a high number of false negatives (per my PCP).
Alternate Tylenol and Ibuprofen (a key learning from my days as an EMT working in the ER) for continual symptom suppression. Ibuprofen works particularly well on the muscle aches.
For congestion and all of the associated issues (ear, nose, and throat feeling on fire), DayQuil works wonders (for adults - check with a doctor before giving it to children). You have to be over 18 or 21 to purchase (state dependent).
Sleep is your best friend. Don’t fight the urge to rest. You will be tired for a while; for me, this lingered for 1-2 weeks after my symptoms disappeared. I felt borderline narcoleptic at times. I couldn’t stop sleeping. But, it’s what I needed to recover. I took a full week off from work (I work remotely), and I worked half days for the second week.
Hot tea soothes the throat and eases congestion a bit (both the steam and the hydration). Its benefits don’t last long, but it helped my congestion a lot more than a hot shower. I was drinking tea constantly (be careful not to drink too much black or green tea due to caffeine content), which kept me hydrated and felt like it was flushing crud out of my system.
Key Takeaways for Return to Physical Activity or Sport:
Wait until your symptoms resolve before attempting anything other than walking or very light exercise. What do I mean by light? Avoid resistance. If you cycle, you can hop on a stationary bike at level 1; this is equivalent to walking. Avoid strength training.
Once your symptoms are gone, track your resting HR. Once it returns to normal ranges, start to add in small doses of physical activity. In my case, as a runner, this meant attempting a 1 mile jog (very light, very slow).
Keep resting, hydrating, and fueling. You’ll likely experience lingering fatigue - rest as much as the body needs, especially as you re-introduce exercise into your daily routine.
Your exercise HR might remain elevated for days, weeks, or even months. Regular monitoring gives you insight into your body’s overall recovery trajectory. Listen to your body AND use data, when possible, to make informed decisions.
Remember, it’s called progressive overload. Don’t jump back into the fire on Day 2. Slowly work back up to your normal activity levels. It will take time, and it may take longer than you’d expect or like. Remain patient. Work WITH your body, not against it.
If you're like me and searched the internet for details about COVID in 2023 (hoping for more information other than people describing it as "like a cold" and that symptoms lasted anywhere from "3-14 days"), then I hope this information offered a little more detail.
Keep in mind, this is simply one person's account (a healthy, almost-40-year-old, active runner). Additionally, as I mentioned at the start, I received all COVID vaccinations and boosters in the years leading up to this (and will continue to remain up-to-date on boosters each year). And, especially in the fall, I'll remember my mask on the plane!