I’m a 42-year-old male who is relatively healthy. I exercise regularly and generally avoid being ill. On March 3 I went to a routine doctor’s appointment. My wife works at this medical institution, and I thought it would be nice to surprise her with random flowers. On my way, I have an exceptionally brief encounter with someone believed to test positive a short time later. I don’t see my wife, but leave the flowers in her office after being escorted to it.

Later that day, I’m at home eating spicy Chinese food and my nose starts running, very mildly. I’m assuming it’s from the hot and sour soup. I don’t have to wipe it, blow it, or anything. It goes away within an hour and wasn’t something that would have registered if not for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Then I had a slight sore throat. I cough a little. I see a post that says if you can hold a deep breath for 10 seconds without coughing, that’s a good sign. I can, and I venture out into the increasingly difficult-to-navigate world of grocery shopping. I tell myself I’m being responsible, as I stay as far away from everyone as I can, and I don’t even cough once.

But my cough gets more persistent. The sore throat is worse, but it goes away quickly again. My nose has stopped running. My Google searches tell me it could be COVID-19, but it could be any number of other things. I am slightly worried and try to trace back to where I could have been exposed. My wife works at a hospital, and there have been confirmed cases, after false negatives. These patients were allowed to wander around the hallways of the hospital, several floors of which my wife worked. I assume if I’ve got it, that’s how. She’s not showing any symptoms. I am mildly annoyed but figure I should probably consider avoiding work tomorrow.

I couldn’t sleep. My symptoms are now fever, pain, and legit coughing. I call 24-hour corona-hotline and am told to schedule a video appointment. The following day, I find myself face to virtual face with a physician’s assistant about two hours later. She reviews my symptoms and circumstances (worsening cough, annoying fever, bad pain), and due to potential for exposure, says I should get tested. She puts a request in with the hospital and says it will be 1-5 days. I should head to the ER if I start having trouble breathing.

I call the testing site and let them know I’m five minutes out. I tell them a liquor truck has spilled booze everywhere, hence I’m a couple of minutes slow. They do not seem impressed. They confirm what kind of car I’m driving, what I’m wearing, and tell me to pull in front of the security car into a reserved spot. I arrive and do as I’ve been instructed. The security guard outside shoots me a look, and I tell him I’m here to be tested. He nods, satisfied with my answer. I stay in my car, as I’ve been previously told to do.

My temperature is going back up, but the pain isn’t as bad as the previous days. I don’t know. The cough seems worse. I’m trying to work but keep having to rest. I keep forgetting to eat. My wife brings me some beans and rice in a bowl. I put spoonfuls of it in my mouth and mostly just swallow. I don’t have the energy to chew.

It’s been a week since my first possible symptoms. I wake up freezing cold, and in horrible pain.

I can deal with the fever to a certain extent, but the coughing has gotten to the point where if I don’t take something it’s difficult to get air. There’s a slight crackling sound happening when I’m breathing in and out. I am worried, but I’m keeping myself more comfortable than I’ve been for a while.

Breathing is getting harder. I don’t exactly feel near-death, but more like life-adjacent. My arms and neck are tingling all the time due to a decrease in oxygen. I haven’t eaten much for three days because the food is making me nauseated. Showering and shaving have become more of an optional thing due to my weakness. My wife yells at me to go to the hospital. I don’t want to; I haven’t gotten my test results.

My phone rings. The Illinois Department of Health calls to tell me I’m positive for COVID-19. I laugh and reply that I could have told them that. Thankfully I’m already at the hospital because I feel like I’m going to die. I try to think of the last time I was this sick. It was probably 40 years ago when I had meningitis. The doctors thought it was going to kill me. We’ll see what they think about this one. The hospital calls a few minutes later to give me the same report.

I get into the ER and they take a chest X-ray. I have bilateral pneumonia. This explains the crackling sounds I’ve been hearing when I breathe. My fever is 102. I’m admitted, stuck with an IV, and a host of medications are prescribed to me both intravenously and otherwise. They hook me up to the heart monitor and take my blood pressure every 30 minutes. It spikes when I hear I have pneumonia. The doctor is surprised I haven’t traveled anywhere. Unfortunately, we’re beyond that now. He thinks I’m about halfway through it.

Please please PLEASE take this seriously. This could kill me. Practice social distancing. Our office shut down and I became homebound when the national emergency was declared. I wish it had happened weeks sooner. I wouldn’t have gotten this, and I wouldn’t have exposed countless other people to it while I was at work and other places asymptomatic. There is a high degree of guilt associated with that. I’m worried about my wife and child.

People have died. People will die. It might be people you love. Please stay inside. This is horrible, brutal, devastating and it feels l might be cashing my chips in. Protect the people you care about as best you can.