Actress Lena Dunham (“Girls”) recalled her harrowing battle with COVID-19 in a dramatic, sometimes elegiac Instagram post on Saturday.
According to Dunham, she contracted COVID-19 in mid-March and decided to share her experience to combat the “carelessness with which so many in the United States are treating social distancing.”
“… seeing the carelessness with which so many in the United States are treating social distancing, people jogging without masks and parties on Instagram, I feel compelled to be honest about the impact this illness has had on me, in the hopes that personal stories allow us to see the humanity in what can feel like abstract situations,” she began.
“The fact is, the coronavirus kills people. We know that. But it will also alter the bodies and lived experiences of so many who are infected, in ways they could never have predicted,” she continued. “In some odd sense, I feel blessed to have entered this experience as a ‘sick’ person; otherwise I don’t know how I would have tolerated crossing that threshold from well to unwell. Lots of people are doing it gracefully right now. But worse than that, they’re doing it alone.”
Dunham continued her post by describing her struggle with COVID-19, which included the typical symptoms (fever, loss of taste and smell, fatigue) and a few other distinct varients, such as her inability to “tolerate loud noises,” “random red rashes,” and a crushing headache between her eyes. She likened this relentless pain to “a complex machine that had been unplugged and then had my wires rerouted into the wrong inputs.” Her hacking cough, she also said, was “like a metronome keeping time.”
“This went on for 21 days, days that blended into each other like a rave gone wrong. I was lucky enough to have a doctor who could offer me regular guidance on how to care for myself and I never had to be hospitalized,” she said. “This kind of hands-on attention is a privilege that is far too unusual in our broken healthcare system. I self-isolated with my pulse oximeter, monitoring my level. … After a month, I tested negative for COVID-19 and was able to spend time around my isolation pod again. I couldn’t believe how intense the loneliness had been, in addition to the illness.”
Despite the virus having been defeated, Dunham still experienced severe after-effects, such as “swollen hands and feet, an unceasing migraine and fatigue that limited my every move.”
“The doctor determined I was suffering from clinical adrenal insufficiency – my pituitary gland had almost entirely ceased to function – as well as a ‘status migrainosis,'” she said. “My arthritis flared and required an immune-modulator drug that is hard on my body. And there are weirder symptoms that I’ll keep to myself.”
Dunham asserted that she did not experience these symptoms prior to COVID-19 and does not know why her body responded so negatively. Though she gave no indication that it contributed to her suffering, Dunham did reveal in 2019 that she suffers from Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, the symptoms of which include “joint pain” and “slow and poor wound healing.”
EDS weakens the body’s connective tissues — which normally provide strength and flexibility — either because the collagen isn’t as strong as it should be or there’s not enough of it in the skin, muscles, skeleton and blood vessels.
EDS and can range from loose joints to life-threatening complications, such as bleeding and the possibility of organ and vessel rupture. The Ehlers-Danlos Society listed these possible warning signs:
loose, overly flexible or unstable joints
soft, stretchy, fragile skin that tears or bruises easily
slow and poor wound healing
debilitating musculoskeletal pain
poor muscle tone
Lena Dunham concluded her post by cautioning people to practice social distancing and take guidelines seriously, warning that COVID-19 is a health crisis the likes of which our nation has never faced before.
“This is the biggest deal in our country, and in the world right now,” she concluded. “When you take the appropriate measures to protect yourself and your neighbors, you save them a world of pain. You save them a journey that nobody deserves to take, with a million outcomes we don’t yet understand, and a million people with varying resources and varying levels of support who are not ready for this tidal wave to take them. It is critical we are all sensible and compassionate at this time…because, there is truly no other choice.”
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