There is a clinical list of Covid-19 symptoms that includes a dry cough, a fever and shortness of breath. And then there is how the disease actually feels. It is like a lengthy hangover. An anvil on your chest. An alien takeover. It is like being in a fight with Mike Tyson.
Aaron M. Kinchen
Mr. Kinchen, 39, is a hairstylist in film production in Jersey City.
I woke up with a headache that was Top 5 of my life, like someone inside my head was trying to push my eyes out. I got a 100.6-degree fever.
The fever went away, and then I had nausea and a metallic taste in my mouth. I was hungry, and then the taste of food was unappetizing. I put some onions in the Instant Pot to saute. I put my face in the pot, but I couldn’t smell the onions. I had the runs — that lasted a couple of days.
My partner had a cough and shortness of breath. I would just start sobbing. I was totally freaked out. We got nasal swabs together, and it felt like they took a piece of our brain.
My partner got his results in 10 days. I got mine in 22.
Ms. Henry, 43, owns a public relations firm in Lathrup Village, Mich.
It happened so fast. On Monday, I am in the parking lot of my allergist’s office with back pain and a cough that I thought was a sinus infection. On Saturday, I am in an ambulance headed to an emergency room.
Three days later, the doctors placed me in a medically induced coma and put me on a ventilator. I was in the hospital for two weeks.
Everything hurt. Nothing in my body felt like it was working. I felt so beat up, like I had been in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson. I had a fever and chills — one minute my teeth are chattering and the next minute I am sweating like I am in a sauna.
And the heavy, hoarse cough, my God. The cough rattled through my whole body. You know how a car sounds when the engine is sputtering? That is what it sounded like.
My sister kept telling me to fight. All I could do was pray because my body had gone kaput.
Mr. Hammer, 45, is an investigative reporter in New Orleans.
On Day 10, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. holding a pillow on my chest. I felt like there was an anvil sitting on my chest. Not a pain, not any kind of jabbing — just very heavy.
When I told my wife I had this terrible pressure in my chest, she was like, “Sit up.” She made me some tea, and told me to cough.
I’ve never really had a panic attack before, but I’d never felt anything like this. I started to feel tingling in my fingers and my extremities, and I’m thinking, “This is a heart attack.”
What I was experiencing was not extreme difficulty breathing — it was panic about whether I had extreme difficulty breathing.
The thing that makes this so scary is that it is not linear, and the recovery is not linear.
Ms. Backlund, 72, is a retired French teacher in Anacortes, Wash.
You’re just so paranoid because all these weird symptoms come up that you haven’t read about. There is such a wide range of symptoms that you just keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. You’re always asking yourself, “Is this the virus?”
One of my friends started getting better — and then she ended up dying. Several people started feeling better, and then took a dive. So, you’re never really confident. For at least a couple of weeks, you’re just not, because it could go awry.
I don’t ever want to get this again. It’s a pretty awful feeling. It’s just so weird the way you swear that it’s mutating in your body every day, trying something else.
Mr. Backlund, 73, is a psychiatrist in Anacortes, Wash.
It was just a loss of all energy and drive. There was no horizontal surface in my house that I didn’t want to just lay down on all day long.
I didn’t want to do anything. And my brain wasn’t working very well. I was calling it “the corona fog.”
The L.A. Times actually sent a reporter and a photographer to our house and took a photograph of my wife at the piano and me with her singing. And I looked at the picture the next day, and I looked like Skeletor.
I just looked, and I thought, “I’ve got to start taking this seriously.” I had to slap myself in the face and say, “You’ve got to start eating, and you’ve got to start drinking.”
Mr. Miller, 27, lives in Brooklyn and is a general manager at a food delivery platform.
It felt like a very long hangover. Smelling something, getting nauseous. The headache. The overall weakness that your body feels, but more severe.
It was chills on a level that I’ve never experienced. Intense shivering. It was very hard to move. I had really intense body aches. It felt like I was in a U.F.C. match and beaten up.
Doing anything other than laying in bed and sleeping was difficult. You had to be in the right position in order for your chest to not hurt. Or you had to be in a certain position in order to be able to take a full, comfortable breath.
It’s like deep inside your chest. You feel it. Something is definitely inside of me, and I’m definitely infected with something.
Mr. Chow, 38, is an assistant professor of human genetics in Salt Lake City.
Walking made me lose my breath. I was just gasping. It felt like drowning.
I was in the I.C.U. for my whole stay — five days. The scariest part was being alone. My wife dropped me off at the E.R. and then was asked to leave. I didn’t see her or my kids until I was discharged.
While in the I.C.U., I spent nights awake thinking about whether I was going to die. The first night they told me that they might have to intubate me, and I spent that whole night wondering whether I would ever see my family again.
The physical pain was mostly taken care of by drugs and oxygen. But the loneliness was real. The staff, too — everyone was in P.P.E., so the interactions were very impersonal. I still don’t know what any of the staff look like.
I did have great staff. They are amazing. Just didn’t realize that seeing people’s faces was so important to feeling safe.
Ms. Taylor, 71, is a geriatric social worker in New York.
My chest was tight, I was feverish, my appetite was going away and I had digestive issues. I lost seven pounds. I called my doctor, and she said I needed to go to a hospital.
They put me in an isolation room, took my vitals, swabs and did a chest X-ray. It came back showing multifocal pneumonia. An E.R. doc said to me: “You can still breathe on your own. You’re better off going home. If something changes, let me know, but we are about to run out of equipment in six days.”
My fever broke two weeks after the emergency room visit. There were a couple of days when I thought, “I’m not going to make it — this is taking over my body.”
I’m at the beginning of a very long recovery. Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling like I had difficulty breathing. The doctor said it was a scare, not a relapse.
Mr. Lat, 44, is a legal journalist and recruiter in New York.
I was barely able to walk or even stand, perhaps from not getting enough oxygen. But luckily, I had enough strength to make it to my nearest emergency room, which is where I belonged.
The intubation itself felt like a scene out of “ER” or “Chicago Hope,” one of controlled intensity. Attached to the ventilator, I slept for the next six days or so. I was later told that I woke up at various points, sometimes to try and remove the breathing tube or to write down questions. But I remember nothing of this.
When I woke up, I felt like Rip Van Winkle. It was as if those six days never happened. In my first conversation with my husband after extubation, I returned to the exact same topic we had been discussing right before I was intubated: whether he could bring a duffel bag of clothes and books to the hospital.
Ms. Wade, 44, lives in Chandler, Ariz., and works at a security and surveillance company.
I’ve never felt so bizarre. My body felt like it was not my own. I had crazy back pain. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t move my shoulders.
I had a raw, dry cough, and the fevers spiked in the night. I have a C-section scar from 10 years ago that hurt again because I was coughing so much.
Everything I did left me feeling a little winded, and just the simple act of getting up and having a shower was tiring.
I had no appetite. I had to force myself to eat. I lost nine pounds.
The only thing I can tell anyone else, especially people who don’t know what they have and who are wondering, is: “If you can get up and walk a little bit, walk two steps more. Just do whatever you can to keep moving.”
Ms. Maer, 35, illustrated this piece and is based in New York.
It’s not like a common cold, where you feel a sore throat and sniffles. It just goes straight into your lungs, and you feel other symptoms coming from it.
My stomach pain was so bad, it felt like I had appendicitis. I also had a bad cough, shortness of breath and a heavy feeling in my lungs. I slept 19 hours a day, and it still didn’t feel like enough.
When I started to recover, I lost my sense of smell and taste. It happened in one day.
The entire recovery process is two steps forward, one step back. You keep wondering the whole time, “Is this it?”
When it was over, I woke up feeling like a weight let go of me. It feels like I got a get-out-of-jail-free card now that I can move around outside a little more freely.
Produced by Antonio de Luca. Interviews, which were edited and condensed for clarity, were conducted by Audra D.S. Burch, Clinton Cargill, Jake Frankenfield, Amy Harmon, Campbell Robertson, Shreeya Sinha and Farah Stockman.