"I don't think I've ever been sicker in my life." Those words were spoken by Brendan Johnson, candidate for Michigan's 45th State House District, in a video message posted on his campaign Facebook page shortly before Easter. He was referring to his experience with COVID-19. Between The Lines followed up with Johnson on April 23 — a month following our initial candidate interview — to hear him recount the story of his "mild-to-moderate" case of the illness.
Interview with Between The Lines (See accompanying story).
"Literally, the day after [the interview] I think I had a fever for the first time. I probably started developing mild coughs around March 3. I wasn't really concerned about it; I knew allergy season was coming. So whether or not that was part of it, I don't know, but I will say I started being chilled and wearing a blanket … starting around March 20. That was probably an indicator I started to have a fever."
Johnson speculated where he contracted the virus.
"I honestly think it was from [canvassing]. I was on doors up until March 13. … I don't know. There are so many asymptomatic carriers."
March 21 – March 26:
Johnson recalled that things took a turn for the worse days later, marked while participating in an online candidate event.
"I know that something 'broke,' because … while I was doing the interview, I started sweating like it was nobody's business."
"The next day, maybe, I started feeling really lethargic, and I started taking baths instead of showers because I didn't have the strength to stand up in a shower. And at that point, it wasn't really like muscular strength. I didn't care; It was kind of an apathy."
Muscle soreness began soon after, which Johnson said lasted through April 3.
"My mom is a registered nurse; she works for the Oakland County Health Department, and she was doing a lot of casework on COVID, so we were talking this entire time. She convinced me to not live alone in my apartment but instead to come back to their house, which is three miles away."
Johnson would stay at his mother's place until April 3, which is when he said he finally felt better.
"The first time I had my temperature taken was [then]. It was between 100 and 104 for 14 days. I completely lost my senses of taste and smell," he said. "I couldn't make it up a flight of stairs. I would get very winded just walking to the bathroom. And my day-to-day existence was basically, go from your bed in your bedroom to a couch in the living room and back again."
But despite "tons of sleeping" and his general inability to do anything other than rest, he was still unable to get tested.
"My mom took me to Troy Beaumont, because they had drive-up screening," Johnson said. "So we went to Beaumont and I was flat-out denied a test because I still looked OK."
Johnson managed to do a Facebook Live children's book reading for March is Reading Month. "My theater days came in handy, because I was very much in the middle of being sick with COVID at the time. I think that I hid it well."
Johnson posted a message to his supporters on his campaign Facebook page that he believed he had COVID-19. It read in part, "We are all in this together, and we will get through this stronger than ever before. While I am resting up, don't worry – Team Brendan is still here! You will continue to hear from my team, and as always, we'll keep you updated on everything happening with our campaign."
March 30 – April 3:
It was soon clear that Johnson should try and get tested again.
"Four days after I went for my first Beaumont test, I had actually degenerated to a point where my mom was very worried about the oxygen level in my blood, so we went back to Beaumont."
Again, Johnson was refused a test.
But despite being laid low by his illness, Johnson was buoyed by the response of his campaign team, friends and family.
"My family was amazing. I wore a mask the entire time and they were extremely hygienic. And they have all now squeaked out of the window where they could have caught something from me."
Johnson said he was grateful for his campaign team, too.
"I am incredibly proud because my whole [campaign]team kept firing on all cylinders and they were determined to keep us going. For what it's worth, I'm not the only person on our staff to have gotten COVID. [There were two others.] They were awesome with letting me rest … and giving me time," he said. "This has been an absolute exercise in creativity for everyone. And then thinking that you yourself might become very susceptible to an illness — you certainly don't plan for that.
April 4 – April 15:
"Last week when I still wanted the antibody test and closure, a friend sent me to a clinic in Birmingham."
Following a telemedicine appointment, Johnson received a prescription for the two antibody tests and the nasal swab test. A positive result on the antibody test indicates that an individual has developed antibodies in response to the virus.
"The bloodwork for the antibody test came back right away. She came back in like four minutes and was like, 'You're very positive for both IgG and IgM antibodies.' I am still waiting on the nasal test results — that was painful and I don't recommend it for anyone. I had a really bad headache for the rest of the day. So at least I have some closure that at some point I did actually have it."
"I felt 100 percent last Tuesday or Wednesday [April 14 or 15]. It was around 97 [percent] for a while. … The cough just lingered and lingered. I attempted to go on a run two days ago [April 21] and I made it about a half mile before my body was like, 'No.' And the cough came back. I was right back into feeling winded and tired. We'll see how long this actually takes."