As he nears the end of his first week battling COVID-19, Bachelor alum Colton Underwood shares a timeline of his experience exclusively with Cosmopolitan. In his words:
We’ve all heard reports that this novel coronavirus doesn’t really affect young people. And yet—as a healthy 28-year-old who eats well, exercises regularly, and gets plenty of sleep—I got sick. I’m sharing my story publicly because this is scary. I *am* scared.
As I write this, I am still quarantined and being cared for by my girlfriend Cassie Randolph and her family in Huntington Beach, CA. This is what happened to me.
Circa Two Weeks Ago, March 8
I returned to L.A. after attending a weekend celebrity ski event in Beaver Creek, Colorado, which turned out to be a hotbed for infections. I felt great when I got back and dove into work and whatever else I had on my schedule. I spent the week shooting my new social-series podcast Coffee With Colton, got ready to promote my book, and worked with Cassie on a potential new movie project. The two of us also attended a private movie event for work on Wednesday, March 11.
Shortly after, as news of the virus was getting more intense and Governor Gavin Newsom called for new, stricter, self-distancing rules and business and school closures, we thought it would be best to get out of our places in L.A. We headed to Cassie’s family’s home in Huntington Beach, where we could be surrounded with family.
On Sunday, we decided to go for a swim. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s actually pretty easy to practice social distancing at the beach here in SoCal, so for those of you picturing the Florida beaches covered in spring breakers…think the opposite, especially at this time of year.
While we were body boarding, Cassie got stung by a stingray and had an unusual, allergic reaction to the venom. Her doctor told us to go to the emergency room, which frightened us. We didn’t want to catch anything there or infect anyone if we were carrying the virus and didn’t know it.
We called ahead, wore masks and gloves, went through two different checkpoints, and ended up being the only people in the waiting room. We didn’t see a single other person besides the nurse checking us in and the doctor. By the next morning, Cass felt better. Later that day, I did a promotional event for Chipotle over Zoom and we played board games with Cass’s parents, Cass’s sister Michelle and her boyfriend Gregg, and their brother Landon.
Tuesday, March 17
Hunkering down at the Randolphs’ for the last few days was pretty fun, but Cass and I didn’t pack enough clothes to stay there indefinitely. So we drove back to West Hollywood to repack. Later that afternoon, I had a mild headache and some body aches but nothing that I paid attention to until later. That night, I stayed at Cassie’s place and that’s when it hit me: My fever rocketed up and I had serious night sweats. When I woke up in the middle of the night, the bed was soaked. I instinctively assumed I had the coronavirus and panicked. Cassie made a couple calls to get me tested and was denied both times. She didn’t know what to do.
Wednesday, March 18
The next morning, Cassie’s mom told us that she found a doctor down where they lived who could test me. I called the doctor myself, emailed him some details, and he approved me for testing. Next, I called Cass’s mom to thank her and asked if she was sure they wanted me to be at their house. “I’m pretty symptomatic,” I said. “We have already been with you for days. I accidentally drank your water bottle, so we are already exposed,” she replied. “If you are sick, it is dangerous for you to be alone.”
I was tested that afternoon. When I showed up at my assigned time, I was instructed to pull up behind the building, roll down my windows, tilt back my head, and try not to cough while the doctor stuck a cotton swab far into my nose. It felt like it was hitting the back of my throat. A tear came out of my eye. Then it was over. I rolled up my window and drove off.
Thursday, March 19
After taking Tylenol, my temperature was down from 102 degrees on Tuesday and holding pretty steady. I was still achy, tired, and winded. Breathing was hard, and my breaths were shallow. It felt like I was only able to use 20 percent of my lungs.
I put on a brave face, but I was frightened. The day before, Cassie’s family had put me up in a third-floor bedroom, and that’s where I spent most of the time. Although I was still stupidly going downstairs to the kitchen to grab food or get water—in hindsight, there are many things I would do differently.
Friday, March 20
At 11:30 a.m., the doctor called with the test results. He said: “I’m sorry, but I have to inform you that you tested positive for COVID-19. This means that I’m going to have to turn in this information to the health department. Someone will be reaching out to you soon to discuss protocols.”
The girls were on a walk and Cassie’s dad was the only one home when I got the news from the doctor. Again, I tried to appear strong when inside I was anxious and concerned and on the verge of losing control. My mind was going to the worst-case scenario.
We waited till everyone got home, and Matt told them that I was positive. I isolated myself upstairs and they had a little family meeting on how to proceed and questions they wanted to ask the doctor. Cassie and her mom focused on research and learning the facts. The health department also checked in with Cassie’s mom and talked through the protocol of home isolation, wiping things down, and what symptoms to watch for in everyone else.
Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22
These were probably my worst days. I slept 15 or 16 hours each day. Just coughing and trying to breathe took all my energy. I couldn’t catch my breath, and everything hurt.
I’d never had a respiratory problem before and I was scared at not being able to breathe normally. I started a charity for kids with cystic fibrosis in 2015 and working with them let me feel a tiny bit of how frightening it is to feel like you can’t breathe and when you do manage to take a breath, it’s a struggle.
At night, Cassie’s mom snuck into my room and tested my blood-oxygen level with a fingertip monitor. Several times it didn’t work, which gave her a scare. “I thought he was dead,” she joked to Cassie afterward. “Then he stirred and said, ‘Still alive!’” I was so fortunate to have the kind of support Amy, Matt, and the rest of Cassie’s family provided. I also spoke with both of my parents in Colorado, and my family in Illinois sent flowers.
One of the hardest parts has been reading comments on social media saying I was irresponsible and infecting other people and deserved to die. Fortunately, this has been drowned out by the love and support I’ve received from Chris Harrison, Bachelor executive producer Mike Fleiss, and all my friends and fans from the show. And of course, Cassie has been amazing. A positive attitude is key.
Monday, March 23
I’m still coughing and weak and trying to catch my breath. But I haven’t had a fever and my strength is coming back. I have been living on peanut-butter-banana-and-honey sandwiches, eggs over easy with a piece of buttered toast, and Matt’s morning breakfast concoction of everything leftover from the night before plus eggs. I have been drinking warm water with lemon or apple cider vinegar and hot tea with honey.
This afternoon, my, ahem, sense of humor was back. (I suggested that Cassie get a sexy nurse uniform.) I could tell I was feeling better because I had the urge to hang out with people again. I stepped out on the balcony for a bit, but I didn’t leave my room. I’m still quarantined. So far, no one in her family has exhibited any symptoms and hopefully the distance we’ve kept and constant hand-washing will keep everyone healthy. Or maybe they are part of the 80 percent that remain asymptomatic.
Tuesday, March 24
Today, I woke up seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I had my best sleep in more than a week and feel closer to my normal self. I still have a mild cough, but the aches and pains are gone. I have a new book to promote (The First Time, my life story up to a few months ago) and I have no clue how to do that without feeling like I’m pushing it down people’s throat during a time of global crisis.
Right now I’m just feeling grateful that I still have a life. No one wants to get sick, not like this. But it’s a reminder that all the little things we share with each other are what gives our lives meaning.
I understand that my case was not the worst out there, and I can’t imagine how some people might feel while battling this. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone going through this with their loved ones, the doctors and nurses treating patients and all the brave men and women risking their lives on the front lines of this pandemic. We’ve learned that superheroes are real, not just in the movies. I never thought I’d know as much about supply chains or use the phrase “flatten the curve” when not referring to my stomach after a big meal.
I’ve read about the need for those of us who’ve beat this virus to donate plasma to help doctors come up with a vaccine. I don’t know where or how I can help fight this, but I am going to do my research and figure out how I can give back. This thing is serious and hits hard. Wash your hands. Practice kindness. Keep a distance. Stay safe. Let’s shut this thing down and put it in our rearview mirror. We’re all in this together.
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