We met Aja De Coudreaux covering L.A. nightlife about a decade or so ago. Originally from Northern California, she lived here for several years and was heavily involved with the art model scene here. We shot her several times in the clubs, as she was also one of the most fashionable scenesters at various underground events, fond of wearing flamboyantly themed outfits.  She moved back to NorCal a few years ago and has been working as a bartender and scheduler for a company that provides in-home nurses and caregivers, while continuing to art model for drawing, painting and sculpture classes there.

She lost her job on Tuesday, March 17 due to client cuts post-Coronavirus. Her boyfriend Victor is a welder for the agricultural industry and an artist who sells hand-painted jewelry online and at shows. This past Sunday, De Coudreaux decided to share her story on her Facebook page, opening up to her friends and followers about being diagnosed with COVID-19 and what it’s been like living with the virus. We asked her to elaborate here. This is her story.

My name is Aja and I tested positive for COVID-19/coronavirus. I have no idea where or when I got it. But after being sick for about three days, I talked to a few doctors and they decided that I needed to get tested. I got tested through Kaiser on the 21st, at a drive-through facility they set up in their parking garage and got the test results yesterday.

The test was done by a doctor while I sat in my car. He put a long Q-Tip down my throat and then stuck it way up both of my nostrils. It felt weird but didn’t hurt. The process was very short. I had a timed appointment for the test, so there was no wait to actually get tested. It was covered by my insurance/Kaiser plan. They wouldn’t test my boyfriend and told me to come alone for the testing with my ID on the dashboard and windows up.

De Coudreaux and friend at Muse Zon’s Valley of the Dolls dance party circa 2011. (Lina Lecaro)

Right now, I don’t even feel that sick. It was mostly like, “Am I just groggy from being lazy? Did I have too much wine last night? Oh. My lungs do feel kind of weird….”

I’ve been reading that the virus can have up to a 14-day incubation before symptoms may show, some people have no symptoms but can transmit it, and the virus can live on metal surfaces for nine days. I could have gotten it at any number of places: gas pumps, door knobs, shopping carts…

I’ve been washing hands properly and being careful, and hiding out in my place with my boyfriend. But I keep thinking about all the places I have been in the two weeks, as anyone would, now that I’m sick. I went to dinner on Monday, March 16, with my boyfriend and two friends to celebrate my 40th birthday. Worked from a friend’s place on March 17 (my Wi-Fi was down at home), until I got laid off and went home. I had drinks at my neighbor’s shop that night. Pretty big place, not many people there.

The symptoms started on March 18. These included a mild cough, body and joint aches. My boyfriend (who hasn’t been tested yet) has felt like his chest was bruised — like he got punched, but nothing was there. He even wondered if he’d cracked a rib somehow, if it was possible to do in your sleep. We couldn’t figure it out. We didn’t think it was the virus right away. We thought we were being preventative and then thought we might have a regular flu. It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s fever got to 103 that I really began to worry. I thought if it’s the virus — then what? There’s no known treatment for it. I’ll bet way more people have it than we know. I thought I should rule it out and also rule out bronchitis or pneumonia for my boyfriend. I didn’t know if I’d be sent in/approved for testing, but then I was.

March 19 was when I started getting a weird feeling in my lungs I’ve never felt before. It’s hard to explain, but it felt (and still feels today) like I breathed a chemical or hot steam. It doesn’t have a taste or smell to it, it’s just a feeling. Not even very painful, and it doesn’t really change if I take shallow or deep breaths. I never had shortness of breath.

De Coudreaux and friend at Wig Out! circa 2010. (Lina Lecaro)

My boyfriend never experienced shortness of breath either and his chest pain is getting better now. He’s been experiencing joint pain and a fever also. When it’s the highest (it got up to 103 but we’ve managed to keep it 99-101 most of the time) he’s been feeling cold and sore all over his body, like the flu. I had a fever of 100 for probably a few hours at night, on the 19th maybe, then it went away and has been 97-98 this whole time. We are both pretty dry as far as mucus and never really had much of a cough. I think it was the evening of the 18th that I had a phlegmy cough and runny nose, but nothing too crazy. It dried up after that for both of us. Neither of us have any prior health issues besides allergies.

In terms of documenting my illness, I’ve been updating people on my Facebook. Someone from the Center for Public Health’s Communicable Disease Unit for Alameda County called me yesterday. They asked me to describe my symptoms, who I live with and spent time with since the 16th, my age and profession as well as that of my boyfriend and roommate, and a few other questions. They told me not to take Motrin or any other form of Ibuprofen because it was, in fact, making people sicker. “It seems to be related to lowering the fever too fast, making everything suddenly worse,” they said in the phone call. They told me to take Tylenol and that Kaiser’s recommendation to take Sudafed PE was useless. They also told me to stay away from caffeine, despite the advice many people have been giving me to drink coffee.

I was told that I’m on a mandatory 14-day lockdown at home. No visitors, no trips to the store or walks or anything. I’ll get a phone call to let me know when I’m released.

De Coudreaux and her man, Victor (Courtesy Aja De Coudreaux)

I knew it would mean that my boyfriend is on lockdown too and “stuck” here with me for another two weeks. I don’t have separate areas for us to sleep in. Though his symptoms indicate he has it too, he still needs to be tested. He doesn’t have health insurance so he may be sent to Highland Hospital’s Same-Day Clinic for testing. I don’t think they have mobile testing set up there, they said he would be isolated in a small room for testing and would not pass through any waiting areas.

I feel bad that my roommate is caught up in all this too, but that’s the way it goes. The lady that called from the disease unit asked for his phone number and said that he’s on lockdown now too. He’s been exposed by sharing a space with me so he can’t stay with anyone else and risk spreading it.

People kept inviting me over during the past week/during quarantine, but I stayed home and I’m so glad I did. I felt like people weren’t taking this seriously. I went for a drive and an isolated walk. I saw way too many people outside. I’m sure way more people have this or have had it and not realized. Just because it was mild for me and might be for you, keep in mind that it could be deadly for someone else.

I kept seeing people posting on social media, asking if anyone knew someone firsthand who had it and people kept saying things like “maybe it’s not real” and the numbers of confirmed cases still seemed relatively low. I also saw people posting that “this is just like the flu” or “no big deal” or inviting people over for parties or “secret speakeasies.”

I wanted to post on social media as a real person with a real virus. I didn’t want it to seem like I wanted attention and I didn’t want strangers to judge me, so I hesitated making it a public post at first. But I really think it can help a lot of people understand the seriousness of the situation and that the virus is here. Way more people have it than we may know. I want people to stay home, not have people over, and to take the symptoms seriously.

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