I tested positive for COVID-19 and then had to get an antibody treatment. Here’s what happened

antibody treatment covid
Photo via Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

At the end of January 2021, COVID-19 swept through my four-person household, leaving us all with varying degrees of severity in symptoms. 

For me, the first week was akin to a strong cold or flu, with body aches, fatigue, dizziness, and fever. I spent most of the time working from my bed. Toward the sixth day, I was on an upward swing, which quickly turned downward and left me unable to take a deep breath without coughing. 

Unable to breathe, I soon became lightheaded. I employed breathing techniques I had picked up from yoga classes to keep my diaphragm as still as possible, to avoid devolving into a fit of coughing which would inevitably render my attempts to breathe ineffective. The next morning, after my trusty store brand decongestant and cough drops were no longer helping, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor so she could listen to my lungs and see what the solutions were. 

My doctor, accompanied by a student in observation, examined me as I tried not to cough in her face, and she determined that I could not take a full breath— as I’d thought. In addition to prescribing benzonatate, I received a five-day run of prednisone tablets with the direction to purchase an over-the-counter prednisone inhaler, vitamin C, vitamin D, and Mucinex DM. 

These were all meant to help me stop coughing and boost my immune response to effectively “kick COVID-19” faster. 

She also ordered an antibody treatment to be administered to me at the local hospital, which ended up being that afternoon. The difficulty I was experiencing breathing, she said, was concerning, and if the levels of oxygen in my blood remained low enough, there could be more serious complications or consequences.

I had never been to a hospital beyond imaging for scoliosis and while being born. None of my bones had been broken and needed setting, I’d had no deep cuts that needed stitches, and there were no drunken college nights resulting in a trip to the emergency room. This antibody treatment was also my first experience with an IV. 

When I arrived at my local hospital, I entered through a side entrance. Since I had COVID-19, I’m sure having me in a waiting room would not have been the best idea. I was set up in one of a line of chairs, partitioned by screens. It took about 30 minutes for me to be prepped, to have my vitals taken, and to get an IV inserted into my right hand. I was hooked up to a refrigerated, diluted dose of Eli Lilly and Co.’s Bamlanivimab treatment with 250 ccs of saline solution, which was administered to me over the course of an hour.

Since this was my first experience with an intravenously-administered drug, I was not prepared for the strange feeling of cold which overtook my arm, almost as if I had slowly plunged my arm into a bucket of ice water. For an hour.

Following removal of the IV needle and signing some consent forms, I was sent home to recuperate. Over the next few days, I began improving dramatically. 

In the Emergency Use Authorization issued for Bamlanivimab, as well as an information sheet I was supplied by the hospital, it showed side effects such as allergic reactions; fever; chills; nausea; headache; shortness of breath; low blood pressure; wheezing; swelling of lips, face, or throat; hives; itching; muscle aches; and dizziness. I did not experience any of these. In fact, over the next couple of days, my breathing got a lot better, and I was no longer coughing. 

Even though Bamlanivimab, the antibody treatment which I received, is still experimental and even though there’s not a lot of data available to speak to its effectiveness, I think it played a significant role in keeping me out of the hospital.

Within four days of having it administered, I was already feeling close to “normal,” albeit a bit tired. I did my laundry, which had piled up, and had energy to cook food again. 

A few weeks later, what looked like a bill was sent to me. It showed that my insurance would only cover around $98 of the $798 cost of the treatment. A call to my insurance provider showed that this treatment carried no patient responsibility. I am not expected to pay for this treatment at all. However, depending on providers and location, that may not be everyone’s experience.

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