Talk about rotten luck. Aja de Coudreaux got laid off last week from her job scheduling — of all things — medical home health care, and the next morning she came down with COVID-19. On her birthday.
She is now self-isolating at her home in Oakland with her boyfriend, who is also now terribly ill and presumed to have the virus. But in their misery, there is one bright spot for this normally effervescent 40-year-old woman who has also worked for many years as a prominent art model in San Francisco.
She has been blogging about her experience so much on Facebook — “So now you know someone with COVID-19. It’s me,” proclaims one of her posts — that her galaxy of friends in the art scene from here to Los Angeles have swamped her page with hundreds of posts and a GoFundMe link. In the process, she gets to give blunt advice to the hundreds of people who have contacted her for advice, worried because they have a fever or cough.
In one post about getting a checkup call from Alameda County health officials, de Coudreaux wrote: “They told me NOT to take Motrin or any other form of Ibuprofen. That it was, in fact, making people sicker: ‘it seems to be related (to) lowering the fever too fast, making everything suddenly worse.’ Well s—. That’s all we’ve been taking.”
“So many people are asking me, ‘What do your lungs feel like, tell me what your fever is like, I’m so afraid I have coronavirus and so on,’ and I tell them – listen, just act like you have it,” de Coudreaux told The Chronicle. “Stay away from everyone, take care of yourself. Really.
“And don’t do stupid stuff like breathing out of a hair dryer,” she added with a weak chuckle. “Someone somewhere said breathing hot air kills the virus. It got around and people got hurt. So be smart.”
She said this the other day as she lay in bed with her boyfriend, Victor Vasquez de la Rocha, 30, coughing and enduring pounding headaches. De Coudreaux started feeling the frightening fingers of COVID-19 on March 18 — first a cough, then the fever and shortness of breath — and it’s only gotten worse since then. She got tested at Kaiser and got her diagnosis March 22, joining the growing pool of more than 1,500 coronavirus cases in the Bay Area.
“I’m trying to stay occupied cooped up here in the apartment, but I don’t feel good,” she said. “Maybe I’ll fold origami. I watched the whole series of “Kingdom,” on Netflix, and that was nice. But there’s no way around it. This is an awful sickness.”
The comments she gets online reflect the great affection she’s picked up over the years as an art model for sculptors and painters, and at schools, including San Francisco State University, and as a quirky afficionado of colorful Victorian costume parties. LA Weekly published one of her posts last week, recalling how when she lived there a decade ago she was “heavily involved with the art model scene” and was frequently photographed as “one of the most fashionable scenesters at various underground events, fond of wearing flamboyantly themed outfits.”
“I worked with Aja in LA. Such a lovely girl, and this was such an interesting read. Sending you so much love and light, dear friend,” actress Kristen Ortiz wrote on March 25 about one of de Coudreaux’s postings on her progress.
“Sending Love Aja. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I hope you can get some CBD tincture. I think it would help unles(s) the Dr’s say no. Your youth and your health is on your side,” Fayette Hauser, co-founder of the legendary Cockettes drag troupe, wrote on March 22.
A Facebook Live post de Coudreaux filmed Sunday to take questions fetched more than 1,200 views and about 300 likes. A previous post with a long accounting of what having the virus was like got around 1,000 comments and likes, and 300 shares.
San Francisco musician Ken Newman posted his good wishes on March 22, and told The Chronicle he regards de Coudreaux’s out-loud sharing of her struggle as “a big, big deal.”
“I haven’t seen anything quite like that, and I really feel that what she did is life-saving,” said Newman, founder of the Blanket the Homeless nonprofit that hands out survival supplies on the street. “Because of the narrative associated with this disease, people are thinking, ‘Ah, young people – we don’t have to worry about it.’ But then someone — Aja — who’s very visible in this community, says, ‘I’m sick, my partner is sick, and this is what it’s like,’ and then maybe someone young in our community will decide, ‘Maybe I won’t go to that party tonight. Maybe I should actually be more careful after all.’
“What Aja is doing is really generous and potentially life saving,” Newman said. “I have a lot of respect for her.”
De Coudreaux and de la Rocha have a roommate. He and the couple keep to separate rooms, cleaning everything vigorously. But it’s a difficult discipline to maintain.
“I’m worried. It’s unnerving,” said de la Rocha, a 30-year-old artist, jeweler and welder. “We don’t even know if we’ll be immune after we recover from this. I mean, can we catch it again?”
That’s still unknown.
One thing de Coudreaux has tried to drive home in her posts is that anybody can get this virus most anywhere, anytime.
“I have no idea where I got it from,” she told The Chronicle. “ It could have been Victor being on public transportation or either of us at the supermarket. Could be from a doorknob, a shopping cart, a gas pump handle. That’s what people need to understand.
“Some people aren’t taking it seriously, but I’m trying to show them that yes, you do need to take this seriously. Very. Absolutely.”