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Claremonter describes serious bout with COVID-19

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

A 40-year-old woman, one of Claremont’s 24 confirmed coronavirus cases, has recovered and is sharing her story so that it might help others.

The otherwise healthy stay-at-home mom lives with her husband, their seven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. She asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of our interview.

Her first symptoms, a scratchy, sore throat, presented on March 31. The following day symptoms progressed to include a low-grade fever, headache and a mild cough. By April 3, she felt better. But the following day, April 4, things got more serious.

“It came back in my chest, along with the fever,” she said. “I was feeling pretty breathless. It was hard to get a full, normal breath.”

On a hunch, she began using her son’s albuterol inhaler that she’d hung onto after he no longer needed it.

“So I began using that and it kind of opened up my airways a little bit.” Had she not had access to the inhaler, “that could have played out differently.”

She then scheduled an April 6 appointment for a COVID-19 test at the Pomona Fairplex site. Her symptoms had worsened by the time she drove up for the self-administered inner cheek and mouth swab test.

On April 9 she received an email telling her she was negative for coronavirus.

She had been self-isolating out of concern she had the virus, but when she got the initial negative result, she took herself out of isolation and rejoined her family for a day.

“I was thinking, ‘I don’t have it, it must be just some random bug,’” she said.

But she was wary, since her symptoms had continued to worsen. She made a call to her doctor, who recommended she get retested. He told her the first round of testing came back as high as 30 percent false negative.

“It was a shock,” she said. “I hadn’t heard anything about false negatives. I’m grateful the doctor mentioned it. I’m glad I reached out to him to follow up and figure out why I was feeling the way I was feeling.”

A Chinese study at the Third People’s Hospital in Shenzhen pegged the rate of false negatives as high as 40 percent. Another recent analysis by the Cleveland Clinic put the number at about 15 percent, according to the New York Times.

She scheduled another appointment the following day, April 10, in West Covina. This throat swab test was administered by a nurse. She went back into self-isolation when she returned home.

On the 14th, she got a call with the results: positive.

 

Fighting the virus at home

“I guess I had a sense of relief in knowing and having an answer,” she said. “I was already feeling a little better at that point, so I think if I’d received that [positive result] earlier, when I was having more of my breathing difficulties, I don’t know if I would have felt more inclined to go into the hospital at that point.”

She searched her mind as to how she could have contracted the virus. She had been following all the recommended social and physical distancing guidelines.

“I had been beyond careful,” she said. “I had not been in public, even to a grocery store, since March 11.”

Then she recalled her daughter had flu-like symptoms beginning March 12. “She had the same symptoms,” she said. “It didn’t affect her breathing, but she was very fatigued. She went and napped, which she never does.”

She had called her pediatrician’s office during her daughter’s illness, and a nurse said her daughter likely picked up a bug at school.

She’d been keeping up with coronavirus news on television, but when her own symptoms began to get more serious, she turned it off.

“I had to separate myself from that and just focus on taking care of myself,” she said. “But I’d seen enough to know that people were ending up going into the hospital and not coming out.”

She was determined to do all she could to avoid hospitalization. She did breathing exercises and walked around her bedroom, “to get things moving and get off of my back.” Her lower back was throbbing and her lungs were aching.

That’s when an on-call doctor, after hearing about her worsening symptoms, recommended that she go into the ER to get her blood oxygen level checked.

Weighing her options, she still felt she could best manage her symptoms at home. It could have been a risky choice, but she never doubted her decision. She wants to caution others that they should always confer with medical professionals before making these decisions.

“I just wouldn’t want it to come across that people should try and ride it out at home,” she said. “I just felt like that was the best choice I could make in the moment. I knew I wasn’t at that point yet. My breathing was a lot more labored, but I wasn’t ready to go. I knew I didn’t need to at that point.”

Somehow she managed to keep her cool, even when her symptoms became alarmingly acute over a 48-hour period in the midst of the illness.

“I think the most overwhelming part was feeling like I needed to plan ahead in case I needed to go to the hospital on my own,” she said. “That was a tough moment just to send my husband a text—as he’s in the other room—and let him know to put together a bag for me in case I need to go out.”

But she never felt as if she might die.

“If those thoughts had crossed my mind then I would have ended up making my way to the hospital. I never had those thoughts though.”

Prior to her diagnosis, her husband’s 91-year-old great aunt, who was a grandmother figure to her and her kids, died from COVID-19 related causes. The family was still grieving when she fell ill.

“I think it was scary for them,” she said of her children. “They didn’t really talk about it a lot, but I knew it was in the back of their minds. My husband and I did our best to let them know that she had a different situation, and that with my age and my good health that I was just going to push through it and it wouldn’t affect me the same way it affected our aunt.”

Luckily, that’s what happened.

Checking with your doctor

All told she was self-isolated from April 5 to April 24 (save that one day when she emerged after her initial false positive result). She’s been asymptomatic since April 21.

And, on April 24 she emerged from isolation for good and rejoined her family.

“It was a weird feeling because I haven’t had another test to confirm that I’m negative,” she said. “We’ve been cautious. The first few days I was wearing my mask and not in close contact with my kids. And three days after that we were giving hugs. That was a great feeling.”

But she admits there is still a feeling of unease.

“If I can get retested I will, just so everybody knows it’s over and done with.”

She’s still concerned about how things can go sideways for other people when they receive false positive results.

“What if I hadn’t done those steps and I thought I was negative, and my husband went back to work, just all that potential if he was carrying it, or I went back out into public sooner than I should have?”

It wasn’t lost on her that while she was struggling with the virus protesters in some states, including here in California, were pushing for loosening stay-at-home recommendations.

“In one regard they haven’t been impacted the way a lot of people have to actually understand the fear behind having the disease or the virus,” she said. “I think their view is more of an economical one. My husband and I have been impacted by it financially, but not to the extreme that other people have, so I think we’re coming at it from two different places.

“I had nights when it was hard to breathe,” she continued. “We’d lost a family member to it. If those people out there protesting had been affected the same way that I and many others have by the medical side of it, I don’t think they’d be out there doing that.”

Her advice for people who may be feeling symptoms is to call doctors, and follow up. Listen to your body, she says, be proactive, and remember that false negatives are, for now, built into the current testing mechanism.

On Sunday, April 26, she took a short walk around her cul-de-sac. It was the first time she’d seen the sun in three weeks. It was satisfying, but still there is apprehension.

“I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable enough to go and do any other outings,” she said. “It was nice, but it’s also a weird feeling knowing that a lot of my neighbors know I’ve been sick. I masked up just walking around in the cul-de-sac out of concern for my neighbors, because I know a lot of them do know that I tested positive. It’s just kind of a weird feeling.”

She’s waiting on word from the Red Cross about whether she will be able to donate convalescent plasma as a possible treatment for COVID patients. The medical community is trying to determine if those who have beaten the virus may possess antibodies that could help others get well.

Until then, she’s looking forward to returning to some semblance of normal, “whatever that will look like,” being with family, and hugging people again.

“And I know we have a much greater appreciation for all the little things we took for granted before all of this,” she said. “So that’s one positive thing we can walk away with.”

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