Updated: Jul 13, 2021
My sister, Colleen Andrews, gives her own personal account of what it was like to be sick for over a month with the novel Coronavirus. She works daily with patients in nursing homes and hospitals and likely contracted the virus at work.
Colleen Andrews, age 52, Radiologic Technologist, (Houston, Texas)
I work as a mobile x-ray tech in rehab hospitals and nursing homes. I was treating several COVID positive patients per day. They had to wear a mask and I wore full personal protective equipment, while performing the exams. I managed to dodge the "Coronavirus bullet" for several months, but on June 23rd, my symptoms began with a fever of 101.2, severe body aches, cough, headache and fatigue.
I called in sick to work and drove myself to a free-standing ER. They told me I needed an appointment to have a COVID-19 test, but when they found out that I was a front line medical professional, they agreed to give me a rapid COVID test. They took my vitals before the swab, and told me I was going to be staying a bit longer, as my oxygen saturation levels weren't getting any higher than 93, (normal is 95 and above); in addition, I was tachycardic. (heart-rate over 100 bpm at rest). I expected to be administered the test, find out the results and head back home. Instead, they put me in a room, hooked me up to an IV, took the swab, and took blood for labs. They ordered a chest x-ray, which was negative for pneumonia. They were sure I had the virus, so they ordered a CT scan. Again, negative. To their surprise, the rapid COVID test was...yes, negative. After 4 hours, they told me it was likely that I had some other virus and to stay home for the rest of the week; after that, I should be good to return back to work the following Monday.
I rested for a week and through the weekend, and returned to work the following Monday. I was not feeling 100%, but chalked up the exhaustion that I felt, to my body fighting the tail-end of a cold or flu. By the end of the day, I noticed that I had lost the ability to taste and smell. I knew this to be a classic Coronavirus symptom and now I was sure I had the virus. I went to a different free-standing ER and had a regular COVID test done. It would take a few days to come back; however, I was not taking any chances with my patients and began to self quarantine at home. I got a phone call on July 3rd telling me that my test was positive. I felt like I had a mild cold, but otherwise at that time, I wasn't feeling too bad. I knew I would be out of work for at least a couple of weeks, as I would need to "officially" quarantine for at least 14 days.
I share a home with my parents, who are both in their late 70's, and my teenage sons, ages 17 and 16. Therefore, I knew I was going to be confined to my room for most of my convalescence. Whenever I left my room for anything, I wore my N-95 mask and surgical gloves. Anything I touched was treated with disinfectant, whether I was wearing gloves or not. My parents who are both immune-compromised began to quarantine in their own room for 14 days, in fear of contracting the virus from me. I'm happy to say that due to all of us taking precautions to social distance, wear masks and gloves, and sanitize areas in the house, no one else in my home got sick.
About 4 days after my diagnosis, I began to feel short of breath. My joints felt like they were made of rusty barbed wire; I had never felt a pain like this in my body before, it was excruciating to move and Tylenol would not touch the pain. I kept an eye on my oxygen levels with a pulse ox device, and my sats would drop into the 80's whenever I exerted myself in any way. On July 7th, roughly 2 weeks after I had become ill, I decided I needed to go to the hospital. My father, who was donned in mask and gloves, dropped me off at North Cypress Hospital around 11:00 am. I went through triage and had a chest x-ray. I had now developed pneumonia in my left lung. My breathing was not good, so they told me that they were going to admit me, they warned me that it might be a while since Houston was a hot-bed for the C-virus; there were no rooms available.
This was the beginning of a 19-hour nightmare in the North Cypress ER. I wasn't given anything to eat or drink (not even water), even though I am diabetic. They allowed me to suffer with a level 10 migraine for the entire time I was there. Suffice it to say that by 7:00 am the next day, I was still in an ER cubicle, with no end in sight. They were trying to arrange a transfer to another hospital, but they told me it could be hours before that happened and there was no way they could give me anything to eat or drink (not even ice chips), nor would they treat the awful pain. I asked to speak with a supervisor no less than 5 times during my entire stay, and no one ever came to talk to me. I left against medical advice shortly after. I will never go back to that hospital, and I won't let anyone I know go there, if I can help it.
I had been given antibiotics and steroids while I was waiting on a transfer, so I hoped that would take care of the symptoms. I thought I would be alright just riding it out at home and I didn't want to chance another 19 hours of waiting in another hospital, so I tried to power through on my own. The next day I woke up very short of breath; it truly felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest, but when I checked my 02 levels, my sats were good. I hoped it would just go away. Throughout the day I used the inhaler I had, but nothing seemed to work. Around 7:00 pm, after witnessing me gasping for air, my mother insisted on calling 911, and an ambulance took me to Memorial Hermann Cypress hospital.
The hospital staff at this hospital treated me with respect and tended to my every need. Even though my sats were normal, I was still having a very difficult time breathing for some reason. A chest CT was ordered to make sure I didn't have a pulmonary embolism, which I didn't, and the CT showed that the pneumonia had developed in my right lung as well. (In a matter of about 24 hours) They admitted me from the ER about 4 hours after I was brought in. As I was being wheeled to my room, I saw door after door of PPE stations. There were so many patients there battling the virus, the hospital had to transition their neurology/cardiology floor to a COVID floor. Needless to say, It was a bit disturbing to witness.
I was treated with antibiotics and steroids, and my breathing eventually returned to normal. I was also given hydroxychloroquine after several tests to make sure my heart functions were normal. After 4 days, I was discharged with instructions to self-isolate for another 14 days. This hospital experience was as different as night and day from my experience at North Cypress; I returned home with no sign of pneumonia left in my lungs, due to the wonderful care that I received from the medical professionals that cared for me.
Two weeks later, I arranged for another COVID test since I was unable to return to work until I tested negative. I was pretty sure I would get a negative result, but I was wrong. A week later I went back and finally received a negative result. After a full month of being out of work, it was a relief to be able to return. I am happy to say that unlike some other unlucky virus warriors, I have no residual effects from COVID. I am still taking care of positive patients on a daily basis; you can bet I'm being more cautious when performing x-rays on them.
Advice that I would offer to anyone who hasn't contracted this sometimes debilitating virus- Don't forget to wash your hands and please wear your masks! My mask protects you, so please have the decency to wear your mask to protect others. It is possible to have this virus and not have symptoms. (A term called being asymptomatic) However, if you spread it, there is no guarantee that it will affect others in the same way. They could get very sick. They could die. Please think of that before you choose to walk out without your mask.