COVID-19 survivor says illness is nothing to laugh about
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people across the country. For most people in this area, it has resulted in hassles from cancellations, home schooling, and having to stay at home.
Medford native Wanda Bearth (nee Walczak) learned first-hand not to underestimate the impact of COVID-19. Bearth, whose father, Edward, and sister Jaymi Kohn live in the Medford area, recovered from the illness and shared her story.
Bearth lives in Crested Butte, Colo. where is the owner and general manager of Crested Butte Lodging & Property Management.
The following is her story in her words about dealing with COVID-19: When I was sick, I couldn’t find individual experiences posted by others on social media that matched what I was dealing with. Comfort in numbers? Yes.
This has led me to share a timeline of the virus’ course, as it affected me, and I realize that anyone or everyone else’s experience may be different. I am a 59-year-old, physically fit woman, living at altitude, and with a risk factor ‘asthma,’ although well-controlled asthma. Asthma has not held me back and most people in my life do not even realize that I have that affliction. I ski, especially Nordic Ski, bike ride mountain trails, hike and enjoy the outdoors.
I don’t know when or where I contracted COVID-19, but our county has been listed as a hot spot, with cases ‘per capita’ illustrating the extreme concern here in my county, Gunnison County in Colorado.
I feel extremely memory challenged related to events over that last couple of weeks. At times, I’m sure time marched forward without me. And yet, time didn’t move-some days, or many hours, what happened for sure, minute by minute, I cannot tell you.
On March 20, I awoke with a ‘cold.’ Our county was already under an order by the health department, so I didn’t go to work for Crested Butte Lodging & Property Management, the company that I have owned and run for 14 years. We were already under a health department order to occupy the office with just one person at a time. So, seemingly no problem, I would simply work from home while my accountant continued working in the office so that he could have access to check stock, postage, etc. All administrative employees, five of them, had already been furloughed. The administrative office was nearly empty.
On the 24, I believe that was the day, I hit bottom and that bottom lasted for 5-6 days. Friends delivered food and called or texted me for my condition. For anyone that I told I was ‘horrible,’ that was not an exaggeration. How does one communicate to friends or family my condition, was it OK to underplay what was going on?
On March 26, I went to the drive-through screening that the county health department held at the Crested Butte Community School. The doctor told me that the few tests available that day would be reserved for those that were hospital bound. Also, told me ‘you have the virus.’ Told me to try to eat 1,000 calories each day. Conjuring up an appetite was impossible during that six days. I’d considered food that I had, easy to prepare, or maybe more difficult but (Hey, I used to love cooking) I couldn’t fathom preparing that food, it was so hard to stand in the kitchen, waiting for two minutes at the microwave wasn’t an option. And, the thought of most foods made my stomach roll. Nausea had me in it’s grip.
Here’s the worst days, starting on March 24, for six days, I consumed little except saltine crackers. How I wished that someone would be able to get me those crackers from my panty and delivered to my bed. I just couldn’t make my way to the pantry. Seriously, my greatest wish was for someone to bring me crackers and a 7-Up. I live alone, dang it. I thought surely that I was hospital bound, but every post and publication on local, state and national media forced me to reconsider — would I be taking a bed needed by someone more desperate? This was a miserable existence, days of confusion and long nights with pain, suffering. And yet, I thought, I’m healthy, right? But, what if? So, I prepared for what I thought was the inevitable. Not just the ‘clean underwear’ that our mothers advised. I kept a bag 24/7 with ID, health insurance cards, phone and charger nearby. I stayed dressed, pants on even in bed! And my jacket was nearby. I waited for the signs. I was not going to take anyone else’s ambulance ride or hospital bed. Everything issued by the county discouraged me from calling the medics. Spoiler alert: I survived.
Signs that I considered, but never acted on (not by calling an ambulance): I had fevers, intense. I laid down on a wet towel to try to reduce the temperature. My temperature reached 101.2, several nights in a row. My teeth chattered uncontrollably. So, I would wet a towel, and just as when my kids were small, I applied wet compresses to myself. It was so painful to lay my bare back onto a wet towel, but it worked. I know I screamed out loud, as I rolled onto the cold towels — sorry neighbors. Within 15 minutes, the temp dropped from 101.2 to 100.7 and it continued downward; I applied the wet towel many nights with favorable results. My headache was intense, so I put a cold towel on my forehead, too. I felt proud of myself, I saved myself! I was going to make it, all by myself!
This is the most important part of my post. Please know that Tylenol can control your temperature somewhat, but you need to apply other non-medical and homeopathic methods such as the wet compresses. Bring water to bed, do not let your lips dry out, mine got really cracked and bled some, too. Our bodies need water. I had diarrhea, I was nauseous to the point that I had a bucket next to the bed. I had high fevers, nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches, headache. Coughing hurt, so bad, and the coughing was most significant when laying down. My muscles hurt so badly. I couldn’t breathe. It was best to sit up in bed. What a nightmare, and it didn’t end for almost a week.
Here’s the list of symptoms that I experienced:
• Fever-mine was over 101 several days, but I cannot say what is a measure to which you should contact emergency providers.
• Coughing-yes, and it was a painful cough. A very sharp pain, with each cough and those coughs were most prominent when I was laying down. I drank warm liquids but didn’t try any over the counter cold meds for the cough. The cough didn’t start until seven days into the illness. The fever and nausea came first. The coughing was the last of the symptoms to exit.
• Body aches-so ugly and painfully bad, but a hot bathtub and/or heating pad provided comfort. Placing a heat pad under a shoulder or under a hip helped me. In the early days of my illness, a hot bath tub was good, but during that bad week, I didn’t have the energy to fill the tub, get in it, etc. If you have a significant other, yay, and they can fill up that tub.
• Diarrhea-yes, for several days. I wondered if Ibuprofen was the reason?
• Nausea-for me, lasted three nights. I didn’t do anything other than place a container at my bedside. I felt sick, but in fact never vomited. The nausea kept me from eating. It made every vision of food, for many days, intolerable.
• Smell-taste-a seemingly less important symptom. I couldn’t taste or smell, but the first taste that returned was salt. Everything tasted so salty, couldn’t eat any processed foods. This, with the nausea proved to be a ‘b’.
I think what finally got me out of the downward spiral was a news story about a 90-year-old that hadn’t eaten for five days, as she was sick with COVID-19. Five days? That was me, at that time. Her family brought her a cup of homemade potato soup. It encouraged me to find food that I could tolerate. I thought a grilled cheese sounded palatable, but the whole thing with two pieces of bread, that wasn’t sitting with my appetite. Somehow, if I mentally portioned that into four pieces, just a quarter seemed ok, no nausea experienced as I imagined this very small sandwich. Guess what? I prepared and ate part of a grilled cheese that night, and the remainder was my breakfast the next morning.
I’ve chronicled the worst five or six days, most symptomatic days. For most of the two plus weeks, I was lethargic, sneezy, achy, coughing, but managing…managing to live and be a productive member of society. I’m at Day 19, haven’t had a fever since Friday, April 3. I haven’t yet ventured out into the world. When I have the energy, I’ll be wearing a mask, assuming that I’m still contagious, so as to protect others and, for me, assuming that I can still pick up a second round of the virus.
I made it.