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Health and Medicine

Diary Of A Long-Hauler: A Reporter's 7-Week Fight With COVID-19

Anna King went to the KADLEC Emergency Room twice during her battle with COVID-19. Once she was having trouble breathing, another time the virus attacked her inner ear, giving her vertigo.
Anna King went to the KADLEC Emergency Room twice during her battle with COVID-19. Once she was having trouble breathing, another time the virus attacked her inner ear, giving her vertigo.

Anna King is based in south central Washington. You may have heard her reports on JPR, covering Northwest agricultural issues. In early June, she suddenly felt ill and went to the emergency room. Here’s part of Anna’s seven-week diary of her experience with COVID-19.

Body aches, nausea. Things are a blur. It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to think. 

My husband stops the car outside of the neon-lit front doors.  He’s not allowed in the hospital. I want to kiss and hug him. I want to scream. Will I come out of here? Racing thoughts. A close friend has already died from COVID-19. I’m not sure I’ll ever see my husband again. 

I have trouble walking from weakness. And from fear. 

They lead me to a room, and post a sign warning “possible COVID” on the glass window.

I wait for what feels like 20 minutes. Then a young doctor and nurse enter, wearing full masks, face shields, gowns and gloves. 

I start to cry. I tell them I’m scared. They give me an EKG. Listen to my heart and lungs.

The doctor isn’t unkind, but he’s not reassuring. My throat is swollen, my chest tight. But he says I’m getting enough oxygen. You’re fine for now, he says.

Go home, he says. 

I’m back home when they call. It’s a shock to hear it out loud. I’m COVID positive. But I haven’t been anywhere in months! 

Forms

I fill out forms, doctor’s notes, HR paperwork. You get 14 days leave. But COVID isn’t a 14-day problem. I’m exhausted. It takes a week to finish the forms. 

One day I wake up puking. Seven to eight times. Dizzy.

Anna King's aunt Marcia Hopkins and uncle Detlef Rische brought over chaise lounges so Anna could lay down outside in the back yard even when feeling rotten.
Anna King's aunt Marcia Hopkins and uncle Detlef Rische brought over chaise lounges so Anna could lay down outside in the back yard even when feeling rotten.

Back to the ER. 

They think it’s my inner ear, from the virus. They give me three meds. 

The dizziness wanes. But the fever comes back. It comes every day.                 

The doctors say I’m a long-hauler. They think I’ll be sick another three weeks.

Mostly, I lie still and listen to TV. I close my eyes and let the “Property Brothers” blither in the background. 

One day on Twitter, I see a photo of blackened lungs. Permanent damage from COVID, the headline reads. So scary. I had no idea if I might be going back to the hospital, or what damage my body would sustain forever. I have no control.  

I’m worried about my family: My mother and father seem to take more risks than I want them to. Mom wants to see her sister. Dad wants to do his plein-air painting class. They’ll stay outside, they tell me.

Loneliness is the hardest part. My husband and I social-distance inside the house. I miss close eye contact, dinners at the table, hugs and sleeping cuddled next to each other. We talk from adjacent rooms or text each other, but we can’t touch. 

Comfortable Prison

Five weeks out: I’m still trapped inside this comfortable prison. Not able to go out, not able to be part of the outside world. I feel like Rapunzel. But, I’m lucky. I’m not on a ventilator. 

Anna King says she felt like the storybook girl Rapunzel. She couldn't go outside her home for weeks. Although, her friends would bring treats to drop on the front stoop and sometimes talk to her through her living room window.
Anna King says she felt like the storybook girl Rapunzel. She couldn't go outside her home for weeks. Although, her friends would bring treats to drop on the front stoop and sometimes talk to her through her living room window.

At night, I can’t breathe. My heart races and my lungs feel so tight. When I lie down, I panic. 

People bring sunflowers, strawberries, sausages, pies, GrubHub certificates. They send cards, emails, texts. Mom and dad call daily. Prayers. One friend drops off a tiny plastic cowboy and his horse — so much love. They think I’m getting well. But I’m still struggling for breath. 

A small plastic horse and cowboy friend was one of the favorite treats friends left at Anna's door to help her heal. Friends and family also brought over meals, flowers, paint-by-numbers, GrubHub certificates, magazines, books and cards.
A small plastic horse and cowboy friend was one of the favorite treats friends left at Anna's door to help her heal. Friends and family also brought over meals, flowers, paint-by-numbers, GrubHub certificates, magazines, books and cards.

The fever keeps coming back. My doctor says I have to hit normal three days in a row. But I can’t. 

I’m ready to jump in a lake. Go camping. Zoom with my friends. I hate my couch cushions. Been staring at them too long. Being stuck here itches against me like a tag in the back of a shirt that needs to be clipped. 

Grateful

Today I sorted tupperware, matching lids to bottoms. Knowing the fever will probably come in an hour or two. 

I made it to the stop sign at the end of the block today. It’s harder to breathe in this mask. A neighbor on her stoop waves as I heave by. I stop at every power pole to catch some breath. Chest heaving. Pain in my lungs. They feel like concrete. But I get there. It’s a small victory. 

Anna King keeps walking every day to gain more strength and endurance. Now she can make it around her block slowly. Before COVID-19, she was walking five miles quickly on her lunch breaks.
Anna King keeps walking every day to gain more strength and endurance. Now she can make it around her block slowly. Before COVID-19, she was walking five miles quickly on her lunch breaks.

I am grateful my body is healing. I’m grateful that my family is OK. But it's been six-and-a-half weeks now. 

***

And then I make it. Three days in a row with no fever. 

I’m back.

Copyright 2020 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.