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A cautionary tale about COVID-19

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

By Evangeline Marie Ortiz-Dowling


On June 24, a city councilman in Scottsdale stepped up to the microphone, put on a mask and then pulled it off with the comment 'I can't breathe.' Folks in the audience laughed and cheered. Perhaps he meant it as a joke. However, as a nurse, an academic and a COVID-19 survivor who still has trouble breathing, you will have to forgive me if I don't laugh. What I have experienced is no joke.

On March 17, I became very ill with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, loss of taste, headache, muscular pain and fatigue. In the ER, I was given medication for nausea and discharged with a diagnosis of fatigue. Between March 17-23, I quit eating and could barely keep down water. I was confused, couldn't concentrate. My mouth had a metallic taste. My heart and respiratory rates were high. My muscles ached. I had no strength and was extremely fatigued, even after a full night's rest. I started having night sweats. I was becoming depressed.

On March 23, I was screened in a hospital parking lot for COVID-19 and told to return home and quarantine. On March 26 I was notified my test was positive. Between March 26-31, my symptoms got worse. I now had a nonproductive cough, chest tightness, and my oxygen saturation was dropping. I was able to hold down water, but my food intake was minimal.

On the night of March 31, I went back to the ER. At that point, I was afraid; afraid of being intubated. I didn't want to be that sick. I was placed in an isolation room where a nurse cared for me. She completed medical interventions, shared comforting words of encouragement, radiated smiles (through her eyes), and listened to my fears and concerns. I had multilobar pneumonia and my lab tests were abnormal. However, my oxygen saturation was normal on supplemental oxygen, so a hospital admission wasn't warranted. I was discharged with antibiotics and an inhaler. I was to quarantine and followup with my primary care provider. My health continued to deteriorate. The inhalers and antibiotics didn't work. I had dropped 15 pounds. I was losing hope. My symptoms were worse than ever. I was losing my will to live.

On April 1, I made sure everything was in order. I wrote a short letter to my family and disclosed my wishes. I had no plans to return to the ER. Between April 1 and May 18, I talked to God and worked with my doctor and family to reverse the damage on my body. On May 19, my COVID-19 test came back negative. I beat it.

However, three months after becoming ill, I am still recovering. I have thought a lot about others who get the disease.

I am blessed to have family, friends and colleagues who offered their love and support. I have a strong relationship with my doctor. My husband and I have the means to buy medications and supplies. I have reliable transportation. Without all of these, I may not have done as well. I worry about those who are not similarly blessed.

On reading about the events in Scottsdale, I was outraged and compelled to share my experience. There are still those who do not seem to fully comprehend the virus's unpredictability and destructive capacity; those who feel putting others at risk is a noble act of independence.

However, let me assure you, there is nothing noble about COVID-19. The virus is not a joke. Its effects are devastating and long-lasting. As a registered nurse and human being, I share my experience as a cautionary tale.

Evangeline Marie Ortiz-Dowling, Ph.D., MSNEd, RN is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona, College of Nursing.

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