‘TELL ME WHAT THIS MEANS!’ I sent a screenshot to my nurse friend on the frontlines. ‘You have COVID, Maggie. It means your positive.’: Woman candidly recounts journey with COVID-19

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“I am 36 years old, I exercise regularly, I eat fairly healthy most of the time, and I have an overall clean bill of health. COVID doesn’t care who you are, how old you are, or what you do for a living.

On August 14, 2020 I woke up not feeling well – I was hot, I had a terrible headache, and I was a little bit lethargic. My husband convinced me to stay home and he told me he would cover my appointments for the day (we work together as a husband/wife Realtor team here in Sioux Falls, SD). I hate not having control over my day; I like to be the one at my appointments – saying the right things, doing the right things, keeping things in motion for our team.

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

I slept most of the day, and I did think to myself,  ‘Could this be COVID?’ At 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, I was notified that one of the coaches at the boot-camp gym that I go to tested positive for COVID-19 and that I had been exposed to him earlier that same week. ‘Oh, man. This can’t be good,’ I thought to myself. I called my husband, Andrew, right away, asking him if he had gotten the same email from the gym and if he thinks I should go get tested. I asked him what we would do if we had to be self-isolated for 14 days.

Andrew and I agreed that I should reach out to my doctor, give them my symptoms (which at that time was fatigue, headache, and a 99.5 degree low-grade fever), and ask about being tested. Within 5 minutes my phone rang and it was the doctor asking a few additional questions (what do I do for a living, where did I think I had been exposed, how many people were living in my household with me). The doctor scheduled me a 4:30 p.m. appointment to go to the north side of town to be tested in the drive up testing site.

I called Andrew right away and told him that he and our son Isaac should come with me, just in case they needed to be tested too. Sitting in the car waiting to pull up under the tent was so frustrating. I asked the nurse who checked me in whether or not my family should be tested as well. She told me, ‘It would be too much work to get other people checked in on the iPad, so we could go in and talk to the triage team inside the acute care clinic if we had questions. Otherwise, just assume that if Maggie has a positive test, all 3 of you are positive.’ I was so worried that our 3-year-old son, Isaac, was going to be terrified of the nurses up ahead; they looked like they were in space suits – full protective gear with little air hoses out the back of their personal protection suits.

The test itself was awful! So painful. It burns! I really just wanted it to be over with… I didn’t know that you could stick something that far up your nose and not cause brain damage. It was awkward sitting in the front seat of the car and having my husband and child watch me get swabbed. Andrew and Isaac were both very supportive, asking if I was okay and if there was anything they could do to help me. We were told that if the results were POSITIVE, someone from the clinic would be calling me (which would most likely be Monday). If the results were NEGATIVE, I would get a message on the Sanford MyChart app – the app we use to communicate with our doctor and access things like our health records.

I felt so awful having to tell my 3-year-old son that he couldn’t play with all of the neighborhood kids at all while we were waiting for the results. The weather was so perfect, 80 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze. All of the kids were out on their bikes, drawing with chalk on the sidewalks, playing ball… but I knew that I had to tell my neighbor friends that our kids couldn’t play together over the weekend – and possibly over the next two weeks.

On Saturday afternoon my son looked at me with heavy, sad eyes and said, ‘Mommy, can you please just call the doctor and ask him if I can go play with the kids?!’ My heart sank. I felt like I let my whole family down, just by having to get tested for COVID and knowing I had been exposed. Now we have to go a whole weekend, maybe a full two weeks, without seeing our friends and family. NOT the way I wanted the last couple weeks of summer to end!

A lot of naps were had that first weekend while I waited for my results to come back. No leaving the house, other than a couple of drives around town to get a change of scenery. My husband was driving me crazy and making my anxiety go through the roof by asking me every hour whether or not I had gotten a message back from the doctors office on the MyChart app. I finally shouted, ‘I promise you will be the first to know the stupid results when I get them back, OK?!’

And then, Sunday at 2:15 p.m., I got the message on MyChart: ‘SARS CoV RNA, RT PCR – Value: DETECTED…’ Whoa, wait! I thought they only sent you a message if it was negative! Someone was supposed to call me if it was positive! Is it positive? Do I have COVID? Why does it say ‘detected?’ What is happening here?! I sent a screenshot to my nurse friend who has been working on the front lines. ‘TELL ME WHAT THIS MEANS!’ I said. ‘You have COVID, Maggie. It means your test was positive.’ NOOOOO!

So, as promised, my husband was (kind of) the first one I told (other than my friend who did confirm my positive test result). ‘Well,’ he said, ‘let’s start our quarantine. 14 days!’ He was already outside putting air in our bike tires when I came out to give him my news, so we hopped on our bicycles and took a 4-mile ride. I felt ‘fine.’ I didn’t need to worry, I am healthy and young (only 36)! This will be fine, we will get some things done around the house over these next two weeks! My house will be the cleanest house on the block – I will go through all of the closets – I will even dust under the bed!

The first thing I did when we got back home from our bike ride was call my real estate broker, Gregg. I knew I needed to tell him because we are part of such a large firm (that had been taking so many precautions over the last few months to stay safe and avoid having any positive tests or cases). We had agreed he would send out an email to everyone in the office, saying there was a confirmed positive case and the person who tested positive would be in direct communication with those they came in close contact with over the last week.

The responses I got were all so different; everything from, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope you’re OK!’ to, ‘Oh, great. Just what I need right now… now am I supposed to go get tested too then? Am I supposed to self-isolate because I saw you last week or something?’ It was a lot to take in! I’m not a doctor – I don’t know the answers to these questions – I’m so sorry, I didn’t know I had been exposed!

I was even taken aback by the neighbor’s reaction. Her 3-year-old son came walking over and I had said, ‘Sorry, Ian, we can’t play today. We have been exposed to COVID!’ His mother scooped him up and rushed him back into their yard and into the garage, closing the garage door behind her. The look on Isaac’s face was so sad, and my heart just sank.

I had finally received a call from my doctor’s office on Monday afternoon. ‘Maggie, did you get the message on MyChart?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I did. Yesterday, on Sunday. I thought someone would have called a little bit sooner if the test was positive,’ I had replied. ‘Well, it was the weekend… Your results were positive. You should be self-isolating for the next 10-14 days, but the South Dakota Department of Health will be calling you for more details on that. You are young and you are mostly healthy. You’ll be fine, but if your symptoms get worse, go to the ER. Take care.’ That’s it? This is a world pandemic right now and that is all they have to say about that?

The first few days of self-isolation went as follows: I would clean and organize a small space in the house, I would take a nap, Andrew and I would take Isaac out for a walk and some fresh air, and I would try to answer any emails, texts, etc. that were coming in from my clients… trying hard to say things like, ‘I am currently out of the office for a few personal days’ instead of telling anyone that I had COVID. What would people think of me? Physically, I felt like I had a mild sinus infection and was worn out fairly easily after a walk or some heavy cleaning. My breathing was fine, but my headache would NOT go away. This was really tough with an energetic 3-year-old who was feeling ZERO symptoms.

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

On Tuesday, August 18th, the South Dakota Department of Health called. I knew it was coming – everyone with a positive COVID test gets reported and ‘monitored’ by the state. I was so annoyed with the questions: ‘Tell me all of the names, ages, and relationships you have with the people that live in your household.’ ‘What are your symptoms?’ ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘Is your home large enough for you to completely quarantine away from your husband and child?’ ‘When is the last time you exposed your child?’

I started to get sassy in response: ‘I exposed my child 2 minutes ago when I was helping him use the potty!’ ‘I’m his mother – who is supposed to help feed and bathe him?’ ‘I was told that if I tested positive, then my whole family was assumed to be positive – what does it matter if I am around them or not?!’ Literally, the gal’s answer was, ‘Um, I don’t know. I will have to ask my supervisor on the protocol for this and call you back…’ Ugh! Does anyone know anything?! At the end of that call, I had two choices presented to me: get a call like this every day, or opt for the information to be automated into a daily text. Text me, please! I don’t want to keep answering these questions to this silly lady that doesn’t know much every single day!

Wednesday and Thursday ticked by… two more days down, at least one more week to go on this quarantine. Still needed some naps, I had the never-ending headache, but still needed to entertain a 3-year-old too. We went to Falls Park. I parked as far away from everyone else as I could. We packed a picnic lunch and ate alone on the rocks. We explored the falls while making sure we didn’t come within yards and yards of other people. Isaac was in heaven having all of this outdoor togetherness time… I just wanted to sleep. But we made the most of it, and for that I am thankful. My 3-year-old and I made so many fun memories together!

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

Andrew stayed home and tried to get some work done – returning calls and emails, finding co-agents in our office to help with home showings for our clients, etc., but he took Isaac hiking at another (remote) local park the next day and enjoyed a picnic lunch together. I had lost my sense of smell and taste, so I had no appetite.

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

Friday, August 21st, one week after I tested, I felt awful. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I had a fever up over 101 degrees, I was lethargic, my head was pounding, and I was out of breath anytime I moved around (especially up and down the stairs). It was over 95 degrees outside, so I went to the basement and slept in the guest bedroom where it was dark and cool. The next day, I felt like death. I couldn’t stay awake, my fever was high again, my whole body ached, and my head was pounding soooo hard. I stayed in the basement the whole day – out of the heat and as dark as possible. I wanted to eat, but looking at food made my stomach turn.

By Sunday, I felt much better. No fever, headache was better, I wasn’t as lethargic. Still sleepy and out of breath while moving around, but better. My parents brought their motor-home over and Andrew found us a great camping spot at Lewis & Clark Lake in Yankton, SD. It was extremely hot outside, but I really needed the change of scenery. Isaac was whiny (as toddlers can be) and it made me miserable. At one point Isaac and I made eye contact. I looked him right in the eye and said, ‘I know you are tired of looking at me. I am tired of looking at you, too. But we have to stick together.’ Blank stare…but he stopped fussing, so that was nice!

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

We spent Sunday night, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning relaxing at the camp ground, swimming in the lake, sitting on the beach, and enjoying s’mores in a bonfire every day. It was so nice to watch Isaac play in the dirt and want to snuggle together into the evening.

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

On Monday, August 21st at 9:15 a.m., the South Dakota Department of Health called to release me from self-isolation. What?! I just had symptoms on Saturday – maybe even into Sunday morning! I thought I had to quarantine for at least 3 days after my symptoms had stopped?! There is SO MUCH mixed information! I made the decision to self-isolate until at least Wednesday (we were camping in isolation until Wednesday anyway). I felt so much better after all of that fresh air!

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

Once the coast was clear, I was so excited to come back and see my co-workers, even if it was only for a few short minutes! And I thought they would be excited to see me, too… not so much! I wore a mask, stayed behind the plexiglass at the front desk, didn’t come within 6 feet of anyone in the hallway or the mailroom. Man, one would have thought I was there to rob everyone! A few people literally ran away down the hallway when they saw me coming. The receptionist at the front desk (behind the plexiglass) stood up out of her chair, backed herself into the corner, and looked absolutely terrified of me when I walked up to drop off some paperwork.

I had no idea what to think of this! I wondered, ‘Is this all in my head?! Is this really a thing?! Are people literally scared of me because I used to have COVID?!’ I got back in my car and cried the whole way home. I called Andrew and told him what happened. He had no idea what to say. Neither one of us even thought about how people would feel about us or about us being back in the office. I called a few other friends that tested positive around the same time I did and asked them what they were feeling, seeing, the way they were being treated. I was so surprised to hear that they were also experiencing some of the same stigma or ‘shame.’

But, I also had a lot of friends reach out to me after posting an article on Facebook (via NBC News) titled, ‘Cleared by doctors, but not by the public: After COVID-19, survivors face stigma.’ I had mom friends, single friends, and nurse friends all reach out asking if I wanted to come visit them in their homes, go to coffee or out for lunch. It was SO great to see these people, tell them my story, and be able to catch up with them and what is happening in their lives. I was in self-isolation for 2 weeks, but it felt like a lifetime!”

Courtesy of Maggie Miller

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Maggie Miller from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be  sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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