Taking COVID-19 seriously

Originally published by the Washington State Department of Health

When Susan was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Spring, she was a healthy woman in her late 30s with no underlying health conditions. Six months later, she’s still experiencing symptoms. Stories like hers are part of the landscape shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Susan’s symptoms began in mid-March, when she developed a low-grade fever. When she didn’t feel better within a week, she made a virtual appointment with a local clinic. The provider diagnosed a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics. Her fever went away for a few days and she felt better.

Five days later Susan’s fever returned. Soon she was having trouble breathing. “My voice was crackly, my chest hurt when breathing,” she said. However, she didn’t feel tired or weak. She then developed significant, crushing pain in her chest. “It felt like an elephant sitting on my chest.”

Susan called a health care provider, but they weren’t seeing patients with COVID-19 symptoms. She found a clinic offering virtual appointments and they prescribed albuterol, an asthma medicine.

By April 1, Susan was getting worse. She was finally tested for COVID-19. During the eight-day wait for test results, she said she felt like “it was the end of my days.” Not getting any better, she went to a local emergency room and was isolated. Susan wasn’t given a COVID-19 test in the ER because one was pending with another provider. They sent her home and advised her again to take the albuterol. Her test came back positive a few days later.

The COVID-19 diagnosis and persistent symptoms left Susan feeling constant anxiety. “I was panicking day in and day out because of my husband and kids, wondering how COVID will affect them, knowing that some of them have underlying health conditions,” she said.

Susan’s husband and three young children contracted COVID-19 in March, just after her symptoms appeared. All had a fever, sore throat, and muscle and body aches, but they recovered by the end of the month. Susan’s low-grade fever lasted 45 days, well into April.

Despite her concern for her family, Susan’s children and husband have regained their health and are doing well. Not so for Susan. She still struggles to breathe. An x-ray of her lungs five months after her diagnosis showed that her lungs are clear. She was referred to a pulmonologist for further follow-up.

“What if I get a cold or flu now?” she said. “Could I be more susceptible to something like that since I still have lingering COVID effects? Knowing that there’s still something going on with my breathing makes me wonder.”

Susan also received a variety of reactions from people during her illness. Some friends and acquaintances think the pandemic is a political hoax. While most have been respectful, others have disregarded the seriousness of her illness.

It’s thoughts like these that prompted Susan to share her story. Her hope is that those who doubt the seriousness of this disease will see things from a different perspective and follow the masking, social distancing, and other public health guidelines to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. It can impact anyone, young or old, whether you have underlying health conditions or not.

More information

Information changes rapidly. Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found on the department’s website, doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19. You can also contact our the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Language assistance is available.

Please note that this call center cannot access COVID-19 testing results. For testing inquiries or results, please contact your health care provider.