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WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: 'Mom, I'm Afraid I'm Going To Die.'


In our series Social Distancing, we hear from you, our listeners, about the challenges and changes you’re facing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, WFAE’s Sarah Delia spoke to a Cabarrus County woman about what it was like to care for her daughter who had COVID-19.

Mid-March seems like such a long time ago, especially for Dawn Larma. It started off as a happy time -- her family had gathered to celebrate her 52nd birthday. Her daughter, Shelby, even came home from out of town to join the festivities. 

She couldn’t stay too long though; the 23-year-old had recently started a new job in Raleigh. When she left, everything took a turn.

"When she went home that week she had started to run a temperature and started coughing and having trouble breathing," Dawn Larma says.

Dawn says the flu was quickly ruled out by a test at a Minute Clinic and it was assumed Shelby had COVID-19 because of her symptoms. Dawn says because of the new job, Shelby didn’t have a primary care physician and when she tried to look for one, she couldn’t find a doctor taking new patients. Dawn felt like her daughter was constantly being passed around when it came to where she could get treatment. 

"So there was this kind of limbo state when she was getting sicker and needed to get care," Dawn says. "The hospital would tell her to call her primary care doctor. Well, she doesn’t have one. And then it was the urgent care (saying), 'See your primary care.' 'Well, I don’t have one.' 'Well, then go to the hospital.' And the hospital says, 'Go to your primary care doctor.'"

Dawn worked on her end to try and find answers for her daughter -- which wasn’t easy from afar.

"She was telling me ‘Mom, I’m afraid I’m going to die. I wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t breathe.’ It was getting worse and worse," Dawn Larma says. "And this is going to sound so bizarre but this is the kind of last 12 months she’s had, she was actually in the building at the UNCC shooting. And she’s like, ‘Mom, I am just so done with these last 12 months.’"

Unsure of what to do, Dawn called her primary care physician at Novant Health who also used to treat Shelby before she moved away from Charlotte. Dawn says she was instructed to bring Shelby back and the doctor would see to it that she got treated.

"So I talked to her fiance and he said, ‘You know what? I’ll mask up and glove up -- we both will -- we’ll put her in the car and bring her down,’" Dawn says.

So Dawn set up two quarantine rooms -- one for the fiance and one for her daughter. And although there were many more hoops to jump through -- which included miscommunication about an already scheduled appointment -- Shelby was eventually seen in the Novant network. 

The road to recovery was long, and Shelby had to be quarantined until her fever went down and her symptoms went away. 

Dawn Larma says they learned to adjust when it came to things that used to be so normal -- like eating a meal together. 

"We have a wooden tray and I bring the food and put it at the door and she gloves up and opens the door and slides it in and when she’s done she slides it out," Dawn says. "And I’ve been feeding her on paper plates so it can go straight into the trash. "

Dawn also had to be careful when it came to communicating with Shelby. Her husband brought in from the garage one of those outdoor folding chairs. She strategically placed it down the hallway from the guest room Shelby was in, about 15 feet away.

"She would have the door open and I would be sitting in the chair with the mask in the other bedroom door and she would be across," Dawn says. "And we would talk that way." 

There’s a slight smile in Dawn’s voice when she thinks back to some of these moments --and how they learned to operate in these different ways.

But there were more moments of true fear of the reality they were living in. 

One of those times was when Dawn was trying to put a meal together when Shelby was still really sick. Shelby loves to bake and is constantly leaving sticks of butter out of the fridge to soften. 

"And I had a tendency to go behind her, pick up the butter and put it back in the fridge," Dawn says. "So she had taken to writing on the package of butter ‘Do not put back in fridge! Softening for X, Y or Z.’ So I went to get butter out of the fridge and there was a package that said that and I started to throw it away. And when I saw what was written on it, I couldn’t. I folded it up flat and put it on top of the fridge. I thought, you know she is in such bad shape. If something happens to her, this stupid butter package will be so cherished."

Since this interview, Shelby has gotten better. She's telecommuting. But she still does get a little winded from time to time. The doctors think that will fade. But those feelings of fear and frustration both mother and daughter felt around Shelby’s illness and treatment, while placated, haven’t completely disappeared.

Those may be symptoms from the virus that will take longer to fade.  

If you’d like to share how the coronavirus has changed your life, leave a voicemail at 704-916-9114 or go to wfae.org for more information. We hope you and your loved ones are taking care. 

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.


Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.