On a Friday in early April, 56-year-old Ramona Reeves started to feel a little off at work. She’s a patient coordinator at Atrium Health, so it wasn’t hard to get a quick temperature check. It turned out she had a low-grade fever and was sent home. From that point, things took a turn for the worse.
"I got a fever, a high fever, I had the chills, I felt achy, the bad cough, and just feeling awful," Reeves said.
Along with the aches and pains she experienced that night, she also felt something else -- fear that she had come into contact with the coronavirus.
"I was praying that I didn’t have it," she recalled. "And I was scared; it was just really scary."
She was tested and when the results came in, her worst fears were confirmed — she was positive for COVID-19. Although she works in a hospital, she’s not sure where she came into contact with the virus. At that point in April, people had just started social distancing practices and wearing a face mask wasn’t as commonplace as it is currently.
Reeves immediately isolated herself at home, which meant staying away from her husband and college-aged son. That isolation lasted about 20 days. And that isolation was more physically and emotionally challenging than she ever expected.
"I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, this is the worst I’ve ever felt," she said. "And then the thing is, you’re sick and you’re by yourself."
There was no lead-up to prepare for isolation. Her cellphone was her lifeline. If she needed something, she would call her husband or son, they would put a tray at her door, and call her back to let her know it was ready.
Then there would be clouds of disinfectant and countless sanitizing wipes the family used to try and keep the house as clean as possible, to stay as safe as possible -- which meant being far away from Reeves.
"As human beings we’re not used to being isolated in a room by yourself and then no touches or hugs or kisses from your family member. It’s very, very different and scary," she said.
And what made the isolation even more scary, was when Reeves was in true physical pain by herself. On Easter Sunday she had trouble breathing. It was different from being out of breath after a long run she said. No matter what she did, she could not catch her breath and her mind started to race.
"Am I having a panic attack because I feel like I’m going to die, I can’t breathe. Am I truly having shortness of breath?" she said. "I thought they were going to have to take me in and put me on a ventilator."
Reeves went to the emergency room that night. They did a chest X-ray to make sure her lungs were all right and confirmed she was short of breath -- not having a panic attack. She didn’t need to be put on a ventilator, but still needed treatment. So she was sent back home and set up with Atrium’s COVID-19 Virtual Hospital. It’s a program that helps to monitor and treat COVID-19 patients who, while sick, aren’t at the point where they need to be hospitalized -- saving beds for those who need more intense care.
She had virtual visits with her doctor through a screen, while at the same time a paramedicine team came into her home and examined her in person.
"Mentally, it made me feel a little bit better that I actually saw somebody," she said. "That has to be a scary feeling for them coming into somebody’s house. You had to come into my bedroom, examine me. They didn’t treat me like I had the plague. They just treated like a human being."
Reeves was especially grateful for that in-person kindness -- that’s why she chose to go into the health care industry she said, to treat others the way she wanted to be treated.
"I give them high praise," she said. "Even though they were all 'gowned up,' I don’t know that I would be able to do that."
Eventually Reeves got better. Comparatively, she feels great -- but she can still get short of breath if she pushes herself too hard. She’s back at work, working from home mostly. But she still goes into the hospital about two days a week.
And that emotion of fear -- fear of getting the virus, fear of pain, fear of being put on a ventilator or even death, is still there. But she’s encountering that feeling in a different way. Some people she said, are now scared of her because she had COVID-19. That includes coworkers, friends, and even some family.
"I don’t take offense to it and it doesn’t hurt my feelings. To each his own, that’s how you feel that’s how you feel. I still try to keep my distance, and wear my mask, and keep my hands sanitized," Reeves said. "They are not afraid to ask me how I felt and what symptoms did I have and everything, but they are definitely staying their distance."
She gets it. Experiencing COVID-19 was scary -- the physical sickness and the emotional loneliness. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone. That’s why she’s donating plasma. The idea is that her plasma is full of rich antibodies that could help a current COVID-19 patient fight off the virus.
"For me, personally, if I can save somebody that had it way worse than I had it, I want to help somebody else if I can," Reeves said.
Donating plasma, she points out, only takes about a couple of hours -- but those two hours could mean the difference of easing someone’s suffering and ending the fear of their physical and emotional pain.
For Reeves, providing a possible antidote to that fear doesn’t get much more personal than that.
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