Most people have had some sort of personal experience with COVID19 in the 7 months since the first positive case was confirmed in the United States. Whether it be from testing positive themselves or having a friend or relative to test positive, COVID19 became more than just a headline in the news and transformed to a real-life personal experience.
I wanted to tell the stories of how people living right here in Western North Carolina had been impacted. This is Part I of what is currently a Two-Part series, however, if more people want to their stories, I will continue to share them.
Twenty-six-year-old Kayla Blanton has worked in the health care field for the last 6 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant. She had worked in a COVID19 hotspot in Florida for months before moving home to Franklin, North Carolina. Two weeks after returning to Macon County, Blanton tested positive for COVID19.
“If I didn’t have to get tested every week for work I honestly probably would have never known I had it,” said Blanton, who has since fully recovered.
Blanton said that she lost her sense of smell and taste, but other than that her symptoms were mild.
“I had the swine flu around 2010 and honestly the flu was worse cause I had a high fever and the body aches.,” said Blanton. “With COVID I was just tired more than normal.”
Blanton was out of work while recovering, which was difficult financially and made it difficult to pay her bills, in general, the experience was different than would have expected it to be based on what she had read and seen.
“It was different than I expected because I only had a couple of symptoms and not all like they said I would,” said Blanton. “Actually having it did change the way I viewed COVID19 because in reality, I worked around COVID patients in Florida but I thought it was all a government coverup. But it’s not it’s real and I never thought I would love to be able to smell bleach again or taste water. It’s the little things we take for granted.”
Blanton said having to quarantine also took a toll on her as she missed being able to be around her nieces and nephews – which she says was the most difficult part.
“The health department has been very helpful and they are doing the best they can,” Blanton noted. Blanton isn’t sure how she contracted it as she only went to work and spent time with he family.
Another Franklin resident, who lives in Macon County part-time and asked to remain anonymous said that he has had two experienced with COVID19.
The most recent experienced he has had with COVID19 is within his own extended family.
“Our daughter-in-law’s mother and her husband were both admitted to the hospital a little over a week ago,” he said. “The mother had been experiencing what she deemed to be a cold for approximately a week prior. Without going into a lot of details, the mother spent two days in the hospital on oxygen before recovering enough to be released. Her husband was put on a ventilator shortly after being admitted. Within a few days he was moved to full life support after he began to experience renal failure. He was removed from life support late yesterday morning and passed within a few hours.”
The first experience he had with COVID19 differed greatly from his most recent experienced, which has left him to conclude there is no rhyme or reason to how it impacts someone which is different than he first imagined it to be.
“The outcome was different for each of the individuals involved, which is different than I would have imagined,” he said. “All of these individuals are in the +65 age group which would place them in the high-risk category yet three survived and two died. I have no idea about any long term effects but those the recovered did so at different rates. I don’t know enough about everyone’s medical history to comment on that.”
The second personal experience he had with COVID19 was a couple of weeks ago when one of his close neighbors in the condo complex he lives at in Florida contracted the virus from a woman she had lunch with (also a resident of the condo community).
“Within a short time (days) the original contact was hospitalized and died shortly after, within a week of the luncheon is my understanding,” he said. “Our neighbor and her husband both fell ill also and were tested positive for COVID. Their daughter, an RN, came down from Illinois and stayed in our condo while she cared for her parents. The wife was hospitalized briefly and released but both really received home care from their daughter as the primary source of care. They both recovered and the daughter has since returned home. Our last contact with them they said they were recovering but were not 100% yet.”
He said that experiencing the virus firsthand didn’t change his view because he thought it was dangerous before and he still does.
“Now, I just think the outcome is something of a crap shoot,” he said. He also noted that the most difficult aspect of his experience was the general sense that the first case and death was possibly preventable.
Ginny Rebecca Reeves was born and raised in Macon County and now lives in Habersham County, Georgia. She is a nationally certified critical care nurse. Although she works directly with COVID 19 patients on a daily basis, it wasn’t until she herself was diagnosed with the virus that she really became concerned.
“My personal diagnosis of COVID has been an eye-opener,” said Reeves. “I’m fearful of becoming sick enough to require hospitalization and/or intubation and ECMO for treatment. Especially considering my comorbidities of Lupus and Addisons Disease.”
Reeves said she was initially tested as a precaution before having a scheduled surgery – after getting a positive result her surgery was postponed and Reeves has been in quarantine. Her first symptoms were a loss of smell and taste and now they have progressed to respiratory issues and trouble breathing.
After being in the healthcare field for 13 years, Reeves said she has never experienced anything that compares to what she has seen with COVID19.
“I have never experienced a crisis like this in my career,” said Reeves. “I’ve worked with respiratory infectious disease processes as a nurse at Emory’s Advanced Respiratory ICU but have never seen such devastating loss.”
With over a decade of experience in healthcare, Reeves was cautious to buy into the hype she saw in the headlines, but once she began treating patients herself, her opinion changed.
“When COVID 19 was first in the news, I was skeptical about it,” said Reeves. “I thought it was just like the flu. I was wrong. I’ve had to adjust my views based on science and firsthand experience with the virus. I’ve been just bowled over with the communicability of the virus and the impact on the actual day to day practice of nursing and medicine.”
For Reeves, the hardest part of her experience isn’t her own illness, but rather watching the isolating feelings patients felt in their final days.
“The experience of patients dying alone (meaning without family or friends present) and loved ones having to say goodbye on an iPad has forever changed so many of us,” Reeves said of the hardest part of experiencing COVID19. “Having loved ones and patients talk to each other on an iPad before we intubated knowing that the chances of them ever coming off the ventilator are slim to none. Having staff with no chance to decompress between the death of patients because there are other positive patients in the ED waiting for the bed. Spending your entire twelve to thirteen-hour shift in full ppe, sweating buckets, having to reuse protective gear due to low to none replacements available. Faithfully using ppe and still contracting the virus, knowing how quickly things can go south. Knowing that entirely too many healthcare workers have lost their lives to this pandemic. Personally knowing three wonderful souls who have been taken too soon in their pursuit of a career to help and care for critically ill patients. Continually changing policy and protocol related to nursing practices and care of these patients. Fear of taking this home to your loved ones or living apart from your family for the same reason.”
A Franklin resident who asked to remain anonymous said that her grandmother was one of the patients who passed away as a result of an outbreak at the Silver Bluff Nursing Home in Haywood County.
“We received a call on 8/4/2020 that she had a positive COVID test,” she said. “She had other health conditions including Alzheimer’s. They moved her into a COVID unit and didn’t bring of her personal belongings. She panicked and was scared. By Thursday she was on 10 liters of Oxygen and a morphine drip to keep her comfortable. On Saturday, August 8th at 3:30 am she passed away. She was 83. She was very loved and is very missed.”
Last week, the nursing facility reported that 92 residents and 53 staff had tested positive and 17 residents, and 34 staff have recovered. There had been 20 fatalities.
The franklin resident said that how quickly it all progressed with her grandmother was very difficult. “We went from FaceTiming her every day to grieving her way too quickly,” she said. Immediate family was able to visit before she passed away, but the Franklin resident was not able to because she is 6 months pregnant and didn’t want to risk becoming ill. The family was able to have a small funeral after she passed away.
Before her grandmother tested positive, which they think was traced back to a therapist entering the facility, she said that she was not too concerned with the virus.
“I was very skeptical of COVID. I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone said,” she said. “But after my grandmother passed away, it completely changed my views. I thought it was just as bad as a common cold and that the media was making everything a circus.”
Despite her experience, she encourages people to “be cautious, not scared,” she said. Especially with elderly people. Help out with grocery shopping or errands so they don’t have to be exposed.”
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