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 II of what is currently a Two-Part series, however, if more people want to their stories, I will continue to share them.
Christopher Potts was born and raised in Highlands but currently works in the healthcare field in Tampa Florida. He has been seen for two months, and while he feels he may finally be on the mend, he knows that could change at any moment.
“I think I am finally on the mend, but I still struggle,” Potts said. “I had three good days in a row earlier this week. The last two days I’ve had the tremors and brain fog show up several times. Just tired a lot and tire easily still. I know some of it is still deconditioning following being stuck in bed for effectively a month.”
Potts’ symptoms have varied between joint pain, fever, chills, brain fog, nausea, tremors, dizziness, hallucinations, body aches, insomnia, shortness of breath, anxiety, and panic attacks. He was hospitalized twice after three ER visits, five negative COVID19 tests before finally registering positive despite being clinically diagnosed, and I’ve been out of work for two months.
“I’ve had home oxygen for several weeks and recovering is taking an extremely long time,” said Potts. “My kids have been without a dad who can function pretty much this entire time and my wife has basically been a de facto single parent as I’ve been quarantined, hospitalized, or too weak to do much of anything. I’m just now feeling well enough to do stuff around the house but my endurance is still poor.”
On three different occasions over the last two months, Potts said he actually thought he was going to die.
“Multiple times I thought my heart would give out,” said Potts. “I would say this was one of the worst things I’ve ever dealt with and not remotely what I thought it would be. As a nurse, I know how bad this is, and have warned people about wearing masks, washing hands, doing the right thing for other people. If anything, it’s made me even more cognizant of other people and trying to protect them from getting this virus.”
Potts considers himself to be mostly healthy. He exercises regularly, bikes 15-20 miles a day, 3-4 times a week and he runs regularly. He didn’t have any underlying health conditions before being diagnosed. With first hand experienced working in the healthcare field in what has considered to be a hotspot for the virus, Potts said while he has suffered greatly, he also knows that his case is luckily not the experience most people have.
“I personally know several dozen people who have had this with varying results,” he said. “I know I’m kind of the rare case but the two coworkers of mine who had it were out for a month on average both hospitalized. There have been several people we know who have died or have lasting damage related to COVID19 for varying reasons: one was lung damage, another was due to a blood clot in the GI tract, and another with stroke symptoms. I can say definitively that everyone who has had it wishes that they didn’t even if it only made them feel awful for a few days.”
While Potts has been hospitalized three times, most recently being discharged on July 26 after having to get convalescent plasma and an antiviral experimental treatment called Remdesivir, he said the worst part of the experience has been having to face it all alone.
“The isolation and loneliness was awful,” said Potts. “I spent more than a week and a half in the hospital and the only people who could come into my room was only healthcare personnel required with minimal contact. Multiple times the doctors assigned to my cases did not come in the room or performed their assessments from the doorway. Hearing the numerous amount of codes called on various patients on the COVID wing and wanting to go help but being unable to do anything doesn’t help to calm fears either. I wasn’t allowed visitors, no one wants to be around you and even recovering you’re viewed as a leper of sorts. Now, I’m still dealing with neurological symptoms which include the tremors, brain fog, anxiety and fatigue. At 37 years old I also have to go get a Holter monitor and an echocardiogram to make sure that I don’t have any long-term cardiac damage.”
For one Franklin business owner who wishes to remain anonymous, he said his experience with COVID19 was mild. His three-year-old daughter contracted it at her daycare and tested positive. Soon thereafter, he tested positive as well. Neither he or his daughter had any symptoms and were only tested as a result of the outbreak at the daycare.
“I personally know of four people who have tested positive for COVID19 and only one of them have really been sick,” he said. “They had flu-like symptoms for three days and then fully recovered.”
As a business owner, he said the hardest part of his experience with COVID19 was having to quarantine for 10 days while still running a small business.
After contracting the virus himself, he said that he is more confident in the importance of herd immunity than he was before testing positive.
Both he and his daughter have fully recovered and have returned to life as normal. He encourages people to talk with the local health department and know that most of the cases are asymptomatic and will improve in a few days.
Laura Lee Geiger, who has lived in Macon County for the last 17 years, recently lost her Uncle Kenny to COVID19.
“My 55 year old Uncle Kenny (in Ft Myers Fla), was very vocal about not believing in COVID19 being worse than a cold,” she said. “He unknowingly contracted COVID19 and gave it to four others in my family at a Father’s Day Brunch.”
Geiger said her uncle started showing symptoms the night of the brunch and went to the ER to be tested. He notified the others including Geiger’s father, who has many high risk conditions. Within 5 days, Kenny was admitted to ICU with COVID19 Pneumonia. Geiger’s dad followed two days later.
“My uncle refused a ventilator at first, but by day 9 he was going into organ failure and even on max oxygen they couldn’t get his O2 above the 60’s,” she said. “He was ventilated that evening and died four days later from organ failure. He had no preexisting conditions.”
Geiger’s dad ended up on maximum oxygen also fighting COVID19 Pneumonia, but he turned a corner shortly after Kenny died and was able to be released to go home.
“Dad has now tested negative but has many left over side effects including needing oxygen all night and sometimes during the day which he has never needed before,” said Geiger. “My siblings and I really thought my dad would fare worse than my uncle due to the preexisting conditions, but that wasn’t the case. My dad said that for him it wasn’t anything like the flu and one of the distinguishing symptoms for him was the way it changed every few hours. He would feel like he was beating it and be feeling great and three hours later couldn’t lift his pinky finger, then back again.”
Geiger said having to experience the loss of her uncle and fear of losing her father makes its more difficult to see people discounting the virus.
“It’s frustrating to talk to friends that don’t believe “its a thing” when you had a healthy 55 year old uncle and then 9 days later he is gone just like that,” she said. “I think we don’t hear enough about the fact that many scientists believe we have three strains of COVID19. If we could test specifically for Sars Cov 2 (vs Mers Cov and Sars Cov 1) it would make a lot more sense as to the numbers and percentages. I don’t think the number of active cases of Sars Cov 2 are as high as we think, but I think the prognosis for those with that particular strain is direr than the others.”
Having encountered COIVD19 early on during the Pandemic, Geiger said losing her uncle didn’t change her outlook on the virus, because she was fearful from the beginning.
“I took COVID very seriously from the beginning because my ex step mother of 30 years in Tennessee also died very suddenly with a severe asthma attack (she always had asthma) and she was positive for COVID19,” said Potts. “This happened in March at the beginning of the quarantine. So I don’t think it changed the way I thought about it.”
Geiger said that her family never did determine where her uncle contracted COVID19. The other family members who contracted the virus after the brunch never had to be hospitalized.
“My aunt (his wife) is 54, and she was very sick with flu like symptoms and a bad cough, hard nights with breathing issues but no hospitalization from COVID19,” said Geiger. “My dad’s fiancé is 55 also and she had one trip to the hospital for fluids and heart palpitations but was released the same day. She has fibromyalgia and lupus but fared okay, and was the first of the group to test negative after two weeks. Both women did much better than the men. My dad is 60.”
With COVID19 hitting home for Geiger, she said the hardest part has been how quickly it all happens. “The most difficult aspect was losing my uncle so quickly and processing the feelings of anger that he never took it seriously or took precautions with the sadness of watching him on FaceTime go from that stance to terrified the day they vented him saying goodbye to all of us in case he didn’t make it,” she said.
A Macon County resident who asked to remain anonymous has endured two friends, one from Middle, Georgia and another from Florida testing positive for the virus.
“Sam she is in her mid 30’s no other medical issues,” she said. “She was in the hospital for 14 days under critical condition. Rick is in his mid 60’s and in amazing shape – he had no underlying medical issues. He has always been very active. He became very ill. He lost 30 pounds and was extremely sick for three weeks.”
She said that her experience with COVID19 and hear firsthand accounts from her friends has led her to understanding the reality of the virus.
“I am just tired of hearing how it is not real and only elderly can get it,” she said.
She has been fortunate because as she has watched two friends struggle, both of her friends have recovered. But nearly losing two close friends was very difficult.
“Please realize that this virus is extremely dangerous to all,” she said.
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