Access Now: AORN COVID-19 Clinical Support

Archive June 2020 XXI, No. 6

I Survived COVID-19

My long career as a nurse didn't prepare me for becoming a patient infected with the coronavirus.

Kay Ball

Kay Ball, PhD, RN, CNOR, FAAN


BETTER DAYS With her scary COVID-19 experience behind her, Kay and her husband, Dan, are all smiles.

First, I felt nauseous. Then, I felt pain in my lower abdomen. My head began to ache, and I had a slight temperature. It was early April, during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, but I still didn't consider COVID-19 as a possible diagnosis. After all, I had taken every precaution to avoid the virus.

My husband and I rarely went out in public because of the pandemic. On rare occasions, we ventured out to Costco during senior hours wearing N95 masks and gloves. We even wiped down our groceries when we got home.

The nagging symptoms persisted, however, and I didn't have an appetite. I lost my sense of taste and smell. Finally, after a week of feeling rotten, I eventually went to the ER and tested positive for COVID-19. I was discharged that day and given strict orders to return to the hospital if I experienced any shortness of breath.

When I got home that night a girlfriend of mine, who is also a nurse, brought me a pulse oximeter she'd rushed out to purchase. Her timing couldn't have been better. I struggled to sleep soundly in a spare bedroom away from my husband as a precaution— a few days later he also tested positive for COVID-19, but was asymptomatic — and checked the pulse oximeter throughout the night.

My readings ran in the low- to mid-80s. Although those saturation levels were alarming, I hesitated to go to the hospital because I didn't want to take up a bed when healthcare resources were stretched so thin. I was also healthy and worked out every day. If I did have the virus, couldn't I just self-isolate until it ran its course?

Eventually, I called my doctor and was convinced I needed to go back to the hospital. The day after my initial emergency room visit, I returned. This time I was admitted with COVID-19 and viral pneumonia.

It was a terrifying moment, and I thought it could be my end. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, and I knew how quickly patients, particularly older patients, could take a turn for the worse. At this point, there are no good predictors of whom the virus impacts the most.

I was one of the lucky ones.

Within the span of an hour, an infected patient's entire respiratory system could be jeopardy. In the hospital, my breathing became labored. I couldn't take a deep breath without dry coughing, which is common among COVID-19 patients. At that point, I had to let go of any sense of control and accept that I was just a patient who was fully dependent on her caretakers.

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