DICKINSON, N.D. — There was a time when the words “just pneumonia” would not have brought a sigh of relief. But for Glenda Crain, the diagnosis wasn’t the worst news — she feared COVID-19 was back.
“Well just pneumonia. My test came back neg,” she posted to Facebook on May 7.
A prior test, about a month before on April 2, showed she tested positive for the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. She caught the virus from an asymptomatic friend, she said, and had to quarantine herself in her bedroom while her husband stayed mostly in the kitchen and her son stayed in his bedroom.
“This whole thing started on March 25; that was my first day off of work. By the 27th I figured out I had been exposed,” Crain, 54, said.
By April 5, she began posting about her experience fighting the deadly virus that has sickened more than 4 million people and taken more than 283,000 lives across the world so far.
“I got it and I will survive,” Crain posted.
A sore throat came first. Normally she wouldn’t have gotten it checked out, but because she works as a direct support professional for people with disabilities, she knew she had to take precautions.
“I was worried, but I figured my chances were low,” Crain said. “At that point I didn’t think I would get it. I had a little bit of an irritated sore throat, but I felt good and it turned around to bite me.”
She realized that her life outside her place of employment was no longer her own, she said.
“What I do outside of my employer should be my private time. But in reality, it’s not,” Crain said. “The people I work with are very compromised. If any of them would have gotten the disease, the chances of them coming out unscathed were not good. That was my big concern.”
Next, Crain’s nasal passages became blocked, and the dry coughs and sinus headaches came. She never had a spiking fever, but she was exhausted and felt even worse when she took her blood pressure medicines. She would sleep for 12 hours straight, get up for a little food and water and then go back to bed.
“It’s all I wanted to do, OK, just let me sleep,” Crain said.
She lost two of her five basic senses, Crain said.
“I did lose my senses of taste and smell, and that was very bizarre, and I am still having residual effects with that. I didn’t know I lost it until I was taking my vitamins, and I thought I would put some Vicks up my nose one night, and I didn’t smell anything. At first I thought there had to be something wrong with my Vicks.”
Because COVID-19 is a new disease with no known treatment, doctors could not prescribe medications for her, she said. The North Dakota Department of Human Services checked in with her morning and night to log her temperatures, she said.
Recovery from COVID-19 doesn’t mean the battle for health is over.
Patients who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, could have a greater risk of long-term health issues that include breathing problems, depression, memory and thinking problems, and fatigue and muscle weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
During her weekslong quarantine, nobody else in her household came down with COVID-19. They kept their distance, messaging each other if they needed help. Because she came down with the virus, her husband was laid off from work and her son had to stay away from his electrician apprenticeship job. Under normal times Crain’s house is usually quieter — she works nights — and her orange cat, Macy, didn’t like the schedule change.
“He was used to people being gone all the time, and he was not liking three people stuck in the house,” Crain said.
She was tested twice more after recovery before she went back to work. Her third test after getting the virus, and the only time during the ordeal she was able to speak to a doctor, showed she was still negative for COVID-19, but now had pneumonia.
“I was happy it was just pneumonia. That meant I was getting better,” Crain said. “I was pretty much healthy before this, but my immune system was so weak, that’s what they’re saying. All of it led to pneumonia.”
Crain is on antibiotics, and she's still recovering from pneumonia, she said.
Her recovery from COVID-19 has left her with more questions than answers. Is this like chickenpox? Will she now be immune? Because she had a comparatively mild case, if she contracts the coronavirus again, will her symptoms be worse if there is a next time?
“I was lucky to get a mild case of this. Now that I’ve got the pneumonia, I really feel for those people in the hospital and them not being able to breathe,” Crain said.
For now, she’s wearing masks, using hand sanitizer and washing her hands constantly as a first line of defense. In her spare time, she’s spraying the house down with Lysol.
One good aspect of her ordeal is that she’s seen parts of the Dickinson community come together, she said.
“Dickinson has been great, with the few exceptions of some of the things I’ve seen lately. They’ve been good about it,” Crain said. “There are friends checking in on each other or offering to go to the store for each other, and there is a Facebook page for people who need help — post something on there and someone will help.
“I’ve noticed that the neighbors seem to be helping each other more. I think it’s bringing us together at 6 feet apart, but in some ways it’s also tearing us apart,” Crain said.
Too many people still aren’t following social distancing rules, and many are still not wearing masks. Some are congregating in parks, she said.
“I know we have to get back to some sort of a life; we can’t stay trapped in our houses,” Crain said. “It’s a double-edged sword — how much life are we going to have, and how much life should we be having. We’re in for a rough couple of months.”