This article was medically reviewed by Raj Dasgupta, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical medicine and a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board, on March 30, 2020.
My husband Anthony and I were two of the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Nashville, where we live. We were lucky. As of today, it’s been more than two weeks since exposure and a week without symptoms. I’m sharing my story publicly because I think it’s important to put a face to this pandemic—and to show everyone this thing has an ending, even if it takes longer than we would hope. I’ve seen too many people talking about COVID-19 as if it’s a hypothetical or a “not really happening here” type of situation. Let me tell you, it is very much real. It is happening where you are. And it is not playing around. Let’s keep flattening the curve, while pushing our elected officials to help all of us get to the other side of this with our livelihoods intact.
On March 3, Anthony and I were at home excitedly packing our bags for a cruise we’d been planning for more than two years. It was for a friend’s wedding. We were supposed to go in 2019, but the ship our friends had booked got chartered for a private event and they were forced to reschedule. Ultimately, they chose March 6, 2020, as their new date and started a Facebook group so their 150 guests could coordinate plans and get to know each other.
When news of the novel coronavirus started spreading earlier this year, someone would occasionally mention it in the Facebook group. But no one seemed especially stressed about it. It’s hard to believe now, given all that’s happened in the last few weeks, but at the time we were preparing to leave there were no travel restrictions in place. Coronavirus would not be declared a pandemic until more than a week later, on March 11. So no one wanted to cancel. Since the wedding had already been postponed by more than a year, it kind of felt like now or never. Even if we’d wanted to back out, it wouldn’t have been possible without losing our money. None of the cruise companies or airlines were offering the flexible change and cancellation policies they are now. So, early in the morning of March 4, we headed to the Nashville airport and flew to Miami for a pre-cruise pool party.
On March 5, we boarded a four-day cruise scheduled to stop in Key West, Florida and Nassau, Bahamas. At port, as we were getting on the ship, everything seemed completely normal. So normal that our group had a running joke; if anyone touched a stranger or random surface someone would say, “Oh no, you’re going to get corona.” I think most Americans weren’t taking it seriously then. Literally days before, President Trump called the virus a “hoax.” All the information coming out was conflicting, so it was hard to know what to believe. Still, everyone was taking as many precautions as we could and washing our hands religiously.
Ironically, Anthony and I both used to work as singers for various cruise lines, so we know how to keep ourselves safe and healthy while onboard. We never touch the handrails or take the elevators because we know those places hold a ton of germs. And we also know the precautions a ship takes if there is some type of disease spreading onboard, like removing any self-serving stations in the dining hall or setting up extra hand washing stations. But none of that was happening. Again, everything seemed completely normal.
The cruise turned out to be a blast. Our group was big and a lot of fun. Our friends got married when we got to Key West, and that was really special. We were having so much fun we didn’t even get off the boat when we docked in the Bahamas.
We returned to Nashville on Sunday, March 8, and went to work the following day. About 48 hours later, Anthony and I were both starting to feel sick. But we weren’t worried about coronavirus because we weren’t experiencing shortness of breath, fever, or cough. Congestion isn’t one of the diagnostic symptoms, but that’s how it started for us. At first I thought it was allergies. Then the headaches and dry cough came on, and I started getting nervous. To be safe, we decided to self-quarantine ourselves starting that Thursday evening.
That weekend, we became even sicker. I have never coughed so much in my entire life as I did that weekend. I coughed so hard I threw my back out. We had really intense body aches and fevers we were trying to manage with Tylenol and cold medicine. That’s when we started to suspect it might be coronavirus, but we couldn’t figure out how to get tested. We were told you have to see a doctor and get tested for Flu A and B and a bunch of other things. And only if all those tests came back negative would they tell you where to get tested for coronavirus. We wanted to know if it was coronavirus so we'd know how long we needed to self-isolate. Meanwhile, we were following the news and I’d read it could turn into pneumonia really quickly. That’s what really scared me.
Saturday was a turning point. One of the other guests from the wedding posted on our Facebook group they had tested positive for COVID-19. All of the sudden, everybody started commenting: “Oh my gosh, I’ve been sick too.” “I’ve been sick.” Like comment after comment. So we were like, OK, we have to get tested. By chance, I saw someone from Nashville post that they’d gotten tested so I immediately messaged them to find out where to go.
On Monday morning, we pulled into an industrial parking lot in the middle of nowhere where Vanderbilt Hospital had set up a temporary testing facility. It was like a scene out of the movie Outbreak. There was a big tent set up and about a dozen workers, all wearing what looked to be hazmat suits. There were only two other people there besides us, so we got right in. Inside they had stations for about a dozen patients, 12 chairs, and individual blood pressure machines all spaced six feet apart. The test itself sucks. They really get in there. I did OK when they swabbed my throat, but Anthony almost threw up everywhere. The nose was the worst for me. They put the swab so far up in there it felt like they were hitting my brain. I literally started shouting, “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”
It took 48 hours for the test results to come back—Anthony and I both tested positive. I didn’t feel scared by then; we’d already been sick for nearly a week. In fact, by this point we were starting to feel better. It was more of a relief to finally have an answer and know, OK, this is what it is. We needed to let everyone we came into contact with at work and elsewhere know so they could get tested too. A bunch of our coworkers went. Miraculously, none of them tested positive.
Of course, we let the Facebook group know. A bunch of us have started having regular Zoom calls to check in with updates and discuss how everyone was feeling. Every day we heard of another person from our group who had received test results. At least two people have been hospitalized. Many in the group have not been able to be tested, even though they had direct exposure. There are only a handful of people in our group who have come back negative. Altogether, I’m guessing about 30 of us are positive, maybe more. We’ve learned symptoms vary a lot, from nothing at all to quite severe. For our group, the most common symptoms we’ve experienced were:
- Cough, the most common. For me and some others, this was very intense.
- Other flu-like symptoms, some not highly reported, including nasal congestion (for me, this was pretty extreme at the beginning).
- Loss of taste and smell. Many individuals in our group, mostly the ones who had mild or no other symptoms, have experienced this. The good news is some have had their senses return in the last couple days.
- Fevers and night sweats
- Body aches
After nearly a week of experiencing symptoms, I feel very lucky to be on the other side of this. But I am still really scared that my parents or grandparents could get COVID-19. I am a healthy 34-year-old who did not require medical intervention. But my dad, who has type 2 diabetes, and my mom, who has her own health problems, probably could not handle this. They would 100% wind up in the hospital. Which is why I am begging everyone, them included, to please stay at home. It is the only way to be certain you are not catching or spreading the virus. The sooner everybody stays home, the better. Brighter days are ahead.
You Might Also Like