TIPS TO LIVE BY

From Common Symptoms to Testing Positive: My Coronavirus Journey

April 15, 2020

By Shauna Garivey

My story begins on March 2, when I started noticing some fatigue — which I quickly brushed off.  I'd just had a very busy weekend, of course I was exhausted. A few days later, I woke up with a pretty bad sore throat. But, as a seasonal allergy sufferer, I took some ibuprofen and carried on with my day. The next several days came with an ear ache, irritation deep in my sinuses and a slight cough, all of which I consider to be very manageable symptoms.

You see, I'm a health care worker. As a senior medical assistant in one of Houston Methodist's primary care offices, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to dealing with sore throats and sinus irritation. Plus, I work with a doctor, and I'd been updating him on my symptoms. We both suspected my allergies were acting up again.

When my minor symptoms became not-so-minor

On day six, I woke up with a severe headache — one like I'd never had before, which was scary. It lasted the whole weekend. When I got to work on Monday, I told my doctor about my headache, and he mentioned I could have a sinus infection. But, as a person who hates taking antibiotics unless I really need to, I decided to just wait to see if my symptoms got worse.

Things never really got much worse for me. Just a few days later, I was left with only lingering symptoms — a headache and some strange nasal congestion that wasn't really even congestion. About a week and a half after my symptoms had started, I was finally feeling like I was on the mend.

My symptoms started long before COVID-19 was spreading in the community, so I didn’t think twice about it being more than just allergies. Plus, I didn’t really have any of the most common COVID-19 symptoms. I never had a fever and my cough was slight and infrequent. Looking back, I may have had a little bit of chest pain here and there, but only when I'd cough — which, in itself, was rare.

But, then I got some news.

From possible exposure to testing positive

On day 11, my husband called to tell me that someone who was at the same event as us a few weeks before had tested positive for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

One thing to know about me is that I'm the type of person who never stops learning. Between my own research and the questions I'd asked the doctor I work with, I already knew most of what I needed to know about COVID-19 long before my husband told me that we'd possibly been exposed.

But, before I could really even process what this information meant for me and my health, I knew I needed to get tested immediately — for the sake of my patients. Knowing that I interact with people every single day, including infants and the elderly, all I could think was: "What if I got someone sick?" and "What if I get someone else sick?"

I was symptomatic, I'd had a possible exposure and I needed to know if I had COVID-19. Thankfully, I was able to get tested. After a few swabs, some questions and a chest x-ray, my husband and I were sent home since our symptoms were minor. We immediately began quarantining.

A day later, we got the phone call. Both my husband and I had tested positive for coronavirus. We were two of the earliest COVID-19 cases caused by community spread in the Houston area.

How life changed after being diagnosed with COVID-19

As soon as I found out I had COVID-19, I was a wreck. All I could think about were my patients. Honestly, I was more concerned about them than I was about myself.

After alerting my office of my results, the staff immediately began contacting my patients — letting them know that a member of their care team had tested positive for coronavirus. I was so impressed with how well my office handled the situation, and the patients all seemed very understanding and many were grateful for the transparency. For now, I had some peace of mind.

In the meantime, we kept quarantining. Family and friends left supplies and groceries for us in our garage. We spent hours on the phone with the local health department as they tried to pinpoint who we'd come into contact with while symptomatic. I worked from home, answering emails and questions from my patients about their follow-up care. Mostly, we just took care of ourselves and waited.

Doing everything I can to turn my experience into something positive

Eventually, the local health department gave us the all clear to leave our house. Around that time I got wind of an experimental therapy Houston Methodist was using called convalescent plasma therapy. Soon after, we were contacted by Dr. Salazar's team — asking if we were interested in donating our blood plasma. We were, of course, both excited and willing to do anything we could to help people whose COVID-19 journeys had been more severe than ours.

Unfortunately, my blood plasma contained HLA antibodies, which meant I couldn't donate. My husband, however, could donate his blood plasma — which he's actually done a total of four times now. While I was devastated I couldn't contribute to potentially saving someone's life, I let the research team know that they were welcome to use my blood plasma for any sort of COVID-19 research they were doing. I wanted, and still want, to do anything I can to help.

With the uncertainties of this new virus still looming, it's hard to know if my COVID-19 journey is coming to an end or if I'm still somewhere in the middle of it all. I do know that I've learned a lot — and I hope to put it to good use. After having coronavirus, I feel that I'm even more prepared as a health care worker. I know that I can use my experience to help explain this illness to people, hopefully easing any anxiety or fear they may have.

Regardless of where I am in my COVID-19 journey, I also know that we're all in this together. I feel like everything I've done since starting in health care 16 years ago has all happened for a reason. It's prepared me for this experience and solidified everything I've learned. I got my family through COVID-19, and I want to try to help as many other people get through it as possible.

 

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.

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