Morgan Wagner headshot

Morgan Wagner

Let me start by coming right out with it, because I have a feeling this is going to be long. Hi. I’m Morgan, and I am COVID-19 positive.

I have debated about writing this for a while now, but I figured now is as good a time as ever. Because here’s the thing: I’m tired of seeing people posting online about how this virus isn’t real; that the media is just trying to scare us. I see people going about their lives ignoring all of the restrictions and recommendations to keep our community safe. When you do that, you aren’t just putting yourself at risk. You are putting ANYONE you come in contact with at risk. You are putting health care workers and other essential employees at risk.

Don’t get me wrong. I get the thought process. Having a lot of downtime, I’ve read and heard it all.

“The flu kills more people each year.”

“I’m young and healthy. This virus can’t take me down.”

“No one is going to tell me to stay in my home.”

“The numbers are skewed and the media just wants to scare us.”

Guess what? I’m only 30 – young in my book! – and am healthy with no underlying health issues. And for lack of better words, this virus has KICKED MY ASS.

I know most of you are curious about the timeline of how things went down. What my first symptoms were, and how my COVID-19 experience has been. So I thought I would do my part to enlighten you. And I hope none of you ever have to experience this yourself.

For those of you who don’t know what I do for a living, I am a respiratory therapist at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center. When you come to the hospital, I am the person who makes sure you breathe a little easier. I draw blood, suction airways, administer inhalers or nebulizers, and if you can’t breathe adequately on your own, I will support you with different machines, including a ventilator.

Respiratory therapists at sarah bush.

Respiratory therapists at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center.

You know that COVID-19 I mentioned earlier? It’s a RESPIRATORY disease. For once in my career of 12 years, the world is finally taking notice of just how important my co-workers and I are; and I’m not going to lie, I was a little (greedily) excited about that.

Respiratory therapists are kick-ass lung-specialists who study hard for two-plus years, only to have to take a MINIMUM of two board exams in order to become registered. And not to brag, but my hospital includes some of the BEST respiratory therapists I have ever known. The minute this virus started showing its face in our country, we started preparing. And that’s exactly what I was doing before I first started getting sick.

On Monday, March 30, I cared for a COVID-19-positive patient. I wasn’t scared going into this patient’s room; I didn’t judge them. I told you I had been preparing. I was ready!

Tuesday, I worked like normal – as normal as a health care worker can be during the middle of a pandemic. Wednesday night as I was getting ready for bed, I started in with stomach issues and woke up Thursday morning vomiting, causing me to call in to work.

Was this related to the virus that was trying to take over my body? No one has really been able to tell for sure. By Friday, I was back to normal, spent some time outside reading a book and then video chatting and enjoying some drinks with our friends online.

Saturday, April 4 — five days after exposure — I woke up with a scratchy sore throat and brushed it off as the aftermath of drinks the night before. But three or four hours after I got out of bed, I was suddenly exhausted and freezing. I tried to lay down for a nap, but that is when the body aches set in.

Took some Tylenol and a hot bath before I was finally able to rest. When I woke up from my nap, the cough appeared. Crap. How many days was it since I had a positive patient? Five. What is the incubation period of the virus? Five days. Here we go!

The rest of Saturday and Sunday were pretty much a blur. I started taking Tylenol regularly and sleeping A LOT.

When Monday came around, I decided it was time to get some help. I called the respiratory clinic and reported my symptoms. They decided it was best for me to come in and get tested, even though I was missing the main component of the virus. A fever. I had been checking my temperature daily since the beginning of March, and I had never had a fever. Because of this, I thought for sure I was safe! It’s just bronchitis, maybe the flu?

A rapid flu swab was performed first and sure enough, it was negative. Time for the COVID-19 swab. People have been asking how bad it hurt. Honestly, not terrible. I’ve been swabbed for different things before and it didn’t seem much different than that. It wasn’t pleasurable by any means, but I would rank it above a regular blood draw.

My swabs were sent off to the state and I was told to expect results in 24-48 hours. Tuesday came and went. More sleeping, coughing and having a really hard time catching my breath. I had a pulse oximeter at home (an electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in red blood cells), and was keeping an eye on my oxygen, but it wasn’t going lower than 94%. I tried to open a window to let fresh air in and couldn’t. I was that weak. I collapsed to the floor and just cried.

Wednesday morning I woke up to the dreaded phone call. My results were in, and I’m positive for COVID-19.

The phone calls started flooding in. My family was scared. They were racking their brains trying to figure out the last time they were around me. They were scared because of how sick I sounded on the phone. They wanted to know what comes next? I wanted to know that, too.

Employee health called and I had to report when my last shift was and list all of the co-workers I was in close contact with during that shift. The health department called. She told me to get comfortable because she had 1,000 questions to ask. I wish I could describe the sound of relief coming from her end of the phone when I told her I had NOT left my house since going to and from work on Tuesday.

At this point, it had been eight days since I was “exposed.” Right now, if you were called and asked, would you be able to say you have only had contact to those in your household or co-workers if you work an essential job? Think about that for a moment.

On Thursday, I woke up still unable to catch my breath. My oxygen was dipping down to 84% just from getting up to the bathroom. I was doing my best to stay hydrated, but couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink. I started seeing black whenever I stood up or even rolled over in bed. If I tried to hold a conversation or move around, I was so light-headed I thought for sure I would pass out.

That’s when my mom decided phone calls weren’t enough. She needed to see me, even if it was through the glass of the patio door. I wish I could say that seeing me was a relief for her. I tried to put on a brave face for her and ease her worries, but I just didn’t have the energy.

So, instead we sat there, and we cried, and cried some more through a glass door because I didn’t dare risk infecting her, too. My mom is in a higher risk category due to her age and diabetes. But she made a pact that day to visit me EVERY SINGLE DAY through the glass door, until she felt that I was better.

Friday came. I was giving up and needed reassurance that I was going to make it through this. Problem is, when you are positive, things start getting complicated. Instead of being able to go to my family doctor, or a walk-in clinic, it was decided that I would be best going to the emergency room. However, I couldn’t just show up. I had to call ahead to let them know I was coming so that they could reserve a negative pressure room and prepare in order to properly care for me.

During that visit, only three people came into my room, each only one or two times in order to conserve PPE and limit exposure. My own husband, who drove me, had to wait in the car. After a liter of fluids and some reassurance from my lab work, I was sent on my way. Straight home. No stops in between.

The next week was both a roller coaster of emotions and symptoms. People I have never met were reaching out to my family saying they heard I was positive. Friends were messaging me saying they hope I feel better soon. That should be uplifting right? Hearing people care?

Instead, I was ashamed. Here I am a health care worker who knows how to protect herself and has all the proper supplies to do so, and I still contract the virus. At the time of my diagnosis, only one other person had been confirmed in Effingham County. I religiously searched through Facebook, just waiting to see my name in a post. You know small towns, PEOPLE LOVE GOSSIP!

That’s kind of when it hit me. So what if someone “outed” me? Would it make my symptoms worse somehow? Why do I even care? I was doing my job when I contracted the virus — a job that I love. I was helping a patient. Should I be ashamed of that? No!

Why don’t I finally put a positive spin on things? Maybe someone out there will read this and decide to start taking this pandemic seriously. As of this writing, I am now on day 15 since my symptoms started. And just when I thought I was starting to get better, the body aches started taking over again. And the fevers. This whole time my body has been too dumb to try and fight this virus off, but now, even with scheduled Tylenol, my temps have been ranging anywhere from 99.0-101 for three days. And the chest pain. Each breath causes pain. My doctor assured me it was most likely due to the inflammation in my lungs.

I still get short of breath with minimal exertion. Oh, and have you guys heard the rumor about COVID-19 causing loss of taste and smell? It took a few days after symptoms started for that fun to kick in. I still can’t smell, and coffee now tastes like hot water. Lemonade tastes like cold water.

This virus has taken a lot away from me. But I will no longer let it shame me. Each day I hope to get a little stronger, and challenge myself to try and move around more. I am EXTREMELY thankful for those of you who have helped us along the way.

With being in close proximity to me, Adam has been assumed positive, too, and neither of us have left the house since the 2nd of April. For those who have called to check in on us, sent goodies, delivered food or just sent up prayers, I promise I will find a way to repay you one day.

Until then, I will continue to do my part and self-isolate until I am symptom free. I know I am lucky that I was able to recover in the comfort of my own home. Not everyone is that lucky. Some of them will not win this fight.

If you have made it this far, I am only asking one thing of you. Please start taking this pandemic seriously. Stay safe, look out for each other, and do your part to flatten the curve!

Morgan Wagner lives in Teutopolis. She posted her story on Facebook and permitted the Shelbyville Daily Union to publish it.

Morgan Wagner lives in Teutopolis. She posted her story on Facebook and permitted the Shelbyville Daily Union to publish it.

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