’It can kill anyone’: County residents talk about their brushes with COVID-19
’It can kill anyone’
COVID-19 is indiscriminate and sometimes deadly.
“I was a skeptic and called the coronavirus ‘The Election Infection,’” said Paulette Rickard, a Nevada County resident.
Age 64 with no pre-existing conditions, Rickard can’t believe COVID-19 nearly killed her.
Rickard fell ill last month and tested positive for the virus, which forced the closure of her restaurant, Paulette’s Country Kitchen, for nearly three weeks. Considering she and her staff always wore masks and the restaurant was meticulously cleaned and sanitized at regular intervals, Rickard is uncertain how she was infected.
“I was nauseous, vomiting, and coughing,” said Rickard. “I went to the emergency room and they gave me IV fluids, but sent me home. Days later, I asked my husband to take me back to the hospital. I was admitted immediately and went straight to the ICU.”
Rickard was treated in the ICU for 10 days.
“They asked me if I wanted to be put on a ventilator if I stopped breathing,” said Rickard. “I said, ‘OK, if it can save my life.’ I was crying, and calling and texting people to say my goodbyes.”
Rickard said the ICU nurses were amazing, nurturing, and caring. She was later transferred to a post-critical care hospital room for three more days.
“My doctor looked at my chest X-rays and was shocked at the damage to my lungs,” said Rickard. “She said I would end up in a long-term nursing facility when released. But I thought, ‘Absolutely not.’ I did what I was told, such as breathing exercises.”
Today, Rickard is recovering at home, but relies on an oxygen concentrator machine.
“I’m worried about long-term effects,” Rickard said. “I lie on the couch and I’m out of breath. I stood up to wrap Christmas presents and had to go back on oxygen.”
Rickard said she thanks community members for their outpouring of love and continued support of her restaurant.
“Customers ordered 80 pies for Thanksgiving,” recalled Rickard. “I had to call everyone and cancel their orders, which was very difficult. I’ve been baking people’s holiday pies for 31 years.”
When Rickard first tested positive for COVID-19, her husband John tested negative but he later tested positive. His only symptoms were loss of taste and smell.
Rickard said she’s prepared to keep fighting until she becomes the strong, resilient person she once was.
“It will be a long haul of healing,” she said. “I’m just blessed and happy to be alive.”
Nevada City artist Kathryn Wronski lost her mother to COVID-19, describing 95-year-old Lucy Davis’ death as “painful,” “nasty” and “torture.”
Davis died May 13 while Wronski self-quarantined in Nevada County.
“She was at a skilled nursing facility in Boston, and no one was flying then,” said Wronski. “The home’s administrator indicated there were about 10 residents who died of COVID. They traced it to an asymptomatic staff member.”
Wronski said her mother had been healthy.
“She never smoked and maybe had one drink a year. She became congested and struggled to breathe. The last time we talked on the phone, she was screaming in pain and agony even though she was on morphine.
“She basically suffocated to death.”
Wronski said she hopes people understand why wearing masks saves lives.
“You could be asymptomatic and stand next to someone who could expose an elderly person to the virus,” Wronski said. “We long for our loved ones to pass peacefully and my mom deserved that, but COVID is torture.
“I don’t understand how some people can be so unkind and selfish. Not wearing a mask is like London blackouts during World War II when everyone was asked to turn off lights but someone insists, ‘I have my rights and I want my lights on.’”
NEIL AND KAREN BLEDSOE
After 38 years of marriage, Neil and Karen Bledsoe say they’ve never experienced anything like their shared battle against COVID-19.
Neil, 69, contracted the virus in March.
“I developed a fever that ranged from 101 to 104 for weeks,” said Neil. “I had body aches, night sweats, and no energy. It was grinding me down, like watching a phone battery get close to zero. I had really frightening, traumatic nightmares.”
“He would sweat through a half-dozen T-shirts every night,” said Karen, 69. “His breathing got more and more shallow.”
They said medical care was difficult to obtain at the outset of the pandemic.
“No doctor wanted to see me,” Neil said. “Finally, they told me to go behind an Auburn clinic by the dumpster. Someone met me there and escorted me to X-ray.
“X-rays revealed classic infiltration of COVID pneumonia in my lungs, which looks like ground glass,” added Neil. “After five days of heavy-duty antibiotics, I felt a little better. But I couldn’t walk 15 feet without having to go back to bed.”
“I took him food, supplements and electrolyte fluids,” recalled Karen, “and picked up all those soaking wet T-shirts. I wore a mask and washed my hands until they were raw.”
After three weeks, as Neil began to recover, Karen developed COVID-19 symptoms.
“We were just limping along despite the helpful support of friends and family,” recalled Neil. “When I took something to Karen in her bedroom, I had to walk up seven steps and it was difficult.”
Thankfully, Karen’s case was not as severe as Neil’s. But both Bledsoes worry about lingering, subtle symptoms.
“There are markers to aging, but we wonder if cognitive decline has sped up as a result of COVID,” said Neil.
“We’ve both experienced brain fog,” added Karen. “Things come and go, in and out. We developed neurological symptoms, such as headaches at the back of our heads that extend up behind the ears.”
The couple plans to get vaccines when available and continue their regimen of exercise, hydration, vitamins and supplements.
Ernie Flores, 65, has finished 91 marathons and was training for his 92nd when he contracted COVID-19.
“The first week it felt like a bad flu, headaches, fever, and achy,” said Flores. “The second week, it attacked my lungs and joints. It was so bad that I feared I’d have to go to the ER. I know my body as an athlete, and I knew I was going downhill quickly.
“I pumped a ton of water and green tea. When the fever broke and I wasn’t as light-headed, I noticed I could smell again. My lungs weren’t oxygenating property, but I slowly started feeling better. Eventually, I was able to start stacking firewood.”
Flores said he was shocked the disease hit him hard while his wife Hollie Grimaldi-Flores, who also tested positive, was asymptomatic.
“I am in the best shape of my life as an aging runner. When I got sick, I thought, ‘It’s not going to get me.’ Now I understand how it can kill anyone.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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