After beating COVID-19, a simple plea
In late March, I was sick for about two weeks with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I am Natasha Matteliano, a reporter and photographer for the Dunkirk OBSERVER. Up until I became sick, I was covering the global pandemic locally for about a week.
On Sunday, March 22, I knew something was not right within my body. I texted my best friend Nicholas “Max” Hoke, saying, “I’m getting sick, Max. I can feel it and I can taste it.” The feeling I described was a soreness in my throat and that fatigued feeling you get when you’re sick. The taste was that of almost a metallic one, a taste in my mouth I usually get before I become sick. I also had a bad headache that did not seem to go away for the whole day, even having taken ibuprofen, which usually alleviates the pain.
From Sunday to Tuesday, March 23, I experienced a low-grade fever, around 99.5, which quickly turned into over 100.5 on Tuesday evening. The fever then lasted throughout the rest of my illness.
The next day, Wednesday, I had taken an unhealthy amount of ibuprofen to try to reduce my fever, as that was what was making me feel so sick, but the fever remained at 101 degrees, even with the medication. I also recall being out of breath walking downstairs, which never happens normally.
On Thursday, March 25, I developed a cough and shortness of breath. This is the first day I called in sick to work. Prior to this, I had been working from home since Friday, March 20. I remained off of work until April 6. I had been minimizing how sick I felt due to the fact that my mother, who was also sick with COVID-19, was in worse shape than I was.
“I can’t breathe, Max. I just walked up the stairs and it feels like I ran a mile.” The next day, Friday, March 27, I called my doctor’s office, asking about my symptoms. They replied multiple times (the secretary and the nurse) that they did not have COVID-19 tests and that they could not help. If I needed medical treatment I was to call the emergency room. Feeling defeated, I stuck the weekend out.
On Saturday, March 28, my condition rapidly declined even further. I could not climb the stairs without stopping multiple times to catch my breath. My breathing was shallow, harsh, and if I tried to breathe in deep, I coughed for at least two minutes afterward. At this point, I had begun having bad gastrointestinal symptoms, going to the restroom about 20 times a day.
“I don’t want to be sick anymore, Max. I can’t breathe.” At 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, my mother (still sick herself) drove me to Brooks Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. Barely able to breathe, I waited in the emergency room lobby for an hour, with a mask over my face that made breathing almost impossible. Finally, I was called up and taken to a room. This was extremely scary for me, as there was no way to call anybody into the room because there were no windows, and they shut the door.
I was left alone for about two hours in the emergency room, having multiple panic attacks, which did not help my already suffered breathing. My oxygen levels were fluctuating between 77 and 82 (normally 98-100). I was eventually given an oxygen line, which made breathing a bit easier and raised my oxygen level to a safe point. At that time I also had an x-ray of my chest done, a COVID-19 swab test, and was admitted into the intensive care unit (ICU) at about 10 p.m. I still could not breathe well at all, which made for a long night of coughing and sleeplessness.
My room in the ICU was very small. It did include a toilet, but that toilet was placed directly under the sink, where anyone could watch me going to the bathroom. I felt so exposed, even though the room was closed off. The wall facing the nurse’s station was all glass, which made me feel less alone, but also made me feel like a prisoner.
On Monday, March 30, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. This explained my breathing issues and my fever that would not go down for anything. I had severe headaches throughout my whole stay in the ICU as well. This is also the first day that my taste and smell went away, along with my appetite.
I met with the doctor that was treating me on Monday as well. He explained to me that he was almost positive that I had the novel coronavirus (the test would not end up coming back until Thursday). He was treating me with antibiotics for the pneumonia and hydroxychloroquine, which is a drug that can treat and prevent malaria, but was also used in the beginning of the pandemic as a way to treat COVID-19. I did not experience any negative side effects from the drug.
On Tuesday, March 31, I was feeling much better than the previous days, but still did not have much of an appetite. This day, I slept for hours on end, in between watching Netflix on my phone. I do not remember much else from that day.
On Wednesday, April 1, early in the morning, I was taken off of oxygen. This was a huge step forward in my mind, I could breathe on my own again. Later that day, around 4 p.m., I was released from the hospital. Though I still felt fatigued and not 100% normal, I felt like I could do anything. My mother picked me up from the hospital, where my two favorite nurses joined in saying good-bye to me.
On Thursday, April 2, I received a call from my primary doctor. This call was to tell me that I was positive for COVID-19. Browsing on Facebook a couple hours later, I was not shocked to see the immediate coverage by the OBSERVER, announcing that a woman in her 20s was the 11th case in Chautauqua County. I was quarantined in my home for another two weeks.
The only lasting effects I feel from COVID-19 to this day is the lack of smell and taste. It took weeks to begin to gain some sense of them back, but I still can not smell bad smells (which may not be such a bad thing) and flowery scents I used to love now smell horrid to me. Some tastes have also been distorted, as my favorite drink hasn’t tasted the same ever since.
COVID-19 is not a joke. It breaks my heart to see people joking about it and not taking it seriously. I thought I was going to die from this virus. There was a point in my sickness where I felt that death was the only option. I am a healthy 23 year old woman who never expected to come down with the virus at all, but especially as bad as I did. It can happen to anyone. If the sickness wasn’t bad enough in itself, I am now thousands of dollars in debt due to medical bills from COVID-19, even though I have health insurance.
It is also important to remember that though this virus should come with a healthy fear, it is unacceptable to shun those who have contracted it and have recovered. This whole experience was extremely lonely, not only in the sense that loved ones could not visit, but in the sense that people were afraid of me when I told them I had the virus previously, even though it had been months after.
Though we can not let fear rule our lives, it is only sensible that we, a community as a whole, take every single precaution that we can against the spread of this virus. No, masks are not 100% fool proof, but they prevent us from spitting on each other when we’re talking. That in itself proves to be worth the annoyance of having to wear it.
Take it from somebody who has been through it. Wearing a mask for a short amount of time while you’re at a grocery store will not make your oxygen levels reduce to the point they would be if you had the virus. Please, if not for yourself, have compassion for your fellow neighbors and community members and wear a mask.
I’d like to thank those who were not afraid to support me during (from afar) and after I recovered from COVID-19. Thank you to Max, who supported me through everything and dealt with my “I can’t breathe” texts every single day and kept me entertained while in the hospital. Thank you to my mother, who tried her best to support me, though she was sick as well. Thank you to my boss, John D’Agostino, who texted me every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to make sure I was doing alright and help me feel less alone. Thank you to my friend Jillian Stonefoot for checking on me every day as well. And finally, a huge thank you to Hannah and Mark Herrmann, who called every day, bought groceries, and morally supported both my mother and I during one of the scariest times of our lives.