Lauren Jones: The pain and loneliness of fighting COVID-19 locked away from family

After almost five months, every day I’m fighting for my life, and sharing my story as a coronavirus long-hauler to help others who may be struggling to stay alive, both physically and mentally.’

I never thought it would pick me.

Until it did.

The elusive COVID-19 sneaked up on me like a killer in a horror movie, slowly tore apart my body, devoured my soul and left me for dead.

Here we are, almost five months later, and every day I’m fighting for my life, and sharing my story as a coronavirus long-hauler to help others who may be struggling to stay alive, both physically and mentally.

My journey started in November 2020, as a healthy wife and mother of three, with no preexisting conditions.

I was a local television journalist then, and, like many other businesses, my former newsroom wasn’t exempt from the wrath of COVID-19. It quickly became its own walking, breathing and living petri dish.

A few cases here and there turned into most of our staff working from home, except for a small group, including me.

When my former co-anchor got sick and found out he was exposed to the virus, I made an appointment to get tested right away.

Blue lips in the mirror

By that point, I already had a sore throat and cough.

Any other time, and it would be nothing.

In the middle of a global pandemic, it was everything.

This wasn’t my first rodeo — like many of you, I had been tested before, always out of an abundance of caution, but this time it felt different because I was in direct contact with someone who was sick.

As I was waiting in line to get tested, something caught my eye in the rearview mirror.

For a second, I thought it was the bright blue sky, but it wasn’t; it was my lips, equally as blue.

Right away, my brain went back to earlier in the week when I read a script on television that blue lips were an early sign of COVID-19.

There it was, right in front of me, my own foreshadowing, a series of unfortunate events, at the exact moment I started feeling, and looking blue.

At that point, I should have known the devastating path ahead of me, after all it was Friday the 13th, and I’m just about as superstitious as they come, but the small voice inside my head kept saying, “it’s just a sore throat and cough.”

Boy, was I wrong.

Gasping for air between painful coughs

After I got tested, I came home, and within hours I had a low-grade fever, my sore throat and cough felt like fire piercing through my body, and the weight of the world was crushing my chest.

It was so heavy I was struggling to breathe.

This was no cold.

It was the pits of hell.

Somehow, in the middle of my body’s sudden shutdown, I fell asleep.

Friday came and went. So did Saturday, and the next thing I knew I woke up gasping for air. I couldn’t breathe.

I was hyperventilating, taking small short breaths, in between large, painful coughs.

I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare.

I had no idea what time or day it was.

My husband was in bed next to me, sound asleep on top of our covers.

I figured it was late since he was in bed with me, and not with our kids.

I thought he must have come in to check on me, then he passed out.

Everything was moving in slow motion, but my anxiety was very real, and ramping up with each passing second.

This went on for a while, hoping I would feel better, while weighing my options, until a late-night email made that decision for me.

“Detected: POSITIVE FOR COVID-19.”

Less than two days after I was tested, I failed. I couldn’t believe it, my healthy body failed me.

Norton Infectious Diseases Institute Long-term COVID-19 Care Clinics

You’ll get a specific diagnosis and referral to the appropriate specialist such as neurology, pulmonology, heart and vascular, physical rehabilitation, behavioral health — whatever you need.

Call (502) 861-4488

A lonely trip to the emergency room

Right then my husband and I made the necessary decision we were dreading: It was time to go to the emergency room.

I was hysterical — not only did I have COVID-19, but I had to make the trip alone in the middle of the night.

During the height of the pandemic, guests were not allowed inside of the emergency room with patients, so my husband stayed home with our kids.

It was a disastrous situation that thousands of COVID-19 patients before me endured, and now it was my turn.

My hands were trembling as I was trying to hold the steering wheel between each explosive cough.

Tears were pouring down my face as hard as the rain was falling outside.

I felt hopeless, and more sick with each passing second.

I needed a lifeline, and I got it the second I walked into Norton Brownsboro Hospital.

I’ll never forget the first face that greeted me.

She was a ray of sunshine in the middle of the night.

I, on the other hand, was a sobbing mess, hovering in the corner, trying to keep my distance so I didn’t infect her.

The shortness of breath was catching up to me. I could barely get my words out between that and the tears, when all of a sudden, she said, “Come here, sweetie, it’ll be OK.”

I said, “I can’t, I have COVID.”

She replied, “It’ll be OK, sweetie, you can come closer.”

When the world was being forced to separate, and isolate, she was telling me to come closer.

It’s been nearly five months since this complete stranger made me feel safe, like we were friends.

Her smile lit up the room.

No wonder she was assigned to check in patients; she had a warmth about her that was unparalleled.

I don’t remember her name. I’m not even sure if I knew it that night, but I’ll never forget the lasting impact she’s had on my journey.

It’s been filled with so much darkness, and she’ll always be a bright spot.

A sincere thank-you to one of my many health care heroes who lit my way, if only for a few moments.

After check-in, doctors started performing tests right away, beginning with an electrocardiogram (EKG), that measures the electrical signals in your heart.

Initially that test came back abnormal.

At one point, one of the cardiologists told me my heart looked like it belonged to someone who had experienced a heart attack.

It was back to the drawing board, a CT scan, X-rays, more tests, you name it, and they did it.

Doctors discussed admitting me, and right before they did, they decided to administer another EKG.

Thankfully, that one came back normal.

Following doctors’ orders in quarantine

After monitoring me for a few more hours, and running more tests, they felt any abnormal test results were truly a result of COVID-19, and not of any underlying conditions.

They felt I would recover best in the comfort of my own home, and with the help of prescribed medicine.

I followed the doctors’ orders, and set off on a journey that would forever change my life, beginning with quarantine.

That’s the tricky, and confusing, thing about this virus: Everyone’s road to “Detected: POSITIVE FOR COVID-19” is different.

Their symptoms are different.

Their experience with the virus is different.

Their quarantine is different.

Their recovery is different.

Their journey is different.

But, our compassion for those experiencing the illness should be the same, and that’s why I’m passionate about sharing my journey, to help others feel less alone.

The loneliest part of my journey began the moment I left the hospital.

There’s something to be said for surviving the torturous physical pain of COVID-19 and overcoming the insurmountable mental anguish of being locked away in a room by yourself for three weeks.

But as a parent, I’ll never forget the horrendous cries coming from my 4-year-old in the next room, screaming to see his mommy, or hearing him pound on my bedroom door begging with everything he had to come in, when I knew he couldn’t because I was sick.

It wasn’t any easier watching my daughters break down with tears of frustration when our FaceTime calls would break up in the middle of our board games.

My husband carried the weight of all of our heartbreak, when his was shattering into a million pieces, and I had to hear about it and watch it through a smartphone.

Quarantine almost killed me.

I truly don’t know how I made it out alive, but I did, and I’ll share more of my experience soon.

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