By Dawne Belloise
Lisa and Paul Merck left for three weeks for their Hawaii vacation and medical conferences on February 2. When they flew back on February 19, Lisa was experiencing a runny nose and sneezing. In flight, she began having muscle aches, but didn’t really think anything of it because the symptoms were so mild. People get those just from traveling, she knew.
A few days later, the muscle and joint aches became worse and, thinking it was because of a return to elevation after three weeks at sea level, she went for a massage and sat in a hyperbaric chamber, which did help a little. Then over the next week it began to hit. Lisa described her symptoms. “My bones really began to ache. I felt like somebody was stabbing my muscles with an ice pick.”
She started on homeopathic herbal remedies, not even thinking it was COVID-19 since she had no contact with anyone infected and hadn’t traveled out of the country to any of the places affected. As a health care provider, she tested herself for influenza A and B, and the results were negative. She was still going for runs and continued normal daily living but felt extremely fatigued.
“Every time I stood up, I felt like I was going to pass out. I was sweaty and hot and started feeling short of breath,” she recalls. By March 1, she had a fever, which went up to 100.8. She contacted the CDC and local health department on March 1 and they said she didn’t meet the criteria for coronavirus testing. She stayed in bed for three days, but the symptoms worsened. Then by March 8, her breathing had become even worse and she headed to the emergency room, where they did another test for influenza A and B, again negative, a chest X-ray and blood work, which showed low white blood cell count. They diagnosed her with viral pneumonia in lower lobes of both her lungs, put her on an IV and gave her meds. They also finally tested her for COVID-19, and on March 11, the results came back as positive.
Lisa and Paul went into home isolation, fielding many questions from friends and the community. “I feel there’s a lot of fear and a stigma. People were asking if I had the coronavirus and I told them yes.” Even though she’s always diligent about washing her hands and eating healthy and is very athletic, she’s still short of breath and a little nauseated but she’s recovering daily. Paul had a milder case and Lisa classifies hers as moderate.
She felt she should share her symptoms and experience with the community and uploaded a video of herself explaining what it felt like. Since her video hit the internet, you could say that it also went viral. In explaining and making people aware of the virus and her symptoms, Lisa has been contacted by multiple national media, both TV and newspapers. This week she’s been on NBC Today, 20/20, Fox 31, Fox and Friends, The Today Show and CNN, to name a few, and the BBC has also contacted her.
“The interviews reached out to a lot of people. The video I made had been helpful and educational and it calms people. I think it’s helping a lot of people and spreading awareness, to be transparent about it with my specific symptoms. And right now, I have a lot of time to do this and to help. I feel like it’s my responsibility as a health care provider to spread awareness,” Lisa says.
As many locals are experiencing symptoms and a lockdown is essentially in effect, this community, as it always has, rises to the emergency. “Our community has been so over-the-top loving and just the amount of support for Paul and me has been amazing. We really appreciate what everyone’s done and said through texts and calls, and all the food and dinners people have brought,” says Lisa.
Her energy is coming back and as of March 14, she was even able to do a bit of yoga and go for a walk up the alley, keeping the six feet of social distancing, of course.
Lisa offers this advice: “People need to wash their hands really well, sanitize all surfaces and doorknobs, everybody needs to do this. Stop smoking because it affects your lungs. Stay healthy. Maintain the six-foot distancing, listen to the guidelines that public health has set out for us. It’s to protect us. And when this is over, we should have a big Elk Avenue block party and invite friends, family and our second homeowners and celebrate.”