“No one wants to go through this…”
By Mark Reaman
As the valley grapples with the safest way to reopen business, some locals are still dealing with the personal aftermath of contracting COVID-19. Here we share firsthand accounts of their experiences and how they continue to work on healing.
Dayna Christy is approaching the 70th day of dealing with the virus. Fifty-five of those days were spent with a fever. She is now in the “recovery phase” and she readily admits she has little energy. Dayna is 57 and a driver for Mountain Express, a gardener and a mom. She described herself as completely healthy and active before she caught the virus. She had none of the underlying conditions that experts warn can make the illness worse. In early March she came down with a headache. It was so bad she cancelled a ski outing with friends. The following day she went into work to drive the bus and had a little cough and a drippy nose. She was sent home.
It was that week that the virus started making headlines and the state reported there were 33 presumptive cases of the coronavirus in Colorado, with two positives in Gunnison County. Dayna crawled into bed that week and for the most part didn’t leave the bed for 25 days.
“It started with a really bad headache,” she explained. “Then a little cough. I was told to take a test and the EMTs came to the house in hazmat suits to test me in the garage. I waited six days for results and it came back positive. Once it hit me it was awful. I had a totally high fever for weeks. I was completely exhausted and dehydrated. I was too sick to get out of bed.
“Even now after two months I get completely exhausted walking around the yard or up the stairs,” Dayna continued. “Talking to people, especially on the phone, wears me out. It’s affected my eyes and I can’t see very well right now. It is horrible.”
At one point during the illness Dayna took a turn for the worse. A neighbor who is a doctor said she should go to the hospital immediately and insisted she not wait, so her husband got her to Gunnison Valley Hospital.
“They said if I hadn’t gone that day I probably wouldn’t have woken up the next day,” Dayna said. “It was horrible. But when you’re in this weird state of mind it’s like you’re on a different planet so I didn’t want to go. I figured I’d be better the next day, but never was.”
Dayna was put into isolation at GVH and treated. “I felt so bad for the nurses and healthcare workers,” she recalled. “Every time they came in they had to put on the protective gear. It’s not easy on them. They sent me home with a concentrator, which is an oxygen machine and a nebulizer. That has helped. But I can’t walk enough to go to the neighbor’s house. I’m able to get out of bed but I still can’t do anything and I’m coming out of day 65,” she said Monday.
The doctors have said she would likely heal quicker if she went lower in altitude. “I’m on oxygen and that helps,” Dayna said. “But I can’t just pack up and leave. I have a kid and I can’t just up and leave.”
Because she tested positive early, Dayna is being monitored and a state health nurse calls her once a day. She is grateful for that support. Doctors have said she is so immune-compromised they don’t yet want her going out, even if she could. “They want to check my lungs and all my organs now,” she said.
Dayna is grateful for her family, friends and neighbors who have all helped her deal with the unusual situation. It’s a situation that she emphasized has no clear end date.
“Life is not anywhere close to normal,” she said. “I still have a long recovery. I have no idea when I can get back to work. It’s really scary. I don’t know if I have permanent damage as a result of this or not. I still struggle to breathe. People need to take this seriously. It is nothing to mess with and I want to get that message to people. I want people to stay safe.”
Local business owner of Altitude Painting, athlete and dad to a four-year-old son, Jay Prentiss is still struggling with major fatigue and other symptoms. He agrees with the idea that everyone, no matter how healthy they feel, needs to take the virus seriously and keep other people safe. Like Dayna, Jay first felt the onset of the sickness in early March. It started with a slight sore throat and a minor burn in his chest. He is still sidelined with little energy and is trying to recover in Denver.
“I had gone for a backcountry ski and thought I overdid it, even though I wasn’t going that hard,” he recalled. “I had minor symptoms for the first week or so. I just felt fatigued, burning in the chest and that slight sore throat. Then one day I noticed I was short of breath. Didn’t seem that alarming but thought I would have that for a few days and be better. Then two days after that I was in the emergency room worried for my life.”
Jay is 49 and said he had no “underlying conditions” that he knew of. “I did not consider myself vulnerable to this at all,” he said.
After his symptoms got worse, he contacted healthcare officials. “They said to stay home unless it was absolutely urgent. So, I just tried to tough it out,” Jay said. “Sometimes I would tell myself that I can do anything for a minute and then do that all day long. Most days I just focused on getting any breath I could. My entire being was focused on breathing for so many days in a row.
“We have a four-year-old son so I tried to stay as calm and relaxed in front of him as I could,” Jay continued. “I kept telling myself that I would suffer forever to wake up and see him and my wife every day. I wouldn’t say that I stayed sane all the time and I definitely feel like I’ll be dealing with some of the mental trauma for a while. But, my wife, Crista, is very calming. She talked me back from the cliff a few times and I have just started to take every breath as a blessing.”
Jay did not definitively test positive for the coronavirus. “I’m definitely an anomaly but not alone when I tested negative for the virus and the antibodies,” he explained. “I am currently working with an immunologist in Denver and she is 100 percent sure that I had COVID, with no reservations, based on all the symptoms and information—but, I wasn’t able to get a test for 38 days so it was pretty much useless at that point.”
Even now, two months after experiencing the sore throat, Jay said it is still a rough road. “Some days are better than others but basically I have very little energy. Right now a 20-minute walk will feel like I rode a 100-mile mountain bike ride. And, that’s no joke,” he said. “I’m ready to get better but my body isn’t quite there yet. Who knows how long until I can fully recover? At this point I am just desperate to get my breath back fully.”
Jay said he is frustrated with some of the medical advice but related that the doctors admit they too are baffled by the virus. He feels fortunate that his wife and son didn’t get a bad case of the virus. Still, he spends a lot of his time on the phone trying to get information that can help his healing.
“I also try to sit in the grass for some part of the day. I spend a lot of the day doing breathing exercises or doing steams over the stove or anything to help me get better,” Jay said. “I’m trying my best to work and stay on top of my business and I’m very fortunate to have great employees. It hasn’t been easy but I am managing. And, every minute I am up for it I play with my son and try to spend time with my wife. That’s my priority.
“Each person has to do what they feel makes sense for them,” Jay concluded. “For me, from now on, I am going to be extremely careful. I wouldn’t wish what I am going through on anyone. It’s been the single most difficult and awful thing I have ever gone through. I think everyone’s priority should just be to keep other people safe. Whatever you do for yourself, that’s your prerogative.”
Another local who was hit with COVID-19 in early March, Jeff Scott, is not experiencing the same struggle as Jay and Dayna but he still feels it at times. He said he had not dealt with an illness anything like it. While showing all the symptoms of the virus, there were so few coronavirus tests in the county in March, doctors did not use one on him but they said he likely had it.
“I started going down on the evening of March 8 and by the next morning I had a fever and massive body aches,” said Jeff, who is 55. “At first I thought it was the flu but it got a lot worse. Later that week I had huge night sweats and then a massive tightness in my chest. I found it hard to breathe.”
Jeff went to a screening site in Gunnison and tested negative for influenza. The doctor said, given Jeff’s demographic, he wasn’t going to use a test for him. The fever continued into the next week. Over the course of the major symptoms Jeff lost 15 pounds. “I’d crawl under the blankets with the chills and sleep. Then I’d wake up in a puddle. Breathing was difficult. There were times I couldn’t move from the bed to the next room,” he described.
He largely got over the illness within two or three weeks but he said there are still residual impacts. “Sometimes I’ll be climbing the stairs and my legs feel super heavy and do not want to move. I think the virus got into places where I’ve had previous issues like my wrist, ankle and shoulder. I’ll feel searing pain in my shoulder, for example. And sometimes my left elbow aches like mad. It is hard to lift my left arm at times. Even when I try to bring the phone to my ear, it sometimes won’t work. It is really weird.”
Jeff said his girlfriend had what seemed a milder case back in the winter but even now she can get a relapse for a few days.
“Like I said when I had this in March: This is not something anyone would want to get,” Jeff said.
As Dayna concluded: “It’s nothing to mess with.”