Even when symptoms are mild, quarantining and re-entering the world can be a lonely experience for COVID-19 survivors.
We talked to two recent COVID-19 survivors to get an idea of what having the virus is like physically, but also how their community showed up in their moment of need.
"I worried about making it a bigger deal than it was"
When Mikey Murry woke up with a headache and sore throat in early June, she did not think much of it. After all, she had been protesting the day before, and while she does not get sick often, a headache and sore throat were not alarming.
But when the sore throat and headache were joined by fatigue, loss of smell and taste as well as chest pains “like heartburn but much, much worse,” Murry got tested for COVID-19. Her results came back positive.
“Everyone thought I was sick because of stress, but I knew this was not like any usual sickness for me,” said Murry, a Milwaukee author and filmmaker.
Two months later, Ambrose “WB” Wilson-Brown was driving from a work event in Chicago when he felt a headache and fatigue coming on. As a social entrepreneur running his own business, Wilson-Brown had to continue working in order to make a living. While he knew the risks of continuing his work in-person, he didn’t think he had caught COVID-19 and that he just needed some rest.
“I feel a little tired and have a headache at the end of the day all the time,” Wilson-Brown said. “I was not thinking about COVID at all, but a few days later I tested positive.”
Murry and Wilson-Brown’s symptoms were common to patients with COVID-19: loss of smell and taste, headaches, trouble breathing. While neither thought their life was ever on the line, the experience was still unpleasant, and both found it easy to get caught up in catastrophic “what-ifs.”
“I worried about making it a bigger deal than it was,” Wilson-Brown said. “I had to be careful about what I was reading on the news, because it wasn’t helping me at that time to hear about how bad the virus is.”
How to show up for someone who is sick
In addition to the physical and psychological effects of the virus, both Murry and Wilson-Brown noted how lonely the experience was.
“My partner and I were even staying socially distant inside the house,” Murry said. “This is a very lonely time as is, but it’s extra lonely when you are sick.”
Luckily, Murry and Wilson-Brown’s friends and family showed up for them while they were quarantining. People dropped off food, wished them well and stayed in contact throughout the period.
But Wilson-Brown, who is still experiencing a little fatigue and headaches, says being specific with your questions can go a long way.
“Instead of asking if they want food, ask questions like: ‘Are you eating?’ ‘Do you need any soup?’” Wilson-Brown said. “And if they don’t get back to you right away, it’s not personal. Give them some space.”
Murry, who still sometimes gets intense chest pains similar to when she was sick, also noted that it’s better to reach out too much than too little when someone you know is sick. Also, keep your loved ones in mind even when they aren’t sick by following mask and distancing guidelines.
“Stay six feet away from me and wear your mask anytime you’re outside,” Murry said. “Consent is important when it comes to masks; ask the people around you if you can take it off before taking it off.”
Early COVID-19 survivors worry about what comes next
While they recovered from COVID-19 over six months ago, the virus is still on the minds of state Rep. David Bowen’s and Jackson Park resident Rebecca Quesada. When we last checked in with Quesada, she saw COVID-19 as a make-it-or-break-it moment for the country. As COVID cases rise in Milwaukee County and throughout Wisconsin, Quesada is not optimistic about the near future.
“I hate to be Debbie Downer, but it doesn’t look good,” Quesada said. “I pray for this country, and that tomorrow will be a better day.”
Bowen said he hoped the pandemic would force folks in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to work together. He was encouraged that the nonprofit health-care system Advocate Aurora Health announced it had joined the Milwaukee County executive’s office in declaring racism a public health crisis.
This announcement comes as Black people in Milwaukee County are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. At the time of Bowen’s interview, Black people made up about 36% of deaths from COVID-19 despite making up only 28.5% of Milwaukee County’s total population, according to data from the county and the 2018 American Community Survey.
Bowen said he also is looking for stronger leadership.
“It’s important to acknowledge the leadership needed right now,” he said. “We’re looking at more than six months without a federal plan to combat this virus, with numbers increasing here and in northeast Wisconsin.”