EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Every day we’re learning how little we know about COVID-19 as the virus sweeps the country.
But there is hope in patients who have contracted and recovered from the virus.
Doris Hagans Schwartz, an El Pasoan living in San Diego, is one such person and spoke exclusively with KTSM about her experience.
“What’s interesting is I didn’t know I had contracted it,” Schwartz tells KTSM.
Schwartz was visiting a friend being treated for cancer at a San Diego hospital in early March as the country was slowly learning the potency of the virus.
Her friend’s room inside the hospital was beneath the floor designated as the COVID-19 ward. Schwartz and her friend’s family took turns staying with her friend in the hospital — they didn’t want her to be alone. A month later, the reality for many would be complete isolation in ICU wards.
Many people have and will die alone from COVID-19 complications.
As more and more Californians became symptomatic, overflow patients from the COVID-19 ward began to spill to other areas of the hospital.
“At that time there were no precautionary measures being taken in terms of masks or additional use of rubber gloves being worn by any of the hospital staff,” says Schwartz.
“Very few of us had been given any reasons to wash our hands beyond what would have been considered the norm.”
Her friend passed, and Schwartz joined her friend’s family to hold vigil. Then they were off to return to their normal lives as the magnitude of the virus overtook the country.
Hospitals implemented stricter screening and visitation protocols, school districts closed indefinitely after spring break, and grocery stores were overwhelmed with consumers panic-purchasing items like toilet paper.
Not long after, Schwartz says she began to feel unwell.
Her symptoms started as something similar to a stomach bug, then evolved to the eye-squinting agony of a really bad hangover.
An early form of the COVID-19 test was taken and yielded a negative result.
By the next week, however, Schwartz says the second wave of the virus hit.
“I woke up one morning feeling like someone had taken my chest and reduced it down to two inches. The pressure and fatigue were extreme and worse of all, I knew something was terribly wrong,” she says.
Like other people with COVID-19, Schwartz was experiencing severe body aches, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Instinct told her it was life-threatening.
“I grabbed my will, life insurance and some other miscellaneous papers and re-organized them with every difficult breath.”
By the end of March, more reliable COVID-19 tests were available and confirmed she was positive for the virus.
It wasn’t until Schwartz received a What’s App message from her late friend’s family who had similar symptoms did she realize her boyfriend contracted the virus from her.
The relief from finally having a definitive diagnosis was drowned by a sudden new fear.
How many people had Schwartz unknowingly exposed to the virus?
Would any of them die?
Why had her first test given a false negative?
New research suggests as many as 30 percent of COVID-19 tests yield false positives. With 30 percent of tests believed to be inaccurate, the need for reliable evaluations of respiratory specimens — like the nasal swabs and brachial washes performed in a COVID-19 test — is paramount.
We know enough by now about how potentially catastrophic that is.
“For me, the fortunate consequence of public notification was that all of our employees were sent home from work,” she says. “The office was thankfully empty. The whole building was quiet and our staff was safe and in their homes.”
Schwartz has been following protocols and will be participating in antibody and plasma testing once she’s completed quarantine.
“I’m humbled, grateful for the love and care of my family and friends and so grateful to hear my children’s voices. I have another chance to make life better for others,” says Schwartz.
“When I picked up this virus, we really didn’t know a lot about it,” says Schwartz. On the last day of her stay in the ICU is when the hospital implemented screenings to people and patients as they entered the hospital.
But we now know enough to understand the necessity to stay home and practice social distancing: lives depend on it.
“It’s pretty inexcusable now when you really know and have been educated, to not practice social distancing,” says Schwartz, “that is the responsibility that you have.”
For Schwartz and other COVID-19 patients, the emotional recovery will take far longer than the physical.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to these people and the lives I unknowingly infected. That part of the virus is a scar that will remain inside me for a lifetime.”