When Karen Rogers was first diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, she never imagined her symptoms would persist seven months later. “I am still coughing, have limited taste, the driest skin ever and my hair is falling out like it never has,” the Hiawassee woman said this weekend. “I do feel better, but I still have some nausea. I am very physically tired, but I’m having severe insomnia. Nothing seems to help me sleep so the physical tiredness does not get better.”
This past weekend, she shared her story during a phone interview, but she has shared it several times before to help others understand the realities of COVID, also known as novel coronavirus.
Rogers’ personal physician was concerned about her “wrecked” immune system and gave her orders on March 30 to stay home from work due to the virus outbreak. As a healthcare worker at a large hospital north of Atlanta, Rogers had been seeing and hearing about the pandemic for a few weeks.
Even though she lives in Towns County, she sometimes stays at her 20 year-old daughter’s White County apartment during the week to help, as well as be closer to her job.
While there on Wednesday, April 8, she became very tired.
“I couldn’t function, but I thought it was an immune issue again,” she explained. “Everything was blooming and I had sinus drainage and a sore throat. Thursday, I had a bad headache.”
Rogers assumed she had a sinus infection, so she rested.
On Friday, April 10, Rogers was packing her car to return to Hiawassee, but the trips up the stairs left her struggling to breathe. She went to a nearby clinic to be tested for strep. Because she is a healthcare worker, the provider also tested her for COVID-19.
When tested, Rogers was not advised to quarantine as most clinics are advising now, but she realized she should. She placed herself in quarantine at the apartment, along with her daughter who is in college and her school-aged son.
The next day, she saw the positive test results on her healthcare notification website, then immediately called her personal physician. By the end of the following week, the Towns County Health Department notified her she was the third or fourth Towns County resident to test positive.
Though she had not worked in several days, she believes she must have gotten it at the hospital because she had not been around anyone besides her family.
“They called me the bleach Nazi at work because I would constantly spray and disinfect everything from door handles to faucets,” she said.
By Monday, April 13, she could not walk to the kitchen of the apartment without becoming exhausted and out of breath. “I’ve had the flu before and this was no flu,” she said.
Through most of her illness, she had a severe headache and ongoing gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea. Around day 10, she experienced terrible chest and lung pain, which lasted about 24 hours. She never ran a fever.
From the time she was tested, Rogers quarantined for 17 days in White County with her daughter and son. Neither of them tested positive; however, her daughter tested positive for the antibodies in August. Everything was consistently kept very clean, including soap dispensers, counters, door handles and more. During quarantine, her husband Ricky Rogers, brought food and other supplies from Hiawassee and left them by the apartment door.
Karen Rogers said she understands the situation in a different way. “I was not prepared to have COVID and be quarantined. I don’t know how someone without resources could do it,” she added. “For example, a single mom without extra food, toilet paper and other things in the house, would not be able to get by. What if a single parent has to go in the hospital? Where would the kids go? What if one of the kids gets sick, but the others still need care, too. How can the mom work? What about elderly people who are suffering all alone? Or people who don’t have email to find out they tested positive when no one calls them? They would go to church and the store, but could be spreading it.”
Rogers, who grew up in Hayesville, was unable to visit her parents and other friends and family for several weeks.
“Everybody talks about the physical symptoms, but it’s affected my family life more than my health. It is not just the physical aspects; it is emotionally exhausting in every aspect,” she said. “My kids and I were quarantined together. You worry about spreading it. You worry about your kids at school. You worry about your job.”
Rogers’ job was eliminated during her quarantine and she has not been able to find another one, but she is still fatigued.
“I was honestly tired from April until about the end of July. I couldn’t climb the stairs and I’m still fatigued when I try to go upstairs,” she said. “I cannot exercise at all. Nothing. I am not scared of it now and I am not scared of a lot of things, but I was scared of this.”
Rogers ended the conversation with advice. Please do not hoard toilet paper. “Many of the people who are sick, are going to need extra because GI symptoms are very common,” she said.
She encouraged everyone to wear masks in public and use universal precautions like thorough hand washing.
“If everyone did that, we would be more apt to overcome it. It is so much worse than the flu and I think much more contagious. If you don’t have physical symptoms and you’re not in the hospital, it’s still awful. It’s mind-boggling,” she said. “The whole United States and the world are going through the same thing.”