Detroit Nurse Contracts COVID-19 on the Front Lines

By Justin Jara, BSN, RN Apr 13, 2020

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I think it is safe to say that none of us were prepared for the level of pandemic and outbreak of COVID-19 that we are experiencing in the United States and throughout the world.

I think it is safe to say that none of us were prepared for the level of pandemic and outbreak of COVID- 19 that we are experiencing in the United States and throughout the world. My hospital did not have a chance to properly prepare us with any formal training prior to COVID-19 arriving in Detroit. Being in what is now declared a “surge city,” it seems like we went from normal operations to crisis in a matter of minutes.

On March 23, the last day of a long four-day stretch, I arrived at work to start my usual shift on med/surg. The hospital had deemed our unit a “clean unit,” which meant COVID-19-related PPE was not issued or required. Even though we were supposed to be a clean unit, we were all concerned and had a level of anxiety that a patient could have it without us knowing. I was caring for a patient for three days who was being treated for similar symptoms to COVID-19 and was supposed to be discharged later that day. 

I was confident that she didn’t have the virus, because her swab test came back negative for the virus. So I provided care without a mask, since I worked on the clean unit where wearing masks in patients’ rooms and in hallways was against hospital policy. After being home for about 48 hours, I began to experience symptoms similar to the virus. I had fever, body aches, chills and a cough. I immediately began to panic in fear, and thoughts started to run through my head if I was exposed to the virus without knowing.

I called the charge RN on my unit at 3 a.m. to ask if there were any patients who were tested on our unit and came back positive. She confirmed that my one patient who was negative started to experience an on-and-off fever, shortness of breath and persistent cough. The patient was retested, tested positive and was transferred to our COVID-19 unit. Luckily for me, I was off work for the past 48 hours and sheltering in place at home.

Knowing that I had been exposed, I contacted my nurse practitioner who swabbed me later in the day. I continued to experience a constant fever ranging from 100-101 F. I was taking Tylenol every four hours around the clock to help reduce my fever and relieve some of my other symptoms. On my third day of being symptomatic, my fever started to disappear but then came the loss of sense of taste and smell along with a loss of appetite. I began to force myself to eat and drink as much as I could, because I would feel so much better after having food and fluids. A few days later I was afebrile for the fifth day, but my cough had started to slightly bother me. I began to feel a weird sensation in my upper chest near my throat that when I would try to take a deep inhalation; it would just stimulate a cough that produced a pinkish/white sputum. My coughing became so bad that I couldn’t even hold a breath I think this is what the CDC describes as “shortness of breath.”

After eight days of experiencing these symptoms, I finally received a call from my primary care physician (PCP) stating that I was positive for COVID-19 (which I kind of already expected). None of my colleagues seem to have contracted the virus, as none have become symptomatic. Unfortunately, nurses and other healthcare workers will not be receiving testing in our area unless we pass a certain criteria of having a 100 F fever, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing – so basically they want the symptoms to be severe before they test you.

I’m thankful that my employer is offering us two free weeks of additional paid time off for self-quarantining if we suspect or have a confirmed case of COVID-19. I plan to return to work once I am asymptomatic and cleared by my PCP. I am concerned though, due to the lack of proper PPE, that if I get exposed again it may lead to a more severe case. Having contracted the virus from providing patient care, I’m advocating on social media to friends, family and the public to please stay home. I don’t think the public fully understands the ramifications of not sheltering in place. Just because you may not have any symptoms of COVID-19, you can still be a carrier. By not staying home you are putting others, including nurses and other healthcare professionals, at greater risk when we need to be healthy to care for those who need us.