Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, hear how a resident went from skeptic to survivor. She'll share her story of becoming one of the first community transmission cases in the county. She talks about the guilt she carries after spreading COVID-19 to others. Hear how she's now urging others to take safety precautions seriously. So those at risk of complications don't suffer. Finally, find out how, despite now testing negative for the illness, she continues to be impacted physically and financially.
Announcer [00:00:28] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed [00:00:40] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County, Kansas. March 7th is the day Johnson County experienced its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Since then, things have not been the same, particularly for some who have tested positive for the disease and had lasting impacts. Today, we're going to talk to a Johnson County resident who fits in that category. We have with us Jessica Burche. Thanks for joining us today.
Jessica Burche [00:01:07] Hi. Thank you.
Theresa Freed [00:01:09] If you could just start off with talking a little bit about how your symptoms developed and go from there.
Jessica Burche [00:01:15] So I started having symptoms in mid-March and it started off as a horrible headache that lasted over two days. And then it turned in to just like full body exhaustion. Felt like I could not move. And from there, I started to see kind of the symptoms they were talking about COVID-19 after I started coughing. I also developed a loss of taste and smell. Now, of course, that's on the CDC guidelines as some of the symptoms. But it was very weird because there was just so little that was known at the time.
Theresa Freed [00:01:52] So I assume you've had the flu before or, you know, other colds or things like that. So how was this different? Obviously, the loss of taste and smell would be different. But anything else?
Jessica Burche [00:02:04] I mean, the exhaustion and then the headache, that just would I couldn't touch it with ibuprofen or aspirin. Nothing would make it go away. But mostly that full physical fatigue. And it's hard to describe, like, I would wake up and still be exhausted. Just moving around the house was so tiring. And I mean, any kind of like exercise or movement, I could do it for maybe five minutes. And then I was just done after that.
Theresa Freed [00:02:33] So did you suspect it was COVID at that point or were you thinking something else had happened?
Jessica Burche [00:02:37] Yes. So, you know, I, I wondered if that was COVID. But at the time, you know, I was kind of convinced that this wasn't going to come here. And I remember the SARS scare and how we always heard about it over in other countries. But I didn't really remember it coming here. And so I thought that's how COVID was going to be, because we would hear about it in other countries, but it would never come to the U.S. or be a big thing here. So I just kind of passed it off. It's like surely I could not have COVID. I continued to go to work and do my normal things for the first two days. And then once I started coughing, I definitely stayed home and thought maybe something a little more serious was going on. But I truly thought that I was fooling myself, that it wasn't COVID until the doctor called me and confirmed my diagnosis.
Theresa Freed [00:03:31] Can you talk a little bit about the testing process?
Jessica Burche [00:03:34] Yeah. So I didn't go to the doctor's office until I woke up and it was just hard to breathe. Until then, I decided to kind of just quarantine. I stay home and try to handle things there. And I had no idea what the testing process was. First of all, at that time. And I believe I was like the eighth or ninth person in Johnson County to be confirmed positive. But at that time, the health department was still having to approve the testing. So the doctor asked me like a little clipboard full of questions before the Kansas Health Department would approve my test because they were in such short supply at the time. And then once I got through that, the nurse came in and told me what the test was. And, you know, I was already sick and completely miserable. And she told me she had to put this Q-Tip all the way up my nose. And she showed me, like, the line she had to put it up to. And I was paralyzed with fear. I was wondering how that would feel. So, you know, for me, it does hurt when they do it. I've heard some from a lot of super lucky people where they're like, oh, it just feels like a tickle. And I'm like, yeah, I fully feel like I'm drowning while you're doing this Q-Tip thing. And it doesn't feel great. But, you know, it was the only way they were capable of getting a test. And now, of course, that they're doing this. You can put a Q tip in your nose and just have to have it in your nostril and not shove it all the way back. I'm so jealous of these people.
Theresa Freed [00:05:10] Can you talk about at what point were you worried about your health? Like that this could be a hospitalization situation?
Jessica Burche [00:05:16] I initially was sick for a solid month to five week period, and then after that I felt myself start to get better. And I think about two weeks after that initial period of being sick, I started feeling sick again. And so then, of course, I got worried that I picked it up somewhere, somehow or from my groceries or I didn't know what was going on. I have the blessing and the curse of having worked in the medical field. So I feel like I do have a pretty good handle on when it can be handled at home versus when you need to go to the hospital. So I was definitely miserable during that initial period and beyond what I already talked about. I mean, I experienced chills, cold sweats. I would sleep in like three comforters and a sweatshirt and wake up still shivering and have to go take a shower, like on fully hot to get warm again. Couldn't eat for days. You know, I was drinking as much water as possible to stay hydrated. I got worried about a week after I went to the doctor. So it was about two weeks into this, you know, the like Thursday and Friday leading up to that Saturday. I started feeling better and I was like, oh, great, I'm on the mend. And then Saturday I woke up at eleven thirty in the morning, which is very unusual for me, and especially because I have a daughter who usually comes in and wakes me up just because she wants company. And you know, so I woke up really early and I noticed immediately I just felt really weak. Even lifting my hand to scratch my nose was a hard thing to do. I was having more trouble breathing and the thought of eating or drinking anything just made me want to throw up. So I definitely got worried at that point. I called my doctor and they had me go to the E.R. They did some imaging and found that I had double pneumonia. And I remember even like pulling up to the hospital. I was so weak and, you know, you hear all these horror stories like. We pulled up and the doctors and some nurses were standing there with masks on and fully gowned up with a wheelchair waiting to take me in. And my daughter was in the car. My sister had driven me and I didn't know if that would be the last time that I would see them. It was it was terrifying getting out of the car. Like, I squeezed my sister's hand and I was just like, take care of her. And I knew she knew I meant like if something happened to me. I just need you to make sure my baby's OK. So, yeah, they admitted me for double pneumonia. I'm really lucky I wasn't there super long. They gave me lots of fluids and medication and they took great care of me. And then I was able to go home and finish recovering. My sister's a CMA. So she has some health care experience and could monitor my vitals at home and all of that. So but yeah, that was it was definitely terrifying to have that experience, to have so little control over what the outcome would be and whether or not I wouldn't make it through this and to just have to trust the doctors and pray and hope that it would be OK.
Theresa Freed [00:08:43] Things get further complicated for you because you also found out that your case led to some community spread. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Jessica Burche [00:08:51] So before I knew I was positive, I was still going into work and I went to work two days while I was symptomatic without knowing that those were symptoms and, you know, walk all over the building, had meetings with people, went to people's cubes, had lunch, was in very close contact with a lot of people. And then in addition to that, I'm part of a community group that meets regularly. And I'd gone to a group meeting and there were 60 people there. So once I found out I was positive, I had to call my work, tell them every single room meeting person I'd come into contact with over the past two days. Those people all had to quarantine. And then I had to tell the leaders of the group that I attend. And that was a really hard one. I'm really close to a lot of those people. There was a woman in my group whose mom is getting treatment for cancer and she was taking care of her and she couldn't see her for two weeks because I'd exposed her. I think about 10 people in our group got sick from the exposure. A couple of people ended up in the hospital and everyone else had to quarantine for two weeks and put their lives on hold. So I definitely opened my eyes to how easily this can spread.
Theresa Freed [00:10:11] You talked a little bit about some of the guilt you felt about that. Can you can you share that with us?
Jessica Burche [00:10:52] Honestly, that was the hardest part. More than anything. I can handle my life being a little out of control, but knowing that because of my exposure. Friends of mine and people who I really love have medical debt. They were so sick that they couldn't leave their house for a month. They thought that they might potentially pass away from this. And they had that care. And then, like I said, having to they had to stay away from their family members. They had to be isolated themselves and deal with all of the mental health effects that come with that. That was a really heavy burden to carry. And it really set me back how horrible I felt about it. You know, and even though everyone assured me I didn't do this on purpose, of course, like I never would have exposed people if I thought I'd had it. I still think about that a lot when I go out. I think about do I want to risk making someone feel the way that I felt making someone have the medical debt that I now have? Making someone so sick that they potentially pass and that their families have that loss? I don't want any of that on my conscience.
Theresa Freed [00:11:36] But you mentioned that your sister and your daughter were obviously in close proximity. Did they get it?
Jessica Burche [00:11:43] Yeah. So that was another thing that was pretty scary. My daughter did get it. She's eleven. So we're pretty lucky. She was sick for five days. Definitely the sickest she's ever been in her life. But it was mostly fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing, everything that could be handled at home. Once I'd had that test, I was not taking her in to get that test because it scared me as an adult. I'm not going to make my eleven year old go through that. But she definitely had COVID and my sister works at an assisted living and had been going to work as well. So I that was another piece of that guilt that I carried with me. She had to isolate at home for three weeks unpaid, had to get unemployment because she wasn't making any money. And we're we're pretty lucky for whatever reason. You know, she may have just been one of those asymptomatic people that had it, but she didn't have any of the symptoms. And the other piece of it was that she had seen my parents during that time when I'd had symptoms but hadn't been isolating. And my dad does have diabetes. So we had to wait that whole two weeks to find out if they would get it and if he would get sick. And, you know, they're all smokers. I'm the only one in my family that's not a smoker. And of course, I got the sickest. So that was another piece of the worry was just if they got it, would they get really, really sick?
Theresa Freed [00:13:11] So you've mentioned that you had some pretty intense symptoms, but some symptoms are still continuing. Right. You've got some lasting impacts. Can you talk about that?
Jessica Burche [00:13:22] It's something that's not really being talked about. I've seen a couple of articles on it and some studies on it, but there is a group of people who get this and then they have what's being called like post viral syndrome or viral relapses. Nobody really knows why it's happening. Like I said, there's not really a lot of research out there about it yet because it's so new. But basically, for whatever reason, there's a group of us that continues to get sick and have symptoms of COVID after that initial contagious period. And like I said, I've had additional tests and I'm not contagious while I have these symptoms. But there are days when for no reason at all, I wake up and my lymph nodes hurt, and are swollen like I am sick. I have shortness of breath. I have those those horrible chills and cold sweats, no appetite, awful nausea. Some pretty bad GI symptoms. And I mean, just that full body exhaustion and weakness. I'm really lucky I work somewhere where I can fully work from home and where I have enough time built into where I've been able to take additional sick time off. And I consider myself very blessed because of that. But it definitely has affected my ability to work. My daughter's birthday was recently, and on the day of her birthday, I was sick again with this viral relapse and wasn't able to do as much with her as I would have liked to. And was just kind of out of it the whole day, you know? So it's affected a lot of things in my life. I was supposed to...my best friend had a baby three months ago and I only got to hold him two weeks ago, and she's one of those best friends. It's like a family member. But because I kept getting sick and we didn't know what was going on, we just didn't want to take that chance of getting that little sweet baby sick. So, yeah, that's been one of the most confusing things, is why these symptoms are continuing. When it gets really bad with those symptoms, I can definitely spiral and wonder if I'm ever going to feel better, if I'm going to have these viral relapses for the rest of my life. And then what does that mean for the goals that I have for myself? It's definitely been a time of learning to have more resilience and learning to be grateful for the days I have when I do feel normal.
Theresa Freed [00:16:13] And you mentioned there's there's a community of of people suffering in this way. Has that been helpful to you to know that you're not alone in this?
Jessica Burche [00:16:21] Yeah I thought I was being paranoid and a hypochondriac, but I've been able to find there's a really well known Slack group that was referenced in a recent Atlantic article of people who are continuing to have viral relapses. There's a couple of Reddit groups and places on Facebook where people can go if they want to talk to others who are experiencing this. And that is very helpful to know I'm not the only one who's experiencing it.
Theresa Freed [00:16:50] How did having this affect your your view on the safety precautions that, you know, for example, the county and the state are taking to prevent the spread of this disease?
Jessica Burche [00:16:59] So having gone through this, having, you know, still dealing with the physical and mental effects of having COVID-19, having felt the guilt that I felt from other people having to isolate because, you know, I went a couple of places while I was sick, I take it really seriously, too, social distance and wear a mask. You know, I think it's hard because I know I hear from a lot of people who say, well, I don't know anyone who had COVID-19 or only some people are getting really sick and dying, OK yeah but you don't know who that's going to be. Before this, I was completely healthy, had always had fantastic labs. Blood pressure, resting heart rate, went and got physical every year and was doing great. And now. You know, I'm having to recondition myself to be able to walk the long distances that I was able to do before and do the hourlong workouts that I could do before. And not only that, but I have three thousand plus dollars in medical debt. Honestly, I can't afford to pay. And I'm gonna have to figure that out. So you don't know who you're going to infect when you go out, you don't know if you have it and you're just asymptomatic. You don't know who has family members who have cancer or other immune suppressing illnesses where it could make them very sick and possibly die. For me. I see following the safety precautions as having compassion for our neighbor. I think something that Midwesterners are so great at is our friendliness and our generosity. And I think this is just one more way that we can display those traits by loving our neighbor and doing for them as we would want done for ourselves.
Theresa Freed [00:19:03] All right. Well, that is a great place to conclude our conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And hopefully it has an impact on some of our listeners. And we, of course, wish you well and hope that you fully recover.
Jessica Burche [00:19:49] Thank you.
Theresa Freed [00:19:50] For more information about COVID-19 visit our Web site at jocogov.org/coronavirus.
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