Canby has seen 29 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the latest report from the Oregon Health Authority. One of them was local Realtor Katerina Wert.
Also a local mom, she believes she contracted the novel coronavirus in mid- to late April. It started with a “really bad sore throat.” She thought she had gotten strep throat, or maybe tonsilitis.
“I felt really tired, just drained,” she said. “But not much else for the first week.”
About a week in, she developed one of the unexpected symptoms that has been associated with early onset of Covid-19: she lost her sense of smell. She didn’t lose her sense of taste — another possible sign of the virus — but, bizarrely, everything started to taste like soap.
“Like, if I took a drink of my coffee, it would taste like someone had squirted Dawn dish soap in there,” she said.
Wert said she tries to keep a positive attitude with difficulties she’s faced in life — including medical issues — and she actually laughed with friends and family that, of course, it would be her to contract the virus (“Just my luck,” she said).
But Covid-19 was a concern since she is immunocompromised, thanks to a childhood bout with Reye’s syndrome. She continued to work from home and was making face masks as much as her energy allowed.
She didn’t develop the classic Covid-19 symptoms, like a dry cough or fever, and she has asthma anyway, so shortness of breath would not be unusual. But to be safe, her doctor ordered the test.
It was conducted at a drive-up facility on April 30. At 7 a.m. the next day, she got a call from Clackamas County Public Health informing her of the positive result.
Almost immediately, her symptoms took a turn for the worse, which she now believes to have been at least partially psychosomatic.
“I think it was because I was like, ‘Oh my God, I do have it. That’s why I don’t feel so good,'” she said. “No panic, though. I was just like, ‘OK. I’ll deal with it.'”
At that point, she did begin to experience a cough, as well as painful body aches that made it difficult to walk around and severe nausea.
“That was one thing that was really different with this virus: The nausea was really bad,” she said.
She pretty much stayed in bed over the weekend. Then, on May 4, the episode took another downturn.
“On Monday morning, I woke up, and I literally couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I would try to do the deep diaphragm breathing, and I just couldn’t. It was so painful.”
From previous experience, she believed she had contracted pneumonia, which happens in the most severe cases (about 15 percent) of Covid-19 and can prove fatal. Her self-diagnosis turned out to be correct.
She disclosed that she had also tested positive for the coronavirus and was admitted to the emergency room through an alternate entrance that she described as “the back door.”
She was kept in a private room and isolated from other patients. Nurses and doctors checked on her wearing full protective gear: yellow isolation gowns, double face masks, face shield and gloves.
She was given the option of being transferred to the health care system’s Covid-19 unit in Portland, or recovering at home, and she chose the latter.
The cough and fever finally set in, along with chills. Her husband — who was also required to self-isolate from work, but never developed more than mild symptoms — took care of her. A virtual nurse checked on her every few hours.
She slept a lot, and with the help of antibiotics, she made a full recovery within about a week.
“I just felt really awful,” she admitted. “Outside of Reye’s syndrome, it was probably the sickest I had ever been in my life.”
She said that being very in tune with her health, and the early interventions she and her family took, helped contribute to a successful outcome — despite her compromised immune system.
Now, having experienced Covid-19 first-hand, she believes the fear and dread that many feel toward the virus is unnecessary, and said she supports the state and county reopening, with appropriate guidelines and precautions in place.
“It was just a bad flu, one of the worst I’ve had,” she said. “If you’re elderly, or more fragile, it can kill you. You have to be careful. But I’ve had people congratulate me for surviving Covid.
“I mean, it was the flu. I’ve had the flu before. I’ve had pneumonia before. Nobody congratulated me for surviving that.”
Though the coronavirus is known to affect all ages, those who are older or have other underlying health conditions are at much greater risk for serious complications and death. Most cases of Covid-19 have mild to moderate symptoms.
Hospitalization for anyone under 50 has been rare in Oregon, and death has been even rarer. Only three of the state’s 145 deaths have been 49 or younger — and zero have been under 40.
The Canby Now Podcast would like to share more stories of local residents’ first-hand experiences with Covid-19, including patients, family members and front-line health care workers. If you’d like to share your story, please contact Tyler Francke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear more of her story in Episode 172 of the Canby Now Podcast, “The Bad Flu”:
Photo courtesy Katerina Wert.