Wanda Owens, COVID-19 survivor

A registered nurse for more than 35 years, Wanda Owens said she was not nervous about returning to work after contracting the novel coronavirus in April. She was under the weather for about 8 weeks.

ELKTON — The first clue Wanda Owens had that she was sick was discovered while monitoring her diabetes.

“My sugar shot up and I was wondering, “What’s going on here?” Owens, an Elkton resident said. The next day I had a fever of 102 and I said, “Bingo!” She tested positive April 16.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, first reared its ugly head in Cecil County around the first of April. To date more than 476 residents have tested positive and 36 have died.

The symptoms of COVID-19 include flu-like illness, a loss of the sense of smell and taste, and respiratory issues that, in worst case scenarios, have the patient basically drowning in his own fluids. The virus is spread by close contact with an infected person, which is why there is a push for wearing a mask in public.

“A sneeze travels six feet,” Owens said.

A registered nurse with more than 35 years of experience, Owens said her symptoms appeared two days after being exposed to a patient that had tested positive.

“For 10 days I had a high fever at night and horrible muscle and bone pain,” she said. She would feel fine during the day, but at night it would visit again.

Owens and her husband Will went into confinement for 14 days. Fortunately there’s a in-law suite attached to the home so that’s where she holed up to protect Will.

“He put up a plastic wall,” she said. Will would fix meals and check on her with the plastic sheeting separating them.

The fever went away but the virus left another insidious symptom.

“I lost my sense of smell and taste for six weeks,” she said. That lingered even after she was declared well and went back to work. “As a nurse you need your sense of smell. It’s how you can detect infection.”

She remained asymptomatic but was tired. At the 5 1/2 week mark her COVID test came back negative.

“I did not get the pneumonia and the shortness of breath,” she said. She had friends that got COVID-19 and ended up hospitalized with pneumonia.

“They survived but the older ones took longer to recover,” she noted. It was her faith and the faith of her friends that helped.

“I had so many friends praying for me,” she said. Dying never crossed her mind. Owens said she had trouble praying for herself.

“I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t do a puzzle or read,” she said. She would ask Will to repeat himself from a conversation the couple had just finished.

According to Owens, another thing she feels kept her from getting seriously ill was tonic water with quinine. Only available at a liquor store, she took her first trip into such an establishment and bought a case.

“Once I got it I started guzzling it,” she said. She also started taking Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and zinc. “Those are good anti-viral vitamins.”

In her observation hydrochloroquine, the prescription anti-viral containing quinine, has been a very good treatment for her patients.

Cautious Family Time

Her daughter and family visited in March, just before the virus broke out in Cecil County. In January she flew to Michigan — with a layover in Chicago — to visit her other daughter.

“I took Clorox wipes and wiped everything down,” she said, pointing out that at that time Chicago had two cases, while reports coming from Europe had high numbers. She visited a few days. During the March visit, although painful, there was no hugging of her family.

Several of her grandchildren have presented with COVID toes since but that’s been the length of their infection.

Will has worked throughout all this, she said. Her husband is known for having perfect attendance.

“He said, “We just don’t know enough. I’ve got to work,” she recalled.

Even in the throes of the worst of the virus she continued her duties of teaching early elementary students at her church via video.

“I would get dressed and drag myself out,” she said of her Facebook Sunday School lessons. “In one I missed the whole plot of the story. I watched it later and I know I totally missed it.”

At least the puppets were entertaining, she said. She’s checked back on the videos and noticed a boost in followers too.

As a member of Cecil County’s healthcare community, Owens is in awe of the community support for the doctors, nurses and other staff working in offices, hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities.

“I can’t say enough for the community support. It was just amazing,” she said. From the people making masks, to those cooking and delivering meals or donating gloves, gowns and cleaning supplies she and her co-workers felt the love. However Owens insists she is not a hero.

“Apparently there are people that feel that way but we are not heroes. It’s my calling. The police are the heroes.”

If, as certain experts predict, there will be a second wave Owens may get the anti-body test. Although she is not worried about getting it again, Owens knows once a COVID-19 vaccine is available she will likely be required to get it, as she is required to get the seasonal flu shot.

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