After a month of being on the forefront of the largest outbreaks in the country, Rachell Dumas tested positive for COVID-19. Alone in New York, she quarantined in a hotel room, with only her colleagues to help her. This is part two of our conversation with our outstanding alumnus, Ms. Dumas, who graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the Chamberlain University Atlanta campus in 2012.
When you were in New York, working in the ICU, you contracted COVID-19. Tell me about how you found out that you were COVID-19 positive.
For three days I had GI symptoms. I called a telehealth doctor to check in each day. I told her on the third day, “I feel hot.” I had been taking my temperature every day, I took it that day and it was 106°. The doctor told me to call 9/11 because I could have a seizure. In my mind if I called 9/11 they would admit me. I thought, “I’m going to die, and all my family are not here with me.”
I took an ice bath and Tylenol. I started getting a headache, body aches - I was shivering. All the symptoms just hit me. I started to wheeze. That’s when I went to the hospital. I went to the hospital, they did the swab, before the results even came back, the doctor said “I know you have COVID. They gave me Remdesivir, a broad spectrum antiviral. It was very early [in the pandemic,] but it was supposed to help treat COVID-19.
So you went back to your hotel, you couldn’t travel because you had COVID-19. How did you get through that? Who helped you?
My coworkers and my manager were my family the whole time I was sick. My manager checked on me every hour. She said, “Answer the phone when I call, answer the door when I knock – or, I’m going to assume you’re dead and call 911.”
Our patients would come in and be talking, just like you and I are talking right now. Nothing wrong, clinically they’d look great. Then we’d do an X-Ray and their ribs would look like broken glass. Less than 10 minutes later they’d be intubated. In my manager’s mind, that was what could happen to me. I had been exposed to those same strains [of COVID-19.]
When did the symptoms start to ease for you?
I had good and bad days. It started to really ease at that two and a half week mark. I had a dull headache for a month. Every now and then, I still have shortness of breath. I’m curious to see if that will be a residual effect [from having COVID-19.]
How were you feeling emotionally?
I was scared.
There was so much unknown at the time. For the first two weeks I was just terrified. I couldn’t sleep, because I was sick, and because mentally I wasn’t at ease. I felt like I was waiting to die.
What helped you get through that?
I started praying a lot about it. I talked to my husband a lot. My friends called me on FaceTime. I knew the hospital I was working at, they really cared [about me.] I knew the doctors there, I knew the nurses there. If something was to happen they all would really fight for me.
I took some comfort in that. I knew I would be in good hands. I think that’s what got me through.
There are a lot of people in this country that don’t take COVID-19 very seriously. What would you say to them?
I understand that if it doesn’t directly affect people, they don’t take it seriously. It doesn’t have to be COVID-19, it can be car accidents, poverty, racism – if you haven’t lived it, you don’t take it seriously.
I can say that I am a fairly healthy, 20-something woman - I never thought I would be the one, alone in a hotel, fighting for my life. If you truly love your family, your friends or even yourself - you will take COVID-19 seriously.
You have to look at the bigger picture. There are people out there dying because of COVID-19. We should, as humans with morals, do all we can to prevent those deaths.
It’s upsetting. People are literally dying. Their families cannot even see them. It’s very upsetting.
I just wish that when it’s time to talk about COVID-19 that nurses and doctors and medical researchers were the ones doing the talking. Especially in political settings.
When did you return to Atlanta?
After my quarantine was up and I was feeling well enough to even take that plane, I did. I was too high risk to go back to the ICU [in New York.] I wanted to go home.
And now we know you can have a recurrence of COVID-19.
The crazy part about that is, we’ve seen firsthand, long before yesterday, that people would get reinfected. We tested our patients every 72 hours to make sure they weren’t getting reinfected - that’s the standard of care.
We saw patients that we cared for leave, then come back because they tested positive again. Nobody has been reporting this stuff. The media is just not showing this. So the public believes that if you get it once, you can’t get reinfected.
The CDC said early on, I think in March or April, that there were six strains of the novel coronavirus. If you have six types of COVID-19, and you get it one time, what makes you think you can’t get the other five kinds?
What does Care for Caregivers mean to you?
It means mental health care. I have talked to so many nurses and coworkers who have said “We have PTSD.” I cannot express how much mental health care means in our lives right now. Those who are offering free services are a godsend.
It also means, not feeling guilty when we get sick. I felt so guilty. Other nurses in my cohort group on Facebook, were like “Oh my god, I’m leaving my coworkers because I’m sick, I can’t believe I got sick.”
So Care for Caregivers means taking care of yourself. Nurses should not feel guilty if they get sick, it’s not their fault.
But, out of all of the types of care, I’d say that psychological care is the most important right now.
To learn more about what Rachell Dumas is currently doing to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines in Atlanta, visit her Alumni Profile.
Chamberlain Care ® - We believe if we take extraordinary care of our students, we will graduate extraordinary healthcare professionals who will have a significant and positive impact on healthcare around the world. To learn more about Chamberlain University degree programs, please visit Chamberlain.edu.
You can read Part I of Rachell's interview here.
By Kate Rice
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