EMS World is asking first responders and healthcare workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to talk about their experiences battling the virus. If you or someone you know in the field has a story to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story will remain anonymous if you so choose.
We spoke with Emily Cornpropst, an emergency registered nurse based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
EMS World: Were you treating any patients who were COVID-positive? If so, do you think you may have contracted it from one of them or were you exposed to someone outside of work who had the virus?
Emily Cornpropst: It's definitely possible that I contracted the virus from work being in the emergency department. I did actually take care of one of the first diagnosed patients in Indiana; we know that now. There's no way to know whether I got it from work or from the community. I was still going to the grocery store. I was going to my son's sporting events and it's just as likely that I got it from the community as I did from work.
When did you begin experiencing your symptoms?
EC: My symptoms started on March 15. I wasn’t diagnosed until March 23 because I had my first test on March 16th, and it actually took seven days to get the results back.
When you started experiencing those symptoms, did you believe that it was the virus?
EC: The minute that I saw I had a fever and realized that I hadn’t felt that I had a fever, I was pretty sure that I had the virus. I immediately quarantined myself, informed my management at work and began the fun process of quarantine.
Was that difficult to do at home? Did you have enough room to isolate?
EC: Yes. I was in my bedroom for seven days straight with no interaction with my husband or my son. The only interaction I had was waving from a distance with a mask on when I came out to the kitchen to get some food. So that was really hard, just being away from them. My son's 11 so he can process it. He can kind of understand which was really helpful. I have some co-workers that have young children that also had to be quarantined and I just can't imagine having little ones that don't understand why Mommy can't hug and kiss them, but it's really just for their protection. So I was really fortunate but it was really difficult, mentally, not to be able to spend time with my family.
What other symptoms did you have in the beginning and how did those progress throughout your illness?
EC: My first symptom was a fever of 101.3 and chills that came on really suddenly Sunday, March 15. I had a really dry, irritating cough; nothing major, just kind of annoying. Then I was really fatigued and just didn't feel like doing much of anything for about two days. The fever went away after two days and I felt a little bit better around day three.
Then on day five, I spiraled downward again. My worst symptom was the body aches in my legs, lower back, and my hips, which were nearly debilitating from days five through seven. I was just lying on the floor in my bedroom nearly in tears. That symptom continued even after the rest of my symptoms had resolved—for almost three weeks, just not as severe. I never experienced the major shortness of breath and chest pain. I had some minor discomfort, but I was really fortunate not to end up having to be hospitalized or feeling like I couldn't breathe, which I can only imagine would be so scary.
Did you ever have moments where you were afraid that that would happen to you?
EC: Just because of what I had heard about the virus and what I had seen working in the emergency department, how your symptoms can change so suddenly, I think that was always in the back of my mind—Am I going to wake up during the night and not be able to catch my breath? That never was my situation but yes, it was scary.
What other kinds of emotions and thoughts were running through your mind during the course of the illness?
EC: I've said all along my theme song during my illness was “Faith Over Fear.” I just didn't want it to get me down—I didn't want to allow fear to overcome me. I was in scripture and prayer the whole time to get me through it, to remind me that God's got this and that I don't need to fear. He's in control. That definitely helped me through the whole process.
At what point did your symptoms start resolving? What did your recovery process look like?
EC: It was around March 27, which was a little bit more than 14 days after my exposure, that my symptoms were better, and we started considering sending me back to work. The infectious disease doctor that I was working with was going to send me back that Monday, but I requested a repeat test. My mom has severe asthma and I hadn't seen her since March 1. I really just wanted to be able to see her, if possible, before I went back to work because once I went back to work, I knew I'd have to avoid her. I requested a repeat test, convinced that it was going to be negative and surprisingly to all of us, it came back positive again. So that pushed back my return to work date and I wasn't able to see my mom. We waited another three to four days to send me back, did another repeat test, and it was positive again, which shocked everyone. At that point, we waited about another week before I returned to work on April 6th, just for everyone's safety—for my co-workers, for the patients, not wanting to expose anyone.
What did you take away from this experience? Do you have advice for other people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in terms of dealing with it physically and emotionally?
EC: There's a fine line between being fearful and being cautious. You've got to be aware of your body and know how you're feeling and not ignore any of those symptoms because they can change so rapidly. If you are experiencing any symptoms that we've heard can be potentially the COVID-19 virus, go immediately to your local emergency department or call your doctor and get tested. And even before you get tested from the minute you have symptoms, you need to quarantine for your protection and for everyone else's protection.
Between your experiences of having the virus and working in the ED, do you have any advice for healthcare workers and EMS providers working on the front lines?
EC: The big one is that we need to support each other. We need to encourage one another. We are a team, we're a family. I love the way that this has brought us all together—management, staff nurses, floor nurses, your nurses, EMS. I really think that physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, we've all come together and battled this thing together and it's really been cool to watch. That's one thing that I've loved about this whole process. This is what we were made for, this is what we went to school for. This is what we've trained for and even though there's not really any way to train for it specifically, we thrive in this environment.
Do you have any other takeaways that you want to leave with the audience?
EC: One thing that I keep thinking about is not to ignore your symptoms, not to be naive and think ‘I don't want to go to the hospital.’ If you're sick, you need to go. That includes respiratory symptoms, but that also includes those that are having chest pain or stroke-like symptoms. We've seen a lot of decline in those types of patients and it's somewhat out of fear of not wanting to come to the emergency department. We're here to care for the COVID patients, but we're able to care for the other patients as well. Don't ignore any of your symptoms because they can turn on a dime.
I'm doing very well and very blessed to be back to work and to feel healthy. One thing that I'm able to do is donate my plasma in a treatment trial for helping those that are critically ill with the virus. I've done that twice now and it has been able to be sent to hospitals and given to patients. I don't know specifics about whether it's been able to turn someone around and help with a quicker recovery, but I do know it's been given and that's just really helped me psychologically knowing that I'm able to give back in another way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Cornpropst is an emergency registered nurse at Franciscan Alliance and Indianapolis, Indiana where she has worked for 10 years. Emily graduated from University of Indianapolis and 2010 with her Associates in nursing and obtained her Bachelor's in nursing in 2018 from Western Governors University.