Full-time nurse Christie Pelow has an incredible COVID survivor story. Read on to learn all about it.
Christie Pelow is a wife, mother of two, full-time nurse, student earning her BSN, Color Street Nail lady extraordinaire, and now, COVID-19 survivor. Located in West Seneca, New York, where she and her husband of almost seven years reside, Christie got a front-row seat to the realities of COVID-19 and its impact at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo. When COVID really started to hit Erie County hard, Catholic Health converted one of its hospitals, Saint Joseph’s, into a COVID center. The hospital was all CODVID-19 positive patients and when she started work there they had over 40 patients requiring ICU care and or ventilators. She had never experienced anything like that before. A true hero of the frontlines, Christie uses her skill and bold personality to continue to caution people of the realities of COVID-19 still making its way through many communities across the United States.
Can you describe when your first felt symptoms and then when you realized what you were feeling was COVID-19?
My situation was sort of unique. So, not only am I an RN, but my mother is as well. My husband is also an essential worker (police officer) which meant we needed help with child care during the quarantine. We wanted to limit exposure to others as much as possible, understanding that both my husband and I were at increased risk of contracting the virus due to our jobs. My parents pitched in to help whenever they could despite both of them also working full time through quarantine.
A few days after my parents had been watching my girls overnight, our littlest spiked a low-grade fever of 99.8. She was more sleepy than normal, but otherwise exhibited no concerning symptoms! I didn't give it much thought. Two days later, however, my Mom felt extremely worn down and had spiked a temperature over 100. I didn't have a great feeling about that. She went to get tested and came back positive.
Around the same time my mom developed symptoms, I felt like I was coming down with a really bad sinus infection. I felt a ton of sinus pressure, a sore throat, and I had this nagging irritation in the base of my lungs. I have had asthma since I was a child so I attributed the symptoms to a sinus infection and upper respiratory infection, which I seem to get every year in the spring.
The burning irritation in the base of my lungs felt a little different this time though, I could breathe normally until I needed to take a deep breath at which point I felt like the bottoms of my lungs were swollen or irritated and the breath made me cough this dry hacking type of cough. I never spiked a temperature though, so I was really unsure that it was COVID.
When my mom's results came back positive, I called my daughter’s pediatrician first because I was concerned about her; she wasn't sick at all but we didn't know what to expect and with what I had seen at work, I was terrified. I also called my physician. The pediatrician reassured me that most children did not experience any symptoms and to just continue to watch her.
My physician agreed with my guess at a sinus infection because I had no typical symptoms of COVID, other than the cough, and my symptoms did really align with sinusitis! He started me on an antibiotic and told me to call with any new symptoms. Day four of the antibiotics and I wasn't feeling any better and had developed the worst most persistent headache I had ever had. At this point, the doctor recommended I be tested just to be sure it wasn't COVID-19.
Were you tested for COVID-19 or were you advised to quarantine without formal testing, and why?
I was tested. I was tested on April 22, which was at a point that more testing was readily available. When all was said and done, I actually would be tested six separate times due to a new policy at work that you would need two consecutive negative tests in order to return to work.
Can you describe what the virus was like for you? How did your symptoms progress and what precautions did you take?
Prior to feeling like I had sinus pressure, I had two nights that I had a very odd pain in the back of my hips and into my thighs. I couldn't find a comfortable spot to sleep in, and felt like I couldn't straighten my legs out completely without curling myself to sit up. I almost thought to ask about meningitis, though my risk factors for it would be so low.
As for precautions, at work, I was covered head to toe in full PPE (personal protective equipment) and there were social distancing measures in place throughout the facility; no one that I worked directly with became sick which is pretty remarkable actually. At home, I didn't have the option to isolate myself from my family. My husband was instructed to continue working with extra precaution unless he developed any symptoms (which he never did), which meant I had to take care of the girls while he was at work.
I increased my own handwashing as well as my daughters, I wiped down surfaces more often and tried my best to be as physically separated from my kids as I could be. No sitting on my lap, no sharing cups, or any food, basically the same precautions I would take if I had any other type of virus. I was completely isolated into my home. We used a grocery delivery service so that even my husband could stay out of the stores so as not to spread the virus. I saw no other family or neighbors until I had two negative swabs. All in all, nearly five weeks.
What helped you get through? Self-care? Support? Netflix?
My girls kept things moving. Not a whole lot of downtime with two little ones running around. I felt pretty much back to normal after about a week. After 14 days passed, I started to exercise again. I got into a new program that really helped keep me motivated and got me moving. I attribute me not losing my sanity to that program! Also, as goofy as it may sound, my Color Street business gave me something to do. I felt like I was at least connecting with people and stayed busy.
After four weeks of being positive, I had a bit of a meltdown. I am very close with my family, I love my job, and I am a social person. Having most of that taken away really took a mental toll. I yelled at my daughters who didn't deserve it, and then at my husband. Thank God for him. He looked at me and said to take the car out for a drive. Just to get out of the house. I couldn't really go anywhere, but I took a nice long joy ride. Later I went for a run which was a total mental health saver. Just those couple of hours were incredible.
I never realized what my job meant to me before that. I missed seeing patients, the interaction, and having such a purpose. (Yes, of course, my children are wonderful and being their mother is a huge purpose in life, but it's different).
I want people to know that I understand how difficult it is to be separated from friends and family. I know this is a strange and confusing time. However, the precautions being put in place really are to protect us. My case was not severe, and most people would recover as easily as I did; what I saw while working however, I want no person to ever experience.
I could write about my experience but I don't think it would adequately depict it. To have these patients going through the most awful days of their lives without any loved one there to hold their hand was absolutely awful. Watching a FaceTime call with families so they could pray for or speak to their loved ones as they passed away is something I will never forget.
A wife of nearly 60 years had to say goodbye to her husband through a tablet. Yes, the nurses and providers were there holding their hands, and stroking their hair and telling them it was okay. But that is not what our final moments on earth should be. That's what was most taxing for me; not all the medications, and procedures and nursing care we provided.
I didn't mind running for 12 hours. What I did mind was watching these people succumb to the virus without family support. Coming home to read that this is a hoax, or that it is inflated for political gain is infuriating. So, what I say to you all is thank you. Thank you for doing the difficult thing and continuing to socially distance. Thank you for staying home. Giving up all we are giving up in order to gain the upper hand in this pandemic. It may seem ridiculous to some, but the masks and the measures are actually making a difference. You may be preventing a wife of 60 years the pain of saying a final goodbye through a tablet.