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Sunday, September 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Five weeks with COVID-19: A Spokane woman’s battle to overcome the coronavirus

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 10, 2020

Leslie Laursen had COVID-19 and was sick for five weeks. She is 69  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Leslie Laursen had COVID-19 and was sick for five weeks. She is 69 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Leslie Laursen had been careful.

Since the pandemic hit, the retired grandmother had stayed at home in north Spokane, only venturing out every couple of weeks to go grocery shopping – always wearing a mask, sometimes wearing gloves, too.

It was not until early June that she went to a few medical appointments that had been postponed by prohibitions earlier in the state’s pandemic response.

On June 18, Laursen was invited to an outdoor potluck with friends, but she was leery about attending and declined the invitation.

That turned out to be a good choice. That Thursday afternoon, her symptoms began.

What followed was a five-week battle with COVID-19 that shook and tired Laursen to her core.

Laursen developed nearly every known symptom of COVID-19 – coughing, fevers, chills, headaches, nausea, chest pain – and her illness lasted a remarkable period of time. Most people who people develop symptoms only have them for a week or two.

In fact, health authorities would typically consider someone like Laursen to be recovered from the illness. COVID-19 patients who are not hospitalized are considered “recovered” 28 days after their first symptoms appear.

Laursen experienced a suite of symptoms that lingered for a little more than five weeks, from mid-June to late July, putting her in a category of patients that some writers and scientists have dubbed the “long-haulers.”

These patients don’t succumb to COVID-19 or quickly get over an infection. Instead, they suffer persistent, sometimes debilitating symptoms unlike any they’ve experienced before.

Two medical providers diagnosed Laursen with COVID-19, but she isn’t counted in Spokane County’s tally of cases because she twice tested negative for the coronavirus. That’s not unheard of.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can appear two to 14 days after a person has been infected, which is partly why the virus spreads so rapidly. The timing of the test matters, too: A person carrying the virus might give a false negative if they’re tested early in the course of the infection or before symptoms begin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“You might test negative if the sample was collected early in your infection and test positive later during your illness,” the CDC says.

Laursen was tested early in her illness both times, which is why doctors still believed she had COVID-19 and advised her to self-isolate at home. She was never admitted to the hospital for her symptoms, though she did get X-rays when she started experiencing chest pain so bad she could not stand.

Her lungs stayed clear throughout her illness, so there was no need for emergency treatment. While she was told to treat her symptoms at home, the virus was no flu bug.

On June 18, Laursen was tending her garden, as she often does in the summer, when a wave of fatigue hit her, seemingly out of the blue. She went inside and laid down to rest, but then her body was seized by sudden aches and joint pain. 

“It was like arthritis in every joint of my body,” she said.

Next came an ear-splitting headache. Her husband of 43 years arrived home and noticed she seemed ill. He brought her Tylenol, and Laursen went to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. It was the first of many sleepless nights interrupted by bone-rattling chills, fevers and sweats.

Laursen recalls feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit, but nothing would come up. Her fevers spiked at more than 102 degrees, and she would sweat more profusely than she ever had before. She recalls leaning over the toilet with sweat dripping off her face into the bowl. 

When the fevers broke, the chills would set in. For Laursen, that was the worst part. 

“You could feel them coming on, and you could feel them in your face and hands,” she said. “And it would go into this full-body internal shaking, and it was teeth-rattling.”

Her chills would last a half-hour before ceasing. She began to studiously track her symptoms and soon learned the virus’s course. Every six hours, like clockwork, a new bout of chills and rattling would seize her.

Laursen called her health care provider and went to an urgent care center in north Spokane to get tested, just a couple days after her first day of feeling fatigued. After listing her symptoms, the nurse stared at her. She had ticked off nearly every symptom of COVID-19, except a loss of taste or smell. Still, the test came back negative. 

A few days later, Laursen saw her doctor in Post Falls, who had her tested again. She again tested negative, but her doctor agreed with the provider at the urgent care center: She  had COVID-19 and needed to stay home and isolate.

Laursen gets angry when people compare COVID-19 to the flu. She will turn 70 at the end of August and said she has never experienced an illness like COVID-19 in her life. She also recognizes that the virus easily could have been the end for her.  At times during her ordeal, she thought of expressing her dying wishes to her three adult children.

“There were moments I was in tears,” she recalled. “ I was writing letters to my kids in my head and hoping I had time to actually write them and telling my husband, ‘Please don’t take me to the hospital. I don’t want to go there.’”

After about a week of intense chills, spiking fevers and nausea, Laursen’s symptoms changed. She began to cough, experiencing intense chest pain that doubled her over. She had her lungs X-rayed to ensure the virus had not worked its way into them. She wouldn’t need an oxygen tank, but her cough and fatigue continued for weeks.

Described by her family members as a “pistol,” Laursen had never napped regularly. She did while she was sick, though, and often felt too tired to tend  her garden or do much of anything.

On July 12, nearly a month after her symptoms began, Laursen said goodbye to her husband, who was leaving to play golf. He asked if she would be OK, and she said yes. Tired, she took a nap, intending it to last an hour. She woke up four and half hours later, disoriented.

Laursen recalls feeling foggy, unable to gather her thoughts. She managed to dial her daughter’s number on the phone but began to cry hysterically. She suffered what felt like an anxiety attack. Her daughter returned home, with her mask on, to sit with her mother until her husband got home.

That was the last time her symptoms were so severe. She continued experiencing extreme fatigue until July 24, when it finally seemed to leave altogether. So far, she’s not experienced any resurgence of symptoms, and she no longer takes Tylenol or other medications.

Laursen recognizes she is fortunate because she never needed a long hospitalization.

She said it’s frustrating when others don’t take the virus seriously.

“I’m watching, listening and trying to do the right thing,” Laursen said. “But it’s frustrating to get looks about wearing masks. I get angry – it’s a mask.”

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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