Stories From the Pandemic

Facing Life With Celebration, Caution After COVID-19 Recovery

Sherri Ross still takes great care after struggling through recovery from COVID-19. Her husband, Daniel Walters, has not tested positive. (Source: Courtesy of Sherri Ross)

It might sound strange to be thankful for two weeks of coughing, fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath. But 45-year-old Sherri Ross was because she knew having asthma put her at high risk for a much worse case of COVID-19 than she had.

“I had a very mild case and I’m very thankful for that,” Ross said.

Since she received test results that cleared her of the virus on April 21, Ross said she’s been finding ways, even in self-isolation, to celebrate.

“I’m having a party now. I bought roller skates. I bought a karaoke mic … I’m having the best time ever,” she said.

However, the fear of catching the coronavirus again or spreading it to someone else is real. Ross said she is armed with a mask and gloves wherever she goes, and she is careful to avoid being close to people.

“I’m going to be doing this for the rest of 2020, at least. I don’t care what’s going on,” she said.

Ross said she took precautions to avoid catching the coronavirus from the start, but she felt fairly safe because of her age and general health. When a persistent cough led to an asthma diagnosis in early March, however, Ross said realizing she was high-risk for the respiratory illness made her “a lot more careful.”

“I was totally petrified at that point,” Ross said.

In mid-March, she took an already-planned trip to Wisconsin to visit her sister. Ross said she wore a mask and gloves on her drive to maintain isolation. Ross could work remotely in her IT job, but her sister and her sister’s boyfriend had to continue to go to work while she was visiting.

Ross said her sister’s boyfriend was sick most of the time she was there. He was never able to get tested, but she said he wonders now whether he also had COVID-19.

Upon returning to Birmingham, Ross said she felt fine at first. Then, on April 1 she lost her senses of smell and taste. After she began experiencing shortness of breath, Ross decided to get tested immediately at Christ Health Center in Woodlawn, which had set up a special clinic for the illness.

Ross was tested on a Friday and got the positive results on a Monday.

For about two weeks, Ross said, she had a constant cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches, but she never had a fever.

“I did OK for the most part,” she said.

She was prescribed a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which made national headlines as President Trump touted them as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. However, recent clinical trials have linked hydroxychloroquine to an increased death rate from coronavirus, and the FDA has warned against its use outside of a hospital setting.

But, Ross said, “It did help me or seemed to help me.”

The daily calls from her doctors to check up on her helped, too.

Out of Breath

The scariest part, she said, was the constant trouble catching her breath, even in normal conversation.

“The breathing was a lot different. I’ve never been that short of breath for that long of a period of time,” Ross said. “That’s an extremely scary feeling to know that you could just run out of breath that easily,” she added.

Photo Courtesy of Sherri Ross

It was bad enough one day that Ross feared she might have to go to the hospital, but she tried to focus on staying calm so the panic wouldn’t make breathing even harder.

On her 10th day of the illness, Ross said she woke up thinking, “I feel great, all right!”

“And then Day 11, I woke up and felt like someone hit me with a Mack truck,” she said.

Her doctor told her that has been common among patients. Since then, Ross slowly came to a complete recovery. She still has the cough that she had before the coronavirus, but otherwise she has felt back to normal for a couple weeks.

When asked whether she still takes safety precautions now, Ross’ answer is strong and immediate: “Oh my gosh, yes!”

It’s too early to tell whether patients who have had COVID-19 are immune from getting it again or how long that immunity might last, and Ross doesn’t want to take any chances. Plus, her husband, Daniel Walters, never tested positive for the illness or its antibodies, and she doesn’t want to pass it to him or someone else.

“It’s still out there,” she said.

Having seen so many stories of fatalities from the coronavirus, Ross said she would like to see more about the success stories of recoveries like her own.

“They need to be shouting it from the rooftops,” she said.

She’d also like to see more people wearing masks and taking precautions when out in public to prevent cases, even if they’re just mild ones.

“Please be mindful,” she said.

“If you don’t do it for yourself, please do it for the other people.”