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Battling COVID-19: ‘Is this my death march?’

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Before her two children got out of school for spring break, Esther Woodson did what any mother would do to prepare for an extended at-home stay with teenage boys: she went grocery shopping.

But even standing in line at Meijer, she felt unusually tired.

That was March 16. Three days later, Woodson was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Your lungs feel so heavy,” she said. “It’s a heavy feeling in your lungs, like they’re working triple time just trying to do normal bodily functions.”

There were signs a week earlier, when Woodson noticed some breathing difficulties. It got bad enough that she went to the emergency room March 14, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia in her left lung and got a prescription.

Woodson, 43, felt very similar to when she had walking pneumonia six years ago.

This was relatively early in the COVID-19 health crisis. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic only three days prior to Woodson going to the emergency room. On March 14, Indiana had confirmed 15 positive cases, and it was just becoming evident that community spread was happening.

Before Woodson was admitted to IU Health West Hospital on March 17, she had trouble doing something as simple as walking from the living room to the kitchen.

“I was literally out of breath,” she said.

Woodson lost her strength — physically and mentally — at the hospital.

After the doctor told her she was getting tested for COVID-19, they wheeled her off to a special unit for patients. Her husband, Kevin, who had been allowed to stay with her in the emergency room, wasn’t allowed to go with her to the COVID-19 wing.

She was alone.

“Is this my death march?” she thought.

The doctors told Kevin first that Woodson tested positive for COVID-19. He had to tell her over the phone.

“I couldn’t cry,” she said of hearing the news. “I just sat there. It’s like I didn’t have any more tears left in a way. It was like I didn’t believe what my husband was saying.”

The memes on Facebook, they weren’t funny anymore.

Watching the news and seeing the number of confirmed cases continue to rise exponentially was much more terrifying from a hospital bed.

She memorized the routine doctors went through before leaving her room: sanitize the gloves, put them in the trash, put their yellow gown in a bin, sanitize again, put their mask in the trash, sanitize again, open the door, sanitize again and then leave.

“I’m just your average person,” Woodson said. “I wash my hands when I go to the bathroom. … I’m one of those that when I finish in the bathroom, I use the paper towel to open the door. I was doing this stuff prior to this.”

Woodson, who works for Indy Achieves in a downtown building, can’t think of a specific source that spread the virus to her.

Doctors were finally able to lower her fever, which reached 102.8 degrees the morning of March 19, and she was discharged March 20.

“I’ve never felt that lethargic, tired, hot,” Woodson said.

She even became sensitive to light and wanted her room in the hospital as dark as possible.

Going home isn’t the end of the battle with an infectious virus. Woodson has a family — her two sons and a husband — who could have contracted COVID-19 from her in the days prior to going to the hospital and knowing for sure she had it.

Luckily, Woodson said neither of her children have shown symptoms while they stay with their father.

Her husband, Kevin, who also hasn’t shown any symptoms, has helped keep their home sterilized. They sleep in separate rooms and wash her clothes every time she changes. Family and friends deliver groceries while they stay home.

Woodson said she feels “pretty good” now, though her cough will continue to linger as her body fights off the pneumonia.

Her self-quarantine period ends April 5, and Kevin’s ends April 7.

Woodson said she feels different now when learning someone has COVID-19, having lived through it, and she wants Indiana to close everything — from grocery stores to restaurants — except for hospitals.

But more than anything, Woodson just wants people to listen to the health experts who have been stressing the importance of social distancing.

“Go home and sit down, please,” she said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Esther Woodson with her two sons, Austin and Justin. Woodson is recovering from COVID-19. (Photo provided)

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