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COVID Unknowns: Four Hoosiers share their virus experience

Financial anxiety, talking about death, COVID-hives, and "phantom" smells
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 10:22:13-05

INDIANAPOLIS — There's still obscurity about the COVID-19 virus even almost a year into the pandemic.

WRTV's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has been a wall-to-wall examination of health, closures, restrictions, deaths, and the many levels of impact that comes with it. However, there is still much that is unclear or unknown about the virus.

WRTV made a call out to people who've experienced unforeseen circumstances due to COVID-19.

Four Hoosiers we ended up hearing from all wanted to share their experience for the same reason we sought them out — to help others who may be, or have been, in the same situation.

Two women we spoke to had severe symptoms like "COVID-hives" and loss of function. We spoke with a father who has had to see an unfathomable amount of deaths this year. And a woman who has had extreme financial anxiety ever since the pandemic took hold of her work hours after she had just made big life purchases right before the shutdown.

The more we know about other people's experiences around us, the better equipped we are to fight it.

As told by them, here is what it's been like for these four Hoosiers.

Kim MorrisonHives

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Kim Morrison, 50, lives in Culver, Indiana.

She tested positive for COVID-19 in October after she thought she had developed her typical cold.

In her own words, here's what it was like for Kim when she was fighting off the virus:

"(I was) MISERABLE, but I made it! At first, I felt like I had my usual cold, but I did go get tested that Friday after work. I went through a "normal" weekend and started feeling like my cold was getting a little worse on Sunday. Monday morning I got the email letting me know that I was COVID positive, and I was honestly shocked. I didn’t have any of the symptoms you hear about: lack of taste, cough, trouble breathing.

Then on Tuesday, I started noticing little red dots on my skin. Years ago this happened when my blood platelets dropped dangerously low from an allergic reaction to my seizure meds, so we headed to the ER. When I got there, they did several tests, and my platelets were fine. They said that my potassium level was a bit low, gave me meds, and sent me home. When I woke up the next day, I was COVERED with the rash, and my face felt like it had a hard, swollen second layer of skin. My skin itched and burned! I started looking online to see if COVID had anything to do with rashes, and I found info right away with pics that looked very familiar. I called my Nurse Practitioner right away, and he started doing some homework and making calls.

Turns out that I was right, but it’s unusual & they are still learning how to deal with it. In the meantime, I started having the "normal" COVID symptoms, and they were horrible. (I had) the cough (and was) choking on the mucus to the point where you can’t breathe. I don’t think I’ve ever been that tired and slept that much in my entire life. The "hard" skin cleared up after the first week, but the rash continued. My 3rd prescription was a steroid, which seemed to work the best. The rash is still on my legs but is much better. I was tested on Oct. 30 and returned to work on Nov. 30."

Morrison says her experience was also a learning experience for her nurse practitioner.

"They were messaging me every day asking for new pics to see how the rash was, ordering new meds, and doing anything possible to make me more comfortable."

Skin ailments, such as the one Kim had, is something that Kristen Kelley, IU Health Nursing Director of Infection Preventions, says is not a common sign or symptom of COVID-19, but there have been published case reports of skin manifestations or rashes occurring in light of COVID-19.

"With COVID, there have been some published reports of a sudden appearance of some skin rashes, and different types of skin ailments. There's been a probability of some skin rashes being an early sign of COVID infection. It should be evaluated in association with COVID," Kelley said.

"I think every instance can probably vary and it's best to check with your doctor," Kelley said. "Certainly, I think it's important to work with the person's doctor to understand if it's related to an underlying health issue if it's associated with the COVID-19, or associated with some adverse reaction from potentially a new medication."

When Morrison was dealing with COVID-19, so did the rest of her household - which she says was the toughest part of the entire experience because everyone was in quarantine. She says, luckily, that her family, friends, and even her high school graduating class really helped the family out in picking up prescriptions, dropping off dinner, and more.

Now, when Morrison looks back, she wishes that public officials and leaders would've handled the pandemic better.

I’m just frustrated to see how we had such a shut-down earlier in the year when NO ONE in our area had CO-VID. Now, everyone knows someone who HAS CO-VID, and probably someone who has DIED from it, but we’re all back at work, and kids are in school. It just seems like it will never be under control this way.

Rhonda HortonFinancial Anxiety

Rhonda Horton, 51, lives in Indianapolis. Horton's time off from work, without much pay, started after she came into contact with a colleague at her place of employment who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Horton had just purchased a house and a new car mere weeks before she was forced to take leave from work.

Her battle for financial security after testing positive has immensely impacted her mental health since she had to take three months off from steady work.

Here's Horton's experience in her own words:

"My time at home caused depression, including feeling lonely, and upset that I was exposed. The worst thing is the person I found out that came to work, did not wear a mask, and doesn't like to wear a mask. I was devastated that I was exposed and thought the worst. I thought I was going to lose my job and I just purchased my house right before COVID. At first, I couldn't even work from home and had to use up all of my personal and vacation time, which was only two weeks. The help they say is out it is not accurate. There is a long waiting list for any assistance and anyone that is the only person in their home is at the bottom of the list. I explained the financial situation at my job and they sent a courier with the equipment to my house. The work had slowed down at the time so income was only part-time work. FMLA wasn't a help either. I returned to work three months later trying to catch up. I had a follow-up appointment to make sure I was COVID-free.

The only symptoms I had were fever, a little cough, and fatigue. It felt like the flu. I already have border-line depression so being forced to stay home and no interaction heightened my depression. Instead of seeking medication, I tinkered around the house, kept my house clean, and slept a lot. This experience also caused me to have ultimate anxiety due to the neighborhood I live in located by Riverside Park. This area is not responsible for keeping each other and others safe. I will probably wear my mask longer than the time required because I don't want to chance being exposed again. Now I know what it feels like to (have) OCD (and to be) continuously cleaning and spraying things down when I come home from anywhere.

I am not handling my anxiety well because it has fueled my paranoia. I feel like now I am closer to God now than ever before and wondering if there is ever going to be some kind of normal. Adjusting my life makes me feel more introverted. I used to be a lively person that loved being involved in helping the elderly and hugging people. I had an aunt pass away this year, (not from COVID) and I couldn't even say bye to her in person — but driving up to a window, while my family is gathering in the parking lot like it is not a big deal. I am the oldest grandchild in my family, so the younger cousins have a different way of thinking and their attitude is they are untouchable. I haven't seen any of them since the drive-by funeral in April."

Horton says she is still suffering from financial anxiety and paranoia about being out in places where people are not wearing masks. Right now, she says, she doesn't feel safe in the city.

I wish there was a way to make people care and be concerned for others and themselves. Another part of me wants to just sell my house and move out of the country where I don't feel like I am in prison. Our Mayor, in my opinion, isn't doing a good job in mandating rules of our safety. I pray every day and thank God He loves me enough to allow me to wake up each morning and safe getting home.

If you or someone you know is dealing with financial stress, you can point them to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling for help.

Byron HortonDeath and Support While Being Immune-Compromised

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Byron, an Indianapolis native, has (at the time of this report) not contracted COVID-19. But, much like many others, it has still impacted his day-to-day life like he couldn't have predicted.

At this point in the pandemic, we all probably know at least one person who has died with COVID-19. Byron, 50, knows of at least ten — four of which are close relatives to his son with his ex-partner (above).

In his own words, here's how it has felt to be supportive from afar for so many people:

"As for my son who has lost four family members and another Indianapolis resident who has lost six family members to this virus, I considered myself a seamstress's pincushion. After being notified of these deaths, all I could was listen to the pain.

Which each death, another pin was stabbed in the cushion. Each time there was limited family members allowed and I was unable to attend the funeral, another pin was poked in. And each time I sensed tears rolling down their eyes more pins were added to that cushion because I could not be there."

Byron added that he has also dealt with his own issue during this hard time of not feeling connected to others when you need them the most.

"I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a COPD lung disorder, several years ago, so I am considered immune-compromised. Therefore, I have to be very selective not only when I travel, but who I am around. I suffered a collapsed lung six days before my 50th birthday and was alone in the hospital 2 of the 3 weeks during my stay because of Covid-19. So, while spending a milestone birthday alone, I can relate to covid patients not being able to have loved ones near. I had two major surgeries during that time not knowing if I would make it and no one there able to be by my side. Yet another example of how Covid-19 affected people."

Basically, what I witnessed was how Covid-19 could change a person's characteristics, long after they have defeated the virus. How it can make a person have tunnel vision seeking only self-survival and not realize help is there and you are not alone.
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If you need help with grieving a loved one, resources are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Alicia CauffmanLoss of Function and 'Phantom' Smells

Alicia Cauffman, 28, lives in Bremen, Indiana. She tested positive for COVID-19 in October and believes her whole household — four kids and husband — contracted it as well.

In getting the virus and fighting it off, Cauffman has had bouts of severe brain fog, intense limb dysfunction, and "phantom smells." All symptoms of COVID-19 were still popping up even two months after testing negative.

Here's Cauffman's story, in part, in her own words:

"I don’t leave the house often for the safety of our family. My husband rarely leaves also, aside from work and stopping at the gas station once a week. During the period of time between when I believed I contracted it and when I started showing symptoms, I had only gone in public 3 times for groceries or to the gas station. I always wear a mask and follow various protocols. I make sure to take the temperatures of everyone in our household at least twice a day. We also keep our “bubble” small; we regularly (several times a week) see our parents/neighbors which are only about 10 people.

Wednesday, Nov. 4, I started to feel tired. By that night my nasal passages became itchy, filled with pressure, and I had congestion. I’m a worry wart by nature but this year it’s gone into overdrive. I took my temp every two hours but it was always normal.

I wasn’t having any of the "usual" COVID-19 symptoms. I still had no fever, no cough, no sore throat... none of the things they tell you to look out for. Over the weekend I also started having very bad brain fog. To the point where I had no train of thought and felt like I hadn’t slept in a week. I could barely remember my kids’ birthdates, birth weights, times... normal things I should remember. I also developed back pain, which isn’t necessarily uncommon for me but no meds would help alleviate it."

Cauffman decided to get tested on Nov. 11. A week since she first started feeling signs of sickness. After she tested positive, she said she couldn't believe it, and felt bad for potentially putting everyone who was inside her "bubble" in danger of the virus.

"I had to make phone calls to all people I had been around from mid-October. I felt awful. Like I had single-handily damaged the lives of all the people I loved and cared about. Each call I made I just cried and cried... and I feel so grateful that they were all understanding, loving, and knew I would never spread anything intentionally. They all went and got tested and by some streak of luck not ONE of the 10 people I had come into contact with outside of my home tested positive or developed any symptoms."

As a stay-at-home mother, she was confused about how it could get to her and her bubble — but then she figured it out.

"We racked our brains thinking where we could have gotten Covid; I only have one conclusion. Considering not one person we’ve been around tested positive or had symptoms... we believe my husband brought it home from his previous job. By the time he left, a large portion of the workers were sick or missing. He worked in an RV factory, and when people are missing it becomes detrimental quickly. I don’t believe they were handling things well, at all, including calling back people before they got their test results. When the health department contacted me to do contact tracing, I notified them of this. The negligence of the few can easily impact the masses and I truly believe this was the case. I’m so grateful his current job has actively taken precautions and been much more serious."

Over the next two weeks, Cauffman recalls each day as having a different symptom: chills, exhaustion, brain fog, pressure in her chest and lungs. She says the pressure grew to the point that she couldn't take a full breath. She also didn't have an appetite. She says the only thing that helped her and she could stomach was vitamin D, C, B complex, and zinc.

Cauffman was still feeling some of these symptoms at the end of November and the beginning of December. She says she can't wait to feel 100% herself again.

My taste and smell are barely there. Shortly after they started to come back I developed phantosmia; smelling “phantom” smells. For my case, I smell STRONG, stale cigarette smoke. I can smell it deep in my nose and into my throat. It’s to the point where it has kept me up at night. I don’t smoke and neither does my husband... I’ve tried to research it and don’t get much on how to fix it but do see a lot of people are having issues with phantosmia after Covid.

I’m also still having bouts of brain fog and my hands, arms, legs, and feet going numb with short amounts of time. It seems to slowly get better every day, but still is making life a little tough. I’m hoping there are no underlying issues I’m not aware of. We won’t have insurance again until January... so hopefully, by then I can get into the doctor to try to get me back to 100%.

Kristen Kelley, the Nursing Director of Infection Preventions, told WRTV that she would probably lump Cauffman's case of phantom smells into the broader category of symptoms that health professionals know have an effect on the body, even though it's a new symptom.

"One of the more unique signs and symptoms of COVID is a new loss of taste or smell. Where either nothing has a taste or it has a very odd taste or smell to it," Kelley said. "In fact, some people have self-diagnosed COVID because they lost their taste in food, or sense of smell."

Kelley says the loss of function and memory loss Cauffman experienced can happen to people. Although rare, it is a symptom for people with underlying health issues and urges people with these symptoms to get checked by their doctor.

"So, the interesting part about COVID-19 is it can cause some issues for people that have underlying heart issues or neurological issues. We have seen some patients come in with underlying or exacerbated neurological issues with these symptoms," Kelley said. "If that were to happen I would say it would be a good idea to immediately get checked out by your doctor if that is a new instance because it could signal that there is something more severe going on."