An interview with San Juan County’s fourth COVID patient

  • Sun Apr 5th, 2020 1:30am
  • News

Submitted by San Juan County

We had the opportunity to talk with the fourth San Juan County resident who tested positive and is currently recovering at home from COVID-19.

The patient has worked as a firefighter/EMT for 25 years and has called San Juan Island home for nearly 40 years (when not on duty as a firefighter in Seattle).

Do you know what kind of contact with an infected person led to your illness?

I’m glad you asked because it’s an unusual part of my story. You would think I got it from a patient, as I’m a firefighter/EMT on a very busy truck company in Seattle and have a lot of contact as I provide care for the general public. The truth is, one of the firefighters that I work with got it from a family member and unknowingly brought it to work. I work 24-hour shifts and live in the firehouse when I’m working. We’re in close quarters for that time and although we were super diligent and wiped all surfaces and kept things clean, we’re inevitably in close proximity to each other.

The unfortunate result was five of the fifteen of us on that shift tested positive for COVID-19, and a total of forty or so firefighters overall were quarantined. The domino effect within the emergency response community can be staggering and the impacts to an agency can be dramatic. Fortunately, I was notified of my potential exposure on my way home to the island after my shift, and was able to quarantine myself and limit any potential exposure to the community.

What was it like getting tested? Any details about that stand out?

Peace Island Medical Center did a great job. One nurse came outside in full protective gear to test me to keep it out of the hospital and limit exposure. The test itself definitely wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it was quick, and clearly increased access to quick and efficient testing is going to be an important part of our response going forward.

It took a couple of days for me to be notified that my test was positive. I’d been given clear instructions to quarantine myself in the interim. Once I was notified I was quickly contacted by public health and medical staff who walked through my situation and assessed the need for reaching out to any close contacts of mine who might have been exposed. That process was reassuring. I made the decision to go public and put my story out there on social media, but I really want to highlight that I appreciate that the decision was mine and wasn’t made for me. I understand why in a small community it is important to protect the identities of patients as most do not make the decision I made. I came away with a newfound respect for the job public health does to try to contain the spread of illness. It’s not something I’d seen first hand before, despite decades of work in the emergency medical world.

How have you been feeling?

I started with just a hint of a sore throat and a cough and a slightly runny nose. It was so slight I didn’t think much of it. About twenty-four hours later I developed all the symptoms associated with COVID-19, a headache, fever, and achy muscles and joints. I had a full-blown fever for about twenty hours, then all those symptoms slowly started to subside over the next 2–3 days with temperatures hovering around 100-degrees F.

Currently, my temperature is normal and all my symptoms are gone except a slight cough. The doctors who work with Seattle Fire will have me remain in isolation for another week. The isolation protocol currently is fourteen days or seventy-two hours symptom-free, whichever is longer.

I know that everyone’s experience and symptoms are going to be unique to them and that I’m blessed to be feeling better. I just want to thank the island’s community for their well wishes and support.

Can you share a bit more about how we all need to presume that the pandemic is here and act accordingly?

We’ve all heard over and over again we have to be diligent about this. One of the big problems with this virus is that many of the people with the disease have very mild or present without symptoms. They don’t even know they have it. It’s kind of invisible, which makes it much harder for the average person to avoid in their daily activities. That’s why it is so important that we all take this seriously from the get-go.

I heard an interesting quote yesterday. “If we could freeze time with everybody in place six feet away from each other for fourteen days this pandemic would be over, period.” Obviously, that’s impossible. Some people have to go to work, or the hospital, or take care of their loved ones, so it’s going to take more time. The majority of the pandemic experts and scientists say we’re still on the upswing of this, with cases still climbing. In my opinion, the only way we’ll get through this is to treat it like it’s around us everywhere, to behave as if everyone has it, and take the appropriate precautions.

I’ve heard people say, “We live on an island. We need to keep it out of here.” And yes, we do need to do all we can limit the likelihood of the disease coming here. But, the reality is that we need to assume it’s already here and spend energy protecting ourselves and doing exactly what is being asked of us by the Governor, the County, and others. That doesn’t mean we need to be paranoid, either. We need to find that balance between panic and denial by really maintaining recommended precautions through social distancing and really limiting our activity to only essential needs.

Focus on the things that you can do, not on all the crazy details that you can’t handle, because you can easily get overwhelmed and then not do the things that need to be done.

Anything else you want to share with the islands.

We have great medical facilities, equipment, and staff on the islands. They are all top-notch. The hospitals, clinics, air medical transport, and our fire and EMS crews know their stuff and do a fantastic job.

Trust them and listen to them for what they need from you to do their job. If you experience any life-threatening emergency call 911. Otherwise, call your doctor or medical provider – do not show up at the hospital or emergency room unless you are told to do so. If you call 911, be clear about your symptoms so that the dispatchers can notify emergency responders in order to keep them safe.

Finally, these are strange times and we can quickly feel overwhelmed, scared, or even angry for many reasons. No one has ever been through anything like this before, there is no instruction manual, so be patient with yourself first and foremost. We’re all struggling in some way. Be kind to your family, neighbors, and others throughout your community. Especially those that are trying their best to help keep our islands safe and keep providing us with key services. Positive energy is really what we’re in need of most amidst so much alarming news.

We all need stress relief right now so take good care of yourself and try to do something nice for others. It will make you feel better. It’s times like these that our strong island communities take over and pull us through.

You don’t want to expose others inadvertently; you also don’t want to expose yourself. On the flip side, if you have any serious symptoms don’t wait, time is important especially if you’re over 60. Some of us are stoic and think, “I’ll be alright,” but this virus is not something you want to mess with. If you have a fever accompanied by shortness of breath or just shortness of breath, call and consult with your medical provider immediately.

For more information please visit our informational webpage at www.sjccovid.com. This website is updated as new information becomes available. You can also visit the San Juan County Health and Community Services Facebook page. For help with answering specific questions about the San Juan County Health Officer Order that aren’t answered on our FAQ, email covidquestions@sanjuanco.com.