Natalie Nowell and her family — husband and three young sons — were playing things safe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They stayed at home, socially distanced from family and friends, but everything changed one morning in late April.
Natalie woke up with the traditional symptoms of COVID-19. She had fever, headache, body aches, shortness of breath and severe neck pain.
“I could barely walk across the house without needing to catch my breath or feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath,” Natalie explained.
Natalie got tested for COVID-19. The result was negative, but she believes it was a false-negative because her symptoms didn’t improve. Instead, they got worse.
She had 11 consecutive days of fever and dealt with “two to three weeks of scary, every day sickness.” She tried every over-the-counter flu or cold medicine she could, but nothing helped.
Natalie eventually got a second COVID-19 test. This time, she tested positive.
She met with Dr. Nora Maldonado — a family medicine specialist with Methodist Medical Group — who was able to get her help.
Natalie said it took her three or four weeks before she began to feel like she was getting better. Three months later, she was still feeling severe effects from the virus.
“I’m having swelling, and I will have tingling in my fingers, in my hands, in my face,” she explained. “I have a pain in my head that has been an extreme pain.”
That pain in her head leads to dizziness and nausea. She continues to have appointments with Dr. Maldonado, a physical therapist and a neurologist.
“My physical therapist is basically treating me like I’ve had a concussion, even though I haven’t had one,” Natalie said.
Some days are better than others. There are still times where Natalie is fatigued and has trouble catching her breath — but other times the effects are worse.
Sometimes her brain will go foggy. It isn’t always that way, but it does happen “out of nowhere.”
“My oldest son has asked me on occasion ‘why can’t you read anymore’ because I’ll be reading and start stumbling on words,” Natalie said.
Nobody else in the Natalie’s household got tested COVID-19, but the family believes everyone got it to some degree. Her husband, who Natalie described as “quite active” from running and playing basketball, had days where he was surprisingly winded — and at least one of her sons had a cough for a few weeks.
Natalie doesn’t know how she contracted the virus. She thinks one of the children may have gotten it before the family quarantined, but she can’t be sure.
“We truly don’t know. The last time I was in a grocery store was March 21, so we’re really not sure,” she explained.
Natalie hopes her story can bring awareness to the lasting effects of COVID-19. We asked what her message would be to the community, and she told us, “This is a time where we have to work together to get past this.”
She then said people should think before they act — and ask themselves if their behavior could hurt others.
“If the answer is yes – that your actions will hurt someone – then you need to rethink them,” Natalie said.
There are five different levels of severity with COVID-19, so not every patient’s experience with the virus is the same. Those levels, as defined by Dr. Amik Sodhi during a UTHSC Coronavirus Symposium, include:
Asymptomatic or Pre-symptomatic Infection: People who test positive for COVID-19 but have little or no symptoms
Mild Illness: People who have various symptoms of COVID-19 — like fever, cough, sore throat, headache and muscle pain — but do not have shortness of breath or trouble breathing
Moderate Illness: People who show signs of lower respiratory disease — like pneumonia or bronchitis — as indicated by symptoms like shortness of breath or trouble breathing and confirmed by an assessment by a healthcare professional
Severe Illness: People who have severe trouble breathing as reflected by poor oxygen levels — which could lead to hospitalization
Critical Illness: People who have respiratory failure, septic shock and/or multiple organ dysfunction — which could lead to a patient being put on a ventilator and could result in death