“I did everything that I knew to do, and I still got sick.”
This is the story of 38-year-old wife and mother Charity Bowlin, who has spent the better part of the last month battling a coronavirus infection that landed her in the UK hospital, and very nearly saw her having to go on a ventilator.
Bowlin is a resident of Whitley County, but commutes each day to her job in Jackson County where she works as a nurse at the Jackson Manor nursing home. If you’ve been paying attention to news reports, you will likely recognize the name of this facility as the one where dozens of residents and staff have been diagnosed with coronavirus lately. Unfortunately, some of those who were diagnosed have since passed away, which is why, despite all of the trouble that she’s been through, Bowlin is grateful to still be here, considering herself one of the lucky ones.
In the beginning
“When the virus started showing up locally, and they started talking about shutting the nursing homes down, we closed our doors to visitors probably 4-5 weeks before everyone actually began testing positive,” Bowlin explained.
“I was scared about the possibility of carrying the disease with me to-and-from work, but we followed all of the guidelines. We were checking our temperatures, and were staying away from people that we knew were sick.”
“There were a couple of us that tested positive for the flu. When I first got sick, I had a stuffy nose. That was on April 2. I didn’t have a fever, though, so I did a telehealth appointment from work. They said it was probably a sinus infection, and I got some antibiotics. On April 3 I woke up with a fever. I called into work and told them, then called the doctor back and said that I wanted to get swabbed for coronavirus. They said no because I had a respiratory panel that had come back negative, and I got treated for the flu instead.”
Bowlin said she gradually developed more symptoms, including loss of taste and smell, body aches and chills. Then she got word that a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19. Being an asthmatic, as well as a healthcare worker in the same facility, she demanded to be tested. She finally received the swab, and tested positive for the virus herself.
Later still, Bowlin developed a severe cough that resulted in her becoming short of breath. “I was getting scared,” she said, so she went to the ER in Lexington, and was borderline needing to be placed on a ventilator at that time.
As for how quickly things developed back at Jackson Manor, she explained, “Once I was already in the hospital, they made it mandatory for everyone to be tested in nursing homes. It was probably an asymptomatic person that facilitated the spread. That is what makes the virus so scary.”
“I was already in the hospital when they started testing everybody, so I didn’t see it all unfold. I followed it on the news more than anything. One co-worker actually ended up at UK with me. He came off of a ventilator on Friday (April 24). I have talked to several others who tested positive who are better now, but they are getting re-tested just to make sure.”
After diagnosis, coming to UK
“I called UK while I was on the way up, and I called them again upon our arrival,” Bowlin said. “They gave me a mask when I got there, registered me, and then they put me in a negative pressure room so that no germs could get out. They immediately hooked me up to oxygen.”
“They were very aggressive with my treatment. They weren’t afraid of me, though, even though I was afraid myself of making somebody else sick. They were very kind to me. They truly saved my life, and they will always have a special place in my heart.”
“They started me on a magnesium IV real quick to boost my immune system. They did x-rays, but they didn’t put me in an ICU room right away. I have not had to be put on a ventilator.”
“After a couple of days, I was still having trouble keeping my oxygen level up. The x-rays looked like viral pneumonia in my lungs, so they switched me from regular oxygen to high-flow oxygen. The next step is to be placed on the ventilator, but I began to feel better.”
“I have come off all of my medicine at this point, and my being able to go home has been discussed. I’m okay without the oxygen, but if I get up to move around it still does drop a little bit. My lab work looks good, though, so I’m just waiting to see what they want me to do, and when.”
Bowlin said she has been totally quarantined during her time at UK, seeing no one except the doctors and nurses that come to her room to administer treatments and check on her status. “I am ready to go home,” she said. “My family is grateful, though, and we are all just thanking God that I’m still around. It could’ve been a lot worse.”
Words of advice, what comes next
While Bowlin is eager to get well and get back to work, finally returning her life to some sense of normalcy, she understands that she still has a long road ahead of her.
“I did everything that I knew to do, and I still got sick,” Bowlin said. “That’s how dangerous this virus is. When I get back home I will have to self-isolate, and I will have to stay in touch with an epidemiologist in the area.”
As her condition continues to improve, Bowlin said that she is looking forward to at least being able to quarantine inside her own house soon. She admitted that she has grown tired of having to be in the same hospital bed day after day, but she said that another driving factor for her is to personally be able to do her part in the fight against this deadly disease.
“Once I do test negative, I plan on donating my plasma,” Bowlin explained. “I have already donated some specimens to help ongoing research at the university.”
“I just want people to know how dangerous this is,” Bowlin said in sum. “There is a reason that they want people to be ‘healthy at home,’ and it’s a good one.”
Editor’s Note: Charity was discharged from the hospital on Sunday, April 26. She is back home, and reports that she is very happy to once again be sleeping in her own bed.