Sharda Kelly froze on the phone when she received that March 29, call with the words: “You have tested positive for COVID-19,” coming from the voice of her county medical officer on the other end.
There were no words she could have put to her feeling to describe what that news did to her, she tells Guardian Media.
Already having a compromised immune system having been diagnosed with the autoimmune illness—lupus, Kelly was wrecked, believing it could easily become her end.
When she was picked up at her home that evening, all the way to the Couva Hospital, Kelly asked herself was this a dream.
Days prior, on March 18, Kelly recalls developing a cough which subsequently became persistent. By March 24, a bad sore throat followed. The cough became so dreadful that Kelly would throw up; evening chills, headaches, and eventually a bit of restriction when breathing, now also accompanied these symptoms. By March 26, Kelly says, all the symptoms worsened.
Overcome with worry, the 47-year-old mother of four, reached out to a relative working in the health sector, explaining her symptoms. The relative referred her concerns to a doctor who advised she should visit the hospital to get tested.
Kelly told Guardian Media, she and her family had traveled to Vegas on Carnival Saturday earlier this year and they returned to T&T on February 27.
“We took all precautions. At the time we traveled the virus was only announced in China,” Kelly explains.
She says they were even about to cancel their reservations with the hotel and airline but were told by personnel, there were no travel restrictions on their destination, nor was it known of any COVID-19 cases there.
“Even the day before we traveled we called and inquired again and were told the same,” Kelly recalls.
Upon the family’s return, they passed temperature examinations by health officials, coming through the airport. Kelly says, she went straight home and remained there as was her practice prior to her travel—a precautionary measure she took in light of her health condition which she was previously warned by her doctor, made her more vulnerable to complications should she attract the virus.
However, on March 9, Kelly and a few members of her family visited a department store. Again, on March 11, she did some grocery shopping and on the following day, March 12, she visited a baking institution.
On the doctor’s previous advice, to visit the hospital, following her increased symptoms, Kelly visited the Mt Hope Hospital on March 27 where her vitals were checked, symptoms listed and a swab test administered for COVID-19, after she told them of her then travel history and her health condition.
She recalls also being given a chest x-ray and then told by doctors she had to remain in quarantine at the hospital.
At 2 am on March 28, Kelly was released and sent home with the advice to self-quarantine. She says she followed instructions to a T and stayed in her bedroom at home. She was expected to get the results within 48 hours.
The phone call she received on March 29, would shatter her. In the most surreal moment, Kelly became one of T&T’s COVID-19 positive cases.
“Having read all the scary stories of people who died from the virus, I was just beside myself. I thought, this could be the end for me,” Kelly sighs.
At the Couva Hospital, a self-employed Kelly was assigned to a bed in a room with three other COVID-19 patients. It was found, she had also developed a lung infection which she says was treated immediately with antibiotics and plaquenil—a medication for lupus, Kelly was already taking.
It must have been the third day of her hospitalisation, when Kelly says she began vomiting again and having chills.
“I remember I almost fainted because I was vomiting so much. The nurses came and helped me back to my bed. Seeing my condition, they wanted to transfer me to ward two—the High Dependency Unit (HDU),” Kelly recounts.
However, it was not a unit Kelly wanted to willingly go. She understood that could mean something of a worst-case scenario. As such, she pleaded with her attending doctors to allow her to stay. They obliged on one condition—Kelly’s vitals had to improve.
Her bedmates also gave doctors the assurance; they would look after their new friend.
These bedmates, Kelly now calls family, she says were her source of strength, and the bond they all created has lasted beyond her release on Wednesday.
But the encouragement to fight to get well did not only come from her hospital friends, but Kelly says had it also not been for the kind doctors and nurses who provided daily counsel and inspiration, her mental state would not be some-what stable today.
“I remember my brother and husband brought stuff for me. From my room, I could have seen the highway heading south, and seeing them leave, I just broke down, because it was hard. We could not have visitors. Even though I could talk to them on Facetime and what not, not being able to talk to them in person was not the same. It was hard,” a crying Kelly laments.
She says it was one of her bedmates and the nurses who came in and consoled her, assuring her it would all be over soon.
“The treatment and the support is what kept me going. I am sorry about that, it’s still fresh,” Kelly mumbles through sobs.
Asked what was her biggest lesson learned during her experience she says outrightly, the importance of family.
“One day you are well and the next you don’t know what life holds and what challenges you have to face. But with the support from my family, friends, nurses, doctors, and my bedmates, you learn to appreciate life and the people around you more.”
Although Kelly is back home now, she tells Guardian Media, she is on seven days quarantine and she was battling a bit of depression.
“Some days when I lie down and I think of my experience, I become so emotional and I cannot stop crying. I am so lucky because of the eight people who died; their families could not even see their bodies to get some closure. I think often, what if that were me, what would happen to my family,” Kelly ponders.
While she urged the public to take the virus seriously and adhere to all safety measures, Kelly also had a message for those who have demonstrated insensitivities to people who have contracted the virus and the families of those people.
Speaking from experience she reveals, her family was treated badly and shunned by residents of the village in which she lives. She says the most unkind words were spoken.
“The public needs to understand what we were going through physically and emotionally, they need to be more human about it. This is something that can happen to anyone. We are not asking for sympathy but understanding. It is not an illness anyone asks for.”