Four days into her COVID-19 illness, Melissa Jones texted a friend: “I feel like I’m going to die. Nothing is getting better.”
A 43-year-old nurse with no pre-existing conditions, she never expected the virus would hit her so hard. Or that it would take six weeks to recover.
With time and treatment, things did get better.
Jones survived and returned to work.
She now draws on her experience to urge others to stay safe and protect the health of those around them.
“This needs to be taken seriously,” she said. “It can take months away from your life.”
Jones understands the frustrations with restrictions on life in the pandemic, after nine months of taking precautions.
“We want life to be the way it was a year ago,” she said. “But that is not the reality.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how young you are. It doesn’t matter if you have pre-existing conditions or not. You need to stay vigilant—if not for yourself, then for somebody else.”
An unrelenting headache
Jones works at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in the intensive care unit that was the first ICU unit designated for those with COVID-19. From the beginning of the pandemic, she has cared for the most critically ill patients.
She has monitored their conditions on ventilators. She has turned them onto their stomachs, in the prone position, to ease the burden on their lungs.
She has given them all the medications available, including steroids and convalescent plasma.
And using iPads, Jones has helped patients and family members stay connected.
She has no idea how she contracted the virus. She wore personal protective equipment at work. And she took precautions in her home life, too.
On Friday, Aug. 14, she woke up with a terrible headache.
“It was unrelenting the whole day,” she said.
She called in sick to work. Because she has a history of migraines, she did not think about COVID-19 at first.
That changed the next day.
Around 3 a.m., she awoke with a fever, chills and sweating. A few hours later, she went to a local urgent care center to be tested for COVID-19. She was told the results would arrive in two to four days.
By noon, she felt even worse.
“The all-over body pain was so bad I just lay in bed and cried,” she said.
A friend drove her to the emergency department at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital. A rapid test showed she had COVID-19.
For the next five days, Jones lay in bed. Despite medication for nausea, she could not bring herself to eat much.
“I was so weak I couldn’t even walk from the bedroom to the kitchen,” she said. “My husband had to help me.”
She never had a cough or runny nose. But she became winded easily. And she struggled to take a deep breath.
Members of the ICU medical team kept in touch with her and delivered meals to her family.
On Wednesday she sent a text to another nurse, telling her she felt she’d taken a turn for the worse.
On Thursday, Jones went to the emergency department at Butterworth Hospital. She spent two days in the hospital receiving therapy, including steroids and convalescent plasma therapy.
Throughout her illness, Jones did her best to remain apart from her husband, Dan, her 8-year-old son, Colton, and her 18-year-old son, Parker. She also did not see her parents.
The isolation became lonely at times, but she is glad no one else in her family contracted the virus.
The slow journey back
Jones began to feel better with treatment in the hospital. When she returned home, she could breathe more easily and felt confident of recovery.
“I thought I would wake up one day and say, ‘Gosh, I feel so much better,’ and life would go on,” she said. “That was not the case.”
After spending more than a week in bed and losing 13 pounds, her body had weakened. And her lungs needed time to recover.
“I was so short of breath,” she said. “I would walk a little way, and I would have to sit and take deep breaths.”
Pre-COVID-19, Jones went on 2- to 4-mile runs several times a week. On a typical work shift, she logged 5 miles a day without a problem.
Post-COVID-19, she had to gradually increase her exercise day by day, walking around the house and neighborhood.
At the end of September, six weeks after that terrible headache, she returned to work.
Now, more than two months later, Jones feels back at full strength. She runs a few times a week—in fact, she has boosted her mileage because she is so happy to be able to run.
Her gratitude for her recovery goes to the medical team, her friends and family members—and the person who donated the plasma she received in the hospital.
When she becomes eligible, Jones hopes to be a plasma donor herself.
“I think I owe a debt to do it for somebody else, just to keep it going,” she said. “Somebody else was willing to take the time to do that—and without any benefit, just knowing that they helped.”