Local women detail their battle with COVID-19

Jason Ferguson
On the evening of June 15, Kelly Martinez thought she was dealing with seasonal allergies.
Her chest was heavy and she had a cough. It wasn’t a dry cough, but it was enough to catch the attention of her supervisor at Carson Drug, pharmacist Colby John-son, when she returned to work June 17 after having a couple days off.
As the day went on and the cough lingered and intensified, Johnson told Martinez he didn’t think her cough was caused by allergies and she needed to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work. He contacted Dr. Lisa Brown at Monument Health Custer Hospit-al. Because Martinez worked at Carson Drug, all involved felt she should be tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
The next morning, the day of her test, she had terrible body aches and the cough intensified. Later that day, she learned she was the second person in Custer County to test positive for COVID-19.
“I cried,” Martinez said. “I work two full-time jobs. It impacts me greatly. I was really frustrated.”
A day later, coworker Danielle Dekker, who said she wouldn’t have considered being tested had it not been for Martinez’s positive test, had different symptoms: headache and a sore throat.
She stayed up late that night as her symptoms got worse. She cancelled a family outing. She tested positive the next day. She could not say she was surprised.
“I work in a place where sick people are supposed to come,” she said. “I kind of was prepared to have to deal with it and get it. I was honestly prepared to get it. I didn’t want to and wasn’t looking forward to it, but I was prepared.”
Martinez, 36, called Johnson and told him his suspicions were correct. She had contracted COVID-19. Martinez also works as a server at Denial (which closed for 18 days in the wake of her positive test while Carson Drug continued its prevention protocols in place since March and thoroughly cleaned the entire building), but said she isn’t sure where she contracted the virus.
“I have no idea. Both of my jobs are in two of the most exposed places,” she said.
As soon as the two tested positive, the South Dakota Department of Health and Monument Health got involved and stayed involved. Contact tracing was done on Martinez, Dekker, 44, and all Carson Drug employees. It was much harder to do for Martinez, who had interacted with a large number of people at her job at Denial.
Not a single person they had come in contact with — family, friends or customers — tested positive. 
The Department of Health consistently called to see how the two were doing, as did doctors with Monument Health, while charting their symptoms, progress and offering advice on how to deal with their symptoms.
And yes, there were symptoms. And they weren’t pleasant.
Martinez vividly remembers the painful body aches, which she said people told her sounded like having a bad flu (which she said she has never had). The coughing, albeit a productive cough, hurt as well. She also experienced the shortness of breath that seems to be ubiquitous with COVID-19.
Dekker also experienced body aches, along with a sore throat, headaches and sensitivity to light. On the worst day, she felt confused and had a painful sensitivity to light. She laid in a dark room for a day. The shortness of breath also emerged.
“I could see at that point how it could get scary really fast when you get that shortness of breath,” she said.
Dekker likened it to having the flu, but said the symptoms were “all over the place.” As she started to recover, she lost her sense of smell and taste.
Both Martinez and Dekker said the worst of the symptoms lasted four to five days.
Sleep was their best weapon against the virus they said, combined with over-the-counter cold medication along with prescribed pain medication.
Dekker spent a lot of the time outside in her flower bed, trying to get sun, stay hydrated and keep the symptoms from worsening.
She admits thinking about the death toll the virus had taken across the globe when she tested positive.
“It definitely crossed my mind. Especially right away,” she said. “After that it was like, ‘Well, I have it. I’m just going to do everything I can to stay upright and do what I have to do to lessen the symptoms.’”
Martinez said she was more worried about the children — ages 4 to 18 — in her home and the possibility they or someone else she had contact with could contract it.
“I wasn’t worried about myself. I was worried about who I was in contact with,” she said. “I felt really bad.”
Because of her positive test, her high school-aged children had to stay home from prom, and her son Brody had to miss his high school graduation, as he was required to quarantine 10 days.
“It was hard for my kids to understand. They felt fine. They were really upset with me,” she said.
Martinez said after she felt better she immediately  texted Johnson asking to come back to work (both, from the help of the pharmacy, are getting employee paid leave for the time they missed at work). On the day Martinez was to be released, she still had a cough. The Department of Health extended her quarantine another four days and she was able to return to work July 13. Dekker returned a week earlier. Four weeks later, Martinez had a lingering cough she was told could last up to six weeks. That, she said, is not a good thing when one has to cough in public. “Everyone just looks at you,” she said.
Dekker had a small cough that briefly lingered, but has since gone away.
Contracting the virus has made the two somewhat famous — albeit not necessarily wanted fame — in Custer County and Dekker said she received numerous calls and texts from people curious about the virus and its effects. She said her daughter gets asked about it even more than she does. “There is a stigma to it,” she said. “There were a couple incidents (of being shunned). I anticipated some of that, so I tried to blow it off.”
Martinez said some people still refuse to be around her and she even lost a couple of friends over it after they took to social media to tell her she had put lives at risk by being out and about with the virus, even though she didn’t know she had it. “It was a little ridiculous how some people responded to it,” she said.
In retrospect, Martinez feels she wasn’t educated enough about the changing information on the virus. Since she didn’t have a dry cough, fever (which neither ever got) or headaches, she didn’t believe she had COVID-19. Because of that, she encourages people to keep up with the fluid information on the virus. “There are people who wear a mask outside and take it off when they come in. There is a lot of inconsistency,” she said. “I think that’s why I ended up getting it.”
Dekker said using common sense is huge. For instance, she said, someone with conditions that could exacerbate symptoms should take extra precautions, such as not gathering where there could be crowds, especially in a tourism town where “people are everywhere.” 
She believes wearing a mask is warranted, for even if it saves just one life, it is worth it. “It's just doing the most we can to protect ourselves and each other,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want to do that? Why wouldn’t we want to look out for ourselves and everyone around us? I feel like it’s not that big of a deal. We can do that for each other.” 
Scientists don’t yet know if it’s possible for people to be infected a second time, but both Martinez and Dekker now have antibodies against the virus, which at the very least will make it more difficult to get it a second time. That is a definite bright spot. 
“I’m good now. I’m the one you don’t have to worry about,” Dekker said with a laugh. “We have the golden ticket.”

User login