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‘I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it’

After experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, Tredicia Wilchcombe, a 28-year-old registered nurse who works in the emergency department at Rand Memorial Hospital, said her body began to shut down.

“It went from zero to 1,000 in the blink of an eye,” Wilchcombe said.

“I knew my coworkers would take better care of me. They are superheroes, but in my mind, I knew I was going to die.”

Wilchcombe said she took care of six COVID-19 patients before she found out she had contracted the virus.

She said she started experiencing symptoms on July 11. It started with mild body ache.

The following day, she drove herself to the Rand to be assessed by a doctor.

“I was being told that I had influenza because I was not displaying full COVID-19 symptoms at the time I presented to the hospital,” Wilchcombe said.

“Because it was fresh at that point, I was told, ‘It’s probably influenza.’”

While at the time she did not know why she was sick, Wilchcombe felt her exposure to COVID-19 was inevitable.

“Even before I got sick, my household was in a routine,” she said. “We isolated ourselves from the jump.”

After the doctor told her she had the flu, she said, “I was sent home for five days to isolate. I still watched my symptoms. I came home. Within those five days, that was it. That was the valley with the shadow of death.”

Wilchcombe added, “That would have been the last time I went to work — the start of an unforgettable journey. That was the start of my journey down the rabbit hole.

“I couldn’t wake up. I could open my eyes, but that’s it. My body was aching. It felt like Mack trucks were sitting on top of me. I couldn’t carry my own head on my shoulders. I lost my sense of smell. I had taste, but that didn’t matter. My mouth felt like it was on fire. It was like I was chewing fire.

“It was just so much. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. My body didn’t have the strength to make it through. I started hearing things. I started seeing things.”

But Wichcombe said she did not want to be in hospital.

“I wanted to be around my family. I wanted to die hearing my baby’s voice. That’s how bad it was,” she said.

“It takes you to that point. You are prepared to die. It’s basically your body telling you, ‘I am shutting down. I don’t have no more in me.’”

On the sixth day, the nurse returned to the hospital to be seen by another doctor.

“I saw our employee health doctor. She was like, ‘Ms. Wilchcombe, I don’t like the way you look. I don’t like your symptoms.’ By then I developed more symptoms. By then I lost my smell. By then everything manifested,” Wilchcombe said.

“Then she said, ‘I’m going to refer you to be swabbed.’”

Earlier that week, Wilchcombe said, she was advised by her supervisor to get swabbed.

“It is influenza,” Wilchcombe said. “Why do I need to get swabbed? When I got swabbed I had already began to feel better. Because of what I experienced, I said I have COVID-19. Make up in your mind now. The test is coming back positive. I was prepared for it. I was ready.

“When the nurse told me, ‘Your test came back positive’, I said, ‘OK’. I started to shake a little bit. I was fine. It was enough symptoms to know it was not influenza anymore.”

By the time she was tested, she said, the symptoms were not as bad as they had been.

Quarantine

Wilchcombe, who has a four-year-old, said after her result came back positive she was told she had to leave her house to be quarantined at a government facility.

“What changed my world and set fire to it was them telling me I had to leave my house,” she said.

“That triggered everything. Every emotion I had in the world came crashing. Literally, the world stopped and I could have jumped off. I was terrified.”

The nurse said she began to think of the public’s perception of the virus. She knew there was a stigma attached to COVID-19.

“It was a lot,” she said. “I had a full-blown panic attack. That was the beginning. That led to many more anxiety attacks.”

She also explained why it was mandatory for her to be at the government facility.

“Even though I had my own bedroom, I shared a bathroom,” Wilchcombe said.

“Everyone in my household falls under the high-risk category. My daughter is four years old with asthma. My mom is over the age of 60 with hypertension and diabetes. I have an uncle over the age of 60 with liver disease and diabetes. My brother has hypertension and diabetes.

“They told me in order to protect them, it would be easier to just remove me from the home.”

Asked if she was concerned that relatives had been exposed to the virus prior to her getting tested, Wilchcombe said, “They quarantined for 14 days. Thank God no one caught it. When I first began showing symptoms, I immediately went into isolation at home. They were not in contact with me. They were cleared after their quarantine.”

Wilchcombe spent two weeks at the government facility, but learned she had to have an extended quarantine.

“I would have done my 14 days post positive swab,” she said. “I then had two swabs done after that. Both of those swabs came back positive. I had to go in an extended quarantine. By that time I was asymptomatic. I was back to my normal self.

“I was swabbed four times before I got a negative result. I got swabbed five times. Three were positive. The fourth one was negative. I am praying that the fifth one is negative.”

Wilchcombe told The Nassau Guardian she was allowed to leave the government facility with one negative test. She also said she needed two negative tests to return to work.

“I am still being monitored by a nurse periodically,” she said. “We are required to produce two back-to-back negative tests before we can be fully discharged.”

Whether she will get another negative result is not her only concern, however.

“Nurses are tired,” Wichcombe said.

“We don’t have proper insurance coverage. We don’t have a proper working environment. Remember now, we went from the pit to the fire. Dorian wiped out our hospital. Grand Bahama had its share. Constant fighting. It ain’t stop. We are mentally tired. We are spiritually tired.”

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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