Last year at this time, Ericka and Dwight Gibson of Charlotte, N.C. were living their dream life together. A happy marriage with three daughters — a 9-year-old inspiring writer in grade school, a 16-year-old studying in Spain, and a 20-year-old studying journalism at an HBCU.
They were all happy, healthy and excited about the future. And now this. Days once spent writing children’s books with their youngest suddenly transitioned into days documenting the horrors of a COVID-19 infection that has hit her and her husband. This diary-like testimony, written by Ericka Gibson, 47, not only details the pain of this family, but of thousands of families around the U.S. Of course, our hearts and prayers go out to the many thousands who have actually lost loved ones to this horrid pandemic. But we publish this story with the goal to show those who read it that there is always hope. The following is the 21-day diary of Ericka Gibson:
It’s been 21 days since the first symptoms appeared. From the onset, I knew this was something different. I didn’t know what it was, but as time went on, it was clear that I had never felt or seen anything like this in my life. Nothing about this was a hoax. I wouldn’t wish the Coronavirus on my worst enemy. COVID-19 has forever changed our lives. Three weeks ago, everything around us was normal. Simple things like reading with my youngest daughter, taking family walks and enjoying meals with family and friends are all a distant blur. COVID-19 turned our world upside down. Smiles and laughter were replaced with masks, gloves, cleaning supplies and, worst of all, isolation. Headaches, fevers, chills, bone-aching pain and loss of smell and taste became our norm. An overall gloom cast a dark cloud over our home.
My only hope is that people will take COVID-19 seriously. What follows is my experience with COVID-19, from the day I began having symptoms to my days of being quarantined with my husband. We felt helpless and isolated, and at one point I was afraid that my husband was going to die.
Tuesday, March 3: Flew from Charlotte to Chicago to visit my sister, who is fighting breast cancer.
Wednesday, March 4: Went to the hospital again, left heading back to Charlotte Wednesday evening. Wednesday evening.
Thursday, March 5: Arrived back in Charlotte at 1 a.m. Felt tired, like I had done too much in such a short period of time and needed to rest. Stayed in bed a little longer.
Friday, March 6: Drove to Raleigh. Left about 3:30 p.m. for the drive.
Saturday, March 7: Had an event at a museum where heat wasn’t working. It was cold and I was afraid of catching a cold but didn’t want to get up and leave. Was there most of the day and decided to stay an extra night to stay warm and lessen my chances of coming down with a cold.
Sunday March 8: Drove back to Charlotte. Definitely feeling like I had caught a cold but feeling much better.
Tuesday March 10: Woke up feeling achy, head congested, a migraine and feeling like I couldn’t pop my ears. Sneezing, coughing. Scratchy throat.
Wednesday, March 11: Feeling really sick. Nauseous. Went to Urgent Care. Had trouble getting out of the car. Sat in the car for at least 10 minutes before I felt like I could get out. Swabbed for the flu. Came back negative. Told It was probably my allergies as well and diagnosed with “viral syndrome.” Prescribed Flonase and Benzonatate. Stayed in bed most of the day.
Thursday, March 12: Slept most of the day. Nausea, congestion, cough, lightheaded, aching all over. Cold, then hot, then cold again. Need four blankets to stay warm. Didn’t take my temperature. Scratchy throat.
Friday, March 13: Miraculously feeling better because my daughter came home from Spain. Went into quarantine to be safe since she had been abroad in Europe for six and a half months. Stopped for groceries and left her in the car.
Saturday, March 14: Who am I kidding? Still not feeling great. What is this?
Sunday, March 15 – Tuesday, March 17: My husband, a 45-year-old obstacle race runner, starts to feel sick. I’m nowhere near as bad as he was. He’s sweating. His face is red. He can’t stop shaking. He’s burning up. He’s in pain. He scares me but insists that he doesn’t need to go to the doctor.
I feel like when you’re a woman and a Mom, you’re accustomed sometimes to experiencing different levels of stress, pain with childbirth and; especially for Black women there are issues like fibroids and all kinds of things that we typically face and we’re just taught to be strong no matter what and make it through all of it. We’re so good at taking care of others that sometimes we don’t realize when we need to slow down and take care of ourselves. I just felt like I didn’t want anyone around. I just wanted to curl up in my bed and pull the covers over my head and just fight through this, like we fight through everything else.
Seeing my husband sick was a different thing. He was in really bad shape and I didn’t know how to help him…So fast forward, he was kind of doing the same thing, just trying to get through whatever he had because he’s a strong, proud man. And in my mind at this point, I’m thinking, he might have COVID-19; never during all this time was I thinking that I would have it.
Wednesday, March 18, 4 a.m.: I hear a strange noise that sounds like someone is bumping against the walls. I sit up in bed. Then, there’s a loud crashing sound coming from my bathroom. My husband had fallen and passed out. His fall was followed by strange, unintelligible sounds. He comes to and insists that he just lost his balance. I call my doctor, who tells me to watch him carefully and to take him to be tested for COVID-19.
9 a.m. We drive to Urgent Care, and the nurses come out to the car to test him. They wore gloves, masks and a clear screen-like face mask. I thought about how difficult this must be for them as well. They tell us the results will be back in 3-5 days.
Wednesday, March 18: We drive home and Dwight goes into isolation. My daughter convinced me to do a Tik Tok dance video with her to keep my mind off things and I blamed the fact that I couldn’t breathe on my age (47). Had to do multiple takes because I was having trouble breathing, was sweating and felt like I was gonna pass out. I update my doctor on my husband’s status, and she asks me additional questions. She suggested that I be tested too.
Thursday, March 19: I drive to a mobile testing facility and I am tested as well. They tell me 3-5 days. They also tell me that we should assume that we are positive for COVID-19 until we get the results, so from there, I join my husband in isolation.
Isolation was the hardest part. We have three girls, ages 20, 16 and 9. Not being able to interact with them and our chocolate Lab was tough. They prepared all of our meals and left them at the door. We were confined to our bedroom for the next 12 days. Chills and night sweats were so bad that the sheets were soaked despite layers of clothing. My husband had uncontrollable shivers (rigors) and we both lost our senses of taste and smell.
Over the next week, my symptoms were improving and my husband was deteriorating. We talked about our will and trust and whether we had done everything our lawyer had advised. I was afraid he was going to die. He was afraid he was going to die. COVID-19 literally makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Looking across to the other side of our bedroom and seeing the strongest of men balled into a knot, trembling with a 104.3 temperature scared me terribly. Many days, he couldn’t stop shivering. Trying to work from home made recovery even more difficult for him. All this time, I had thought my test was going to come back negative, especially since I was feeling better. Then, there came a point when I knew I had it. I saw a story on the news where a woman said she and six or seven of her friends were diagnosed and they all had one common symptom — loss of smell and taste. That’s when I knew to receive the phone call confirming COVID-19 was an inevitable formality.
Wednesday, March 25: We both received calls that we were positive for COVID-19 and our isolation should continue until we were 72 hours with no symptoms. On March 31, the Dept. of Public Health released us from isolation. We remain in quarantine. Where did I get it? I think I got it when I went to Chicago because an article has come out saying that 12 nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital tested positive and that’s where I was. So that’s what I think happened. I don’t know for sure. But that’s my best guess. At this point, however, that really doesn’t matter. You can get it anywhere.
What I learned from COVID-19:
- Make sure your financial and legal affairs are in order. Where are your documents located, your passwords, and the important items you want to pass down?
- Being isolated away from friends and family is hard. Invest in technology that allows you to still communicate.
- Be thankful if you have children who want to take care of you. I’m not sure how we would have gotten through this without them. If you know people who don’t have children or are living alone, check on them. They need you.
- Learn to appreciate the introverts in your life. They provide balance and perspective when extroverts like me can’t sit still. My oldest daughter has given me peace during this difficult time.
- Stop assuming you have time. The thought of not being able to see loved ones again leaves an awful feeling that’s hard to shake. I’ve lost an aunt this week. Not being able to attend her funeral or comfort my cousins comes with a deep pain. Stop saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “next month” or “next year.” When this is behind us, live life. I mean, really live. Find your purpose.
- Connect with your family members. Tell them how much you love and appreciate them. Build them up every chance you get. The most painful part of this was not being able to hug my 9-year-old. Just devastating.
- Stop focusing so much on dance and tennis and math and reading. Teach your kids to cook, clean, budget and pay bills because one day they will have to do all of that without you.
- Keep God in your life. Honestly, God will be there for you when people let you down. We haven’t spoken publicly about having COVID-19, and some of the comments we’ve received from the few that we know have been disappointing. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Even as I still have a little trouble breathing, gospel music is getting me through.
- Spend some time outside. As we started to feel better, just a 5-minute walk (still social distancing) or sitting on our patio made a positive impact.
- Take the opportunity to relax – read the book you’ve had on your nightstand for months, watch the movie you’ve been meaning to, write your thoughts down. It can help give you a bit of peace in a challenging time.
This was a challenging experience for me and my family. However, we took it a day at a time, we relied on each other and our extended community of family and friends. And as a result, we were able to make it through to the other side. So, please follow the guidelines being provided by the experts, take all necessary precautions and prioritize the health and safety of yourself and your family. You don’t want to go through this. You don’t want anyone in your family to go through this.