COVID-19 Causes Multiple Health Problems for Trenton Woman, Advocates for Masking
"Our family was affected by other people’s choices and there is no guarantee on how it will affect you.” - Connie Olmstead
Connie Olmstead is one person who can testify that COVID-19 is not something to take lightly. A retired schoolteacher in Trenton, Missouri, Connie went from feeling flu-like symptoms at home to lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and several IVs hooked into her veins.
The onset of Connie’s illness happened over the course of one week in September 2020. On Wednesday, she felt sinus pressure and got tested for COVID-19 out of caution. The result came back positive on Thursday. By Friday, she had called in sick for her substitute teaching job. On Saturday, she lost her sense of taste and smell. By Sunday evening, she was running a fever of 99.6 degrees. Then on Monday, the fever went up to 102.8. She stayed home in bed drinking fluids and taking Tylenol, but the fever didn’t change. Her symptoms worsened to the point where she was vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time.
“I was just sick. I didn’t feel like doing anything but lying down and sleeping,” she said. “I had a tremendous headache these three days with the temperature. It was like a band that went around my head. I couldn’t keep anything down. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t eat.”
Connie’s husband took her to the Emergency Room at Wright Memorial Hospital – one of Saint Luke’s critical access hospitals – where doctors examined her, took X-rays and CT scans, and discovered a multitude of issues in her body caused by the virus. She was severely dehydrated, her blood oxygen level was low, she had pneumonia in her lungs, her liver and spleen were enlarged, and her stomach lining was inflamed. She said she could hear crackling in her chest as she breathed. Connie needed medication to fight the nausea and temporarily lost consciousness. When she woke up, they told her she was being transferred to Saint Luke’s North in Kansas City.
“Viruses are non-discriminatory, meaning they can affect anybody at any time,” said Dr. Greg Miller, Wright Memorial Hospital medical director and family physician at Hedrick Family Care. “Those are some of the things that we actually are quite worried about going into this flu season, is what’s going to happen to the people who get a co-infection of COVID and influenza, and possibly a secondary bacterial pneumonia on top of that?”
While she was hospitalized at Saint Luke’s North, Connie’s sense of taste was way off. Water and juice were too bitter for her, but she could drink milk just fine. The only foods she could tolerate were potatoes, vegetables, red grapes, and saltine crackers. She was attached to an IV to help with the dehydration and received shots of blood thinner in her stomach to prevent blood clots from the infection. Unfortunately, her symptoms did not improve and her fever increased to 103.2.
“I was so nauseated I couldn’t even move,” Connie said. “I couldn’t even take my medicine because I just couldn’t swallow anything without gagging. I didn’t really even have the breath to talk. They gave me Tylenol suppositories and a fever reducer in my IV. It took almost all day to get my temperature down. By this time, they had me on three liters of oxygen.”
Once Connie’s fever reduced and didn’t come back, her medical team started giving her Remdesivir, a five-day treatment. She felt much better afterwards and was finally able to get up on her own and walk around the room. The doctor gave her approval to go home when her blood oxygen level returned to normal.
“When you hear the saying in the media that we’re all in this together, we truly are,” Dr. Miller said. “If we can work to control the disease activity, then we’re able to keep things open in the community as opposed to having to shut down.”
Connie isolated herself at home and spent her days in bed and on her porch, still fatigued. Then a new problem arose – she had leg pain. She went back to the doctor to get an ultrasound and, as she predicted, had a blood clot in her right leg likely caused by her pneumonia. Now, she is on blood thinner and receives injections to treat it.
Back at home, Connie is feeling better and ready to get out of the house and back to work substitute teaching. While she has been fortunate to survive her turmoil with COVID-19, thousands of Americans have not. She reminds everyone that wearing a mask is a small thing that makes a big difference.
“Protect yourself and your loved ones. Wear the mask. A mask is cheaper than all the medical bills that will pile up if you have to go [to the hospital]. Because of two people, an explosion of COVID-19 happened in our community. Our family was affected by other people’s choices and there is no guarantee on how it will affect you.”
Dr. Miller added, “You’re not really wearing the mask just to protect yourself, but you’re wearing a mask to protect other people. The people around you, your parents, your grandparents, your neighbor down the road who has lung disease, or maybe battling cancer.”