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Constance Alexander: West Kentucky virus survivor tries to make sense of the COVID-19 puzzle

Ronda Dalton Gibson lives in Ballard County at the confluence of Ragland, Monkey’s Eyebrow, and Bandana. Compared to her birthplace in rural Crittenden County across the river from Illinois’ Cave- In-Rock, the farm where she resides with her husband and teenage son is relatively cosmopolitan.

“Paducah and Murray are big metropolitan areas to me,” she confessed.

Anyone who knows Ronda is not surprised that she would poke fun at herself. A woman of no pretense, she exudes vitality, a hearty sense of humor, and the kind of energy that makes vivacious an appropriate word to describe her.

But ask about her bout with the COVID virus and her tone turns serious. The family of three had themselves to fend for, and there were additional caregiving needs of elderly parents living on their own that demanded attention. Ronda and her husband needed to be out and about, running errands, making sure doctors’ appointments were met.

There was no cheerful lilt or smile in her voice as she declared, “We were adaptable and had a positive attitude. We were determined to be careful. We were judicious with our time and resources.”

(Image courtesy Medium.com)

They were vigilant about limiting their exposure. In spite of all precautions – including consistent hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing — the Gibson family of Ballard County got infected. Of the three, the teenaged son fared the best. Suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms with minimal respiratory distress, his appetite didn’t wane.

“He has the endurance of a fifteen-year-old. He’s resilient,” Ronda said, a hint of motherly pride in her voice.

Once diagnosed, they recuperated at home. Husband Brian and son Hayes were assigned the same caseworker. With more troublesome symptoms, Ronda had her own direct contact at the Health Department.

“The boys had to fend for themselves,” she remarked, adding that friends pitched in by bringing food and other necessities. “People were so helpful.”

Week #1, according to Ronda, was tolerable. By the tenth or eleventh day, however, things got tricky. “I’m usually an active person,” she explained, “but after I did the simplest task I was wiped out and needed to rest.”

Besides being bone-weary, she had headaches that were different from the migraines she sometimes had had before COVID. She was advised to get a chest X-ray and bloodwork. The verdict was that she’d come down with Covid pneumonia. An inhaler and steroids were prescribed with some positive results, but her breathing did not improve.

Deanna, a friend and former nurse, was so concerned about Ronda’s condition, she insisted that Ronda check her pulse oxygen level. As a result, it appeared Ronda was suffering from hypoxia, an abnormally low amount of oxygen.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

“It’s one thing they don’t tell you that everyone needs to know,” she asserted. “My numbers were low. I called some friends who work in the ER, and they set me in the right direction.”

Her husband got her to the hospital with no problem, but then had to leave her there on her own. “I’m pretty independent as long as I have my phone,” she explained, but as she assessed the situation, she started feeling less confident.

Hospital staff reassured her, all exuding “the same sweetness,” was how Ronda put it. She described them as caring but basically unidentifiable, shrouded in their PPE.

“They were frazzled from too much coffee and trying to do too much. They told me sobering stuff.”

Even on oxygen, she was not getting what she needed. “It didn’t make much of a difference,” she recalled. “They gave me high-flow oxygen. I was that close to intubation.”

Her case was perplexing. She was in basically good health but when she heard these ominous words, “We don’t know why this is happening to you,” Ronda was alarmed.

The plan was that she would be sent to Covid ICU the next morning. She remembers that night and the thoughts she could not escape. “I might not be here in the morning,” she realized. “There was a lot to think about.”

Her reaction was philosophical, with a tiny thread of humor. “I have no regrets,” she observed, “but I had a fifteen-year-old at home whose turntable hadn’t been wrapped for Christmas yet.”

Fortunately, she did not end up in ICU, and is now back at home, still on the mend. “It’s the trippiest thing in the world,” she commented. “It’s eye-opening but stunning to me. I’m pretty good at working things through but this might need a little help. I’m angry at people criticizing the government or fussing that they can’t get to Patti’s for a pork chop.”

Although still resting up, Ronda is able to meet the responsibilities of her job while also being vigilant about her health. “Now I have to pack an oxygen tank with me everywhere I go,” she said, adding, “It’s better than dying.”

She is still in touch with her doctor and the Health Department but does not have friends who have experienced what she has gone through, and that makes a difference. Online support groups have been helpful because participants understand the relevance of questions like, “How long does it take you to take to the hospital?” as it relates to seeking emergency help with COVID symptoms.

As she said on her Facebook site, “I don’t want to sit here and blather on complaints but know that there are many. Still trying to articulate what’s happened to me/us…so that it may be useful to someone…”

“I’m kind of the Lone Ranger when it comes to processing things,” she admitted, “but the physical and mental effects of COVID are so mind-boggling and absolutely no one has answers.”

Online support groups include Coronavirus Calloway County’s Facebook group with Dr. Bob Hughes. An article that outlines a variety of other groups is available at www.self.com.

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