Ozark Countians share their experiences with covid-19

When Brenda Miller, a lung cancer survivor, was admitted to the new covid wing at Cox South Medical Center in Springfield, she immediately started crying. The stark, cavernous ward, which had been recently created on an unfinished floor of the hospital’s latest addition, was divided into two sections with 25-30 beds lined up in each section. “The only thought I had was that everyone in there was waiting to die,” she said.

Ozark County’s active cases, which includes Ozark County residents who are still under quarantine after testing positive for covid-19, have steadily increased over the last month. As of Monday, Oct. 19, Ozark County had 113 active cases of covid-19.

This chart shows how Ozark County has compared to neighboring counties in reference to total cases of covid-19. The chart above shows a better representation of density of cases per population. It depicts how Ozark County and neighboring counties compare per capita, meaning if all counties had 100,000 residents.

This chart also shows how Ozark County has compared to neighboring counties in reference to total cases of covid-19. Ozark County is represented by the red line, showing that it has the lowest number of covid-19 cases in the area.

Covid-19 cases are increasing dramatically in Ozark County. The graphs accompanying this story on page 16 show how the number of total cases have grown since the first case was reported here on June 19. Now we’re at 203 total cases, with 113 of them characterized as “active” by the Ozark County Health Department; two people are known to be hospitalized, according to OCHD. 

On Monday, the Times contacted Ozark Countians who have recently had covid-19 themselves or in their family. All but one of those who were contacted have now recovered from the virus. Some had mild or almost no symptoms. Others, who suffered extreme illness, want people to know the illness is potentially serious and frightening. This week three covid survivors share their stories; in next week’s Times, we’ll have more stories from Ozark Countians who’ve battled the virus.


Brenda Miller: ‘You’ll either get better – or you’ll get worse real fast’

Like other covid survivors who shared their stories with the Times, Brenda Miller didn’t know she was sick, at first. “I had a runny nose and was tired, but it’s allergy season, and every year I suffer, so I didn’t think a whole lot about it,” she said. 

Then, on a Sunday afternoon, after attending church that morning, she started feeling bad and running a fever. And she had chills and body aches. 

But Monday morning she felt OK. 

As a lung cancer survivor, Brenda goes to Springfield monthly for cancer treatments. The next Thursday, when she went for her regular oncologist appointment there, she mentioned her runny nose and fever. The doctor wanted her to be tested for covid before she had another cancer treatment and sent her to a drive-thru testing site. Two days later, Brenda was notified that the test was positive. “I was like, ‘What?!’” she said. 

By then it was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, a week after her first experience with fever, chills and body aches, she “started to feel really bad,” she said. The next day, Monday, her daughter, Stephanie, called and insisted that Brenda should check her oxygen. “Because I have lung issues anyway since I had cancer,” Brenda said. 

A normal “pulse ox” reading is at least 95 percent. Brenda’s was in the 70s. Stephanie told her, “Mom, you need to get to the ER.” 

Brenda’s husband, Dave, drove her back to Springfield to the Cox South Medical Center emergency room, where a chest x-ray revealed double pneumonia – “covid pneumonia,” the doctor said. 

Because Brenda was at day 7 since her symptoms began with the runny nose, the doctor told her, “You’re getting ready to come to the critical point where you’ll either get better – or you’ll get worse real fast,” Brenda recalled.

Because of her underlying health issues, she was admitted to the hospital’s covid wing. Her husband hadn’t been allowed in the hospital and had waited in the car. So Brenda was alone. 

“I had no idea what to expect. But when they pushed me through the door of the covid wing, I started crying,” she said, describing the large, open room divided into two big sections. The Cox South website says when the hospital doubled its size a few years ago, a few floors were left empty so they could be finished out as needed. One of those floors has now been outfitted as the hospital’s covid wing.

“It was like the pictures of old Army hospitals, with the beds all lined up, and all the machines beeping; and the ceilings had these huge air vent things. The nurses were all dressed in space suits. I just lost it. The nurse said, ‘Honey, are you OK?’ I said, ‘I want to get out of here.’ It was so scary. The nurse said, ‘Did they not warn you about this?’ I said no. The only thought I had was that everyone in there was waiting to die.” 

Brenda was admitted to the covid wing on a Monday so she could be treated quickly if her symptoms worsened. Fortunately, they continued to be manageable, and she was discharged the following Wednesday to recover at home.

“I hit that ninth day, and the doctor said, ‘Your numbers are improving,’” she said. “I thank God for that every day. I’m sure that’s where the improvement was coming from.” 


Rhonda Suter: ‘It hit me that fast’

As OCHD’s administrator, Rhonda Suter was well aware of covid’s long list of possible symptoms. Still, when she and her husband, Mark, first came down with the virus, neither of them realized what had hit them. It didn’t help that they had different symptoms while suffering through the virus together.

On a Friday near the end of August, Mark had the kind of sinus issues he usually has when ragweed is rampant. His nose was stopped up sometimes and runny at other times. “By Tuesday, he was down for the count,” Rhonda said, describing how the virus started for them. “He couldn’t do anything. He had absolutely no energy. He was coughing a lot and vomiting. He felt really rough.” Later, Mark would find out he had both type-B flu and covid. 

Tuesday morning after that Friday when Mark first showed symptoms, Rhonda got up to go to work. “I didn’t feel good but thought I would be OK. I sat down to watch the weather – and then I couldn’t get out of the chair. It hit me that fast,” she said.

By Wednesday, both Rhonda and Mark could “barely get out of bed to go to the doctor to be tested.” 

She and Mark “didn’t have the same symptoms,” Rhonda said, “except neither of us could eat or drink anything. I kind of tried to force-feed us, but that didn’t  really work. We didn’t lose our sense of taste like so many have, but everything smelled the same, and it was gross. And a few times, I didn’t even have the energy to chew anyway.”

The fatigue was overwhelming. “I ran a fever for three or four days, and I had absolutely no energy,” she said. “Some days, I felt so tired I couldn’t open my eyes to see if it was day or night. But I couldn’t sleep. And when I did sleep, I had bad, bad nightmares. Maybe that was from the fever; I don’t know. Mark didn’t have nightmares.”

Their grandson, Westley Suter, stepped in to take care of their cattle, and other family members delivered food and other items to their front porch. “But then we’d take turns saying, ‘It’s your turn to go get it,’” Rhonda said. “Sometimes, I just couldn’t get up. For a while, I just lay on the floor.”

One night, they both went – in two ambulances – to the hospital in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where they were treated for dehydration and some of their other symptoms. 

Rhonda was down for two weeks and then didn’t feel strong enough to return to work for another week. She was off work from Sept. 1 until Sept. 21. 

She’s thankful she and Mark are both feeling better now and are able to resume their regular work.  “I wouldn’t wish covid on anyone,” she said. “I’m telling you, if I get it again, I’m running off – if I have the energy.”

Meanwhile, one of their young granddaughters had a sore throat and went to the doctor to be tested for strep. Instead, she tested positive for covid. “But thank God she didn’t get down,” Rhonda said. “She had a sore throat, a stopped-up nose, and in a couple of days, she felt fine.”


Melanie DeWeese: After six or seven days, it hit again

“I would just say you can’t tell how it’s going to affect individuals. It affects so many people differently,” Melanie said, describing her and her husband Bruce’s experience with covid. Both of them had headaches, body aches and fever. But Bruce also had “extreme nausea,” she said, and because he has diabetes, “that can cause all kinds of problems when you can’t eat like you normally do.” 

Both have now recovered, but they had a challenging time with the virus.

Melanie’s symptoms began with a dry cough and joint aches that she at first “cracked up to arthritis. I was thinking, ‘Man, my arm is really bothering me,’” she said. “But then it hit hard the next morning. The body aches were excruciating. It got to where it hurt even to just lie in bed.”

She thought she was getting better after six or seven days, she said, “And then it hit again. Not so much with fever but with the extreme fatigue.” 

After two weeks of wrestling with the virus, she and Bruce were feeling better, “but as far as the fatigue, that lingered a long time, probably another week,” she said. 

Bruce was much sicker than she was, Melanie said, “but he got over it quicker.”

Their experience “made a believer out of me,” she said. “Not that I didn’t think it was real, but it has definitely affected the way our family sees this virus.”

She and Bruce had been “pretty vigilant” before they got sick, she said. “We masked when we went places, and we didn’t go in many places at all. I tried not to go to the grocery store more than every 10 days. I haven’t been in the Mountain Home Walmart since March.”

The virus meant they were quarantined a total of three weeks “because Bruce got it a week after I did,” she said. During that time, their family members left needed items for them on the porch. 

The hardest thing, she said, came on the day when one of their adult kids came to drop off some things on the porch, bringing along the DeWeeses’ youngest grandchild. “The littlest one cried because she wanted to get out of the car so much. That was heartbreaking for us,” Melanie said. 


Next week: More stories from Ozark County covid survivors.

Ozark County Times

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