By LOGAN FALKEL
When 52-year-old Amy Erickson woke up with a scratchy throat in March, she just thought she had allergies. By 6 p.m. that day, Erickson had been admitted to a local hospital in eastern Colorado, unable to breathe, then airlifted to Denver for more rigorous medical care.
A speech pathologist for a local hospital and a mother of four, Erickson had common COVID-19 symptoms: a scratchy throat and fatigue, soon followed by a temperature and coughing spells. She had no pre-existing conditions or health complications, yet within hours of her noticing the symptoms, her sons made the decision to rush her to the ICU.
“I would go into coughing fits that made it hard to inhale and breathe in,” Erikson says. “Then they started getting closer and closer together so that I was just coughing and barely able to catch my breath.”
As a speech language pathologist, Erickson had worked the past week at a hospital in an area with COVID-19 patients. But she doesn’t think she caught the virus at work. Instead, she speculates that she came into contact with it during the rush for toilet paper in the initial weeks of the virus’ spread.
Shortly after being brought to the hospital, Erickson recalls what her nurse said to her: “Amy, we have you on continuous Albuterol neb and four liters of oxygen, and we can’t keep your O2 levels steady. We need you to sign to be intubated…. You are very sick, sweetie.”
An unconscious Erickson was then airlifted to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver and put on a ventilator. Her husband had been waiting for her in Denver and spent two days in the ICU with her, although once in the room, he had to remain quarantined there.
“I was lucky that I had my husband with me,” she says, “that I could hear his voice and hear that everything was going to be okay. I can’t imagine the plight of people who don’t have a loved one with them like I did.”
Erickson was in an induced coma for the first 30 hours of touch and go when her doctors were unsure if she would make it. She remembers intermittently waking up scared and feeling like she was going to die.
“The scariest part is not knowing. I don’t know what this looks like, they don’t know what this looks like, no one knows what this looks like.”
On March 16, after suspecting her condition Erickson was tested for COVID-19, but didn’t receive her results for more than 20 days.
“I looked for my test results every day, but the doctors said that being Covid [positive] doesn’t give us any more information because we’re learning from you right now, for the next person that comes in.”
Indeed, test results become insignificant when hospitalization is required. According to the Center for Disease Control, no drugs or therapeutic treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating or preventing COVID-19.
“I work in a hospital, and we’ve been bracing for what we’ll be serving, but to realize that I couldn’t wish this away, that here I am with all these IV’s in my arms and my kids are in quarantine wondering if I’m living or dying…. I just thought that this sucks.”
Having been in contact with her, three of her sons were put on quarantine in their home. All eventually displayed COVID-19 symptoms. All are younger than 35.
Amy Erickson was in the hospital for one week. Two weeks out of the hospital she recalls being barely functional. Five weeks out, she’s beginning to exercise again. Now that she’s mostly recovered, she’s on call for the hospital 24/7 not just for her patients, but for anything the hospital needs: reading vital signs, support or just another set of hands.
And she says, “I have a new deeply held gratitude for the sweetness of each breath, for the moments of stillness and for my family and friends.”