A Covid Diagnosis Comes Home for an ER Nurse

My son Braydon’s symptoms started in the middle of September. He was hunting with his grandmother when, all of a sudden, he became very sick, so she brought him home early.

Allison Peterson | Hixton, WI

We didn’t know if Brayden had Covid, as many kids are asymptomatic when they have it. However, he started to run a very high fever for a few days. Next, his joints and his elbows swelled up significantly; they became red and warm to the touch, and he was unable to move them because of the pain.

I am an ER nurse and took him to the emergency room where I work. The ER doc ran many tests. That night Braydon had a Covid rapid test, which came back negative. However, the multi-system inflammatory syndrome related to Covid-19 doesn’t show up until weeks after somebody is positive for Covid. The only way to know if a person has had Covid is by doing an antibody test.

As a parent, I was terrified. While sitting on the ER cot with my son in my arms, I remember thinking as an ER nurse I’ve never seen anything like this myself. I’m thankful I’m a nurse and recognized the need to go to the ER, but I also worried more, since I knew this was nothing that happened commonly. I knew this wasn’t the average cold or flu, which frightened me. I didn’t let my emotions show thoughI had to stay strong for my little boy.

We talked about transferring him. However, because I’m a nurse I felt comfortable enough taking him home to monitor him. He was breathing, his heart was working, he was able to drink, and we were able to manage his symptoms. We started him on antibiotics that night.

That was the start of our journey. The swelling progressed to his legs and his ankles and then his feetthey reminded me of my feet when I was nine months pregnant. They were so swollen that he couldn’t walk, and his knees were probably twice their normal size. Next, he got a rash. The rash started as tiny red dots on his leg and then became silver dollar sized, and extended on both of his legs from the knees down to his feet.  On the backs of his thighs were giant bruises. The blood vessels would swell up and become inflamed, and they’d almost blister, and then pop and crust over.  Each time it looked like his legs were healing, the bruises became a greenish color, and then it would just repeat the cycle.

I took him back into the ER when his rash got worse. He couldn’t walk, and he wasn’t moving his hands because of the pain. We did more tests and then even more tests. We just couldn’t figure out why the rash was there—no one had ever seen a rash like this in person. So next, they ordered an echocardiogram, which came back showing that he had two enlarged arteries; his heart was working harder than it should be. We were referred to a cardiologist, and at that point, we had no idea what it was.  He kept having weird symptoms; all the skin on his hands peeled off in large chunks.

We were throwing many different diseases in the pot of ideas. Could it be rheumatic fever? But then why was the heart affected?  We started to watch his kidney functions at this point, too. His kidney function was elevated, and then slowly started going back down. About a month after the original symptoms started, we met with a cardiologist specialist and did another echocardiogram. She said his heart was back to working at a normal rate and his arteries were back within their normal sizes—so that was great.

My son was misdiagnosed for that first month. The cardiologist thinks Braydon had Covid at the beginning of September. All these symptoms were from small multisystem inflammatory syndrome-children, which happens when a child’s immune response is reacting too much. There’s still much to learn about in the way Covid-19 worksand that’s especially the case with children. Braydon didn’t get the treatment that the kids with multi symptomatic inflammatory syndrome-children get, which is typically a high aspirin dose.

This all has been challenging for me as a nurse and as a parent. I’m a medical professional, but I’m still a parent. As a nurse, I’ve seen a lot of very sick kids. I’ve seen little babies going to chemotherapy, and other horrible things happen to little kids. So, I kept telling myself, when my son was sick, “It could always be worseworse things have happened in other families.”

Now Braydon is healthy and back to his normal active self.  It took over a month, but he doesn’t have any more rashes. My three-year-old daughter and husband did not get Covid symptoms. I wasn’t so lucky.

At the end of October, I woke up and felt like I had the flu. I was very achy and stuffy, but what triggered it was that I could taste nothing. I could have eaten the hottest pepper in the world and not tasted it.

 I also couldn’t smell a thing. I burned two Bath and Body Works candles just to test my smell, and couldn’t smell them at all. I wasn’t able to eat.

I had really bad congestion and just felt icky for about four days. And then it started to be like cold symptoms with no smell or taste. I never had the shortness of breath or the chest pain that many people with Covid are unfortunate to have. I started to get my taste and smell back after nine days, which is actually lucky. Some people have lost them for months. I was diagnosed at the end of October, and I’m still congested. We don’t know if my husband or daughter have been sick at all; they could have been asymptomatic, or they might not have had it yet. But both ended up being quarantined for 21 days. Quarantine wasn’t horrible; it was kind of nice. I got a lot of stuff done in the house.

I had to take time away from work for those twenty-one days of quarantine but am back to working in the ER. It’s busy in our department, and it’s stressful for everyone at the hospital. I don’t pick up extra shifts over my full-time hours because I have two young children at home, but there are nurses in the emergency room and others working almost seven days a week, 12-hour shifts a day. We’re tired and we want this over, just as much as anybody else does.    

There was a shortage of nurses even before Covid-19. Unfortunately, right now, with everything being at a peak, there is an even bigger shortage. We’re really all working the best we can. We go into our shifts and all take very good precautions. Nurses and healthcare people have always been hand-washers, so that’s nothing new, but now we are using a machine that’s supposed to help disinfect us. After working with a Covid patient, we use a blue ultraviolet light. We wash everything that could be touched with a special wipe, and we let that sit until it dries. It is supposed to kill Covid-19, influenza, bacteria, all that sort of stuff. Our rooms are very clean.

We were starting to see a spike in coronavirus patients. We’ve seen many interesting things with Covid. We’re seeing healthy young college students that I personally didn’t think would have this happen to them. There’ll be positive for Covid, and a lot of the males get bilateral pulmonary embolism and these, we’ve hospitalized. We’ve seen a lot of heart issues going on with patients after they have been diagnosed with Covid, and more Covid-related pneumonia than anything. Pneumonia is really what’s keeping our hospital full.

In the ER, patients come through our doors and we treat them until either they’re stable or they need to be admitted. We do all the original tests, and with our hospital being so full, there are nights where we’re actually admitting patients and holding them overnight in the ER until there is a discharge, either in our hospital or at another hospital, where we can transfer these patients.

With Covid-suspected patients or with Covid patients, we wear our N-95 masks or powered air-purifying respirators with a nice airflow in there, of course. Before we exit, we take everything off. We clean ourselves off in a negative pressure room and keep the door shut.

Due to Covid, some of our procedures have changed. For instance, the cafeteria hours have changed several times because there are no visitors to the hospital. And, as far as I know, workers don’t eat there. We never take breaks together, but other departments are able to take breaks together. We all have to take the safety measures that you would outside of work—there are obviously situations, like when you’re running a code, when you can’t be six feet apart; that’s just impossible, but we do the best we can.

In terms of my morale, I’m still in a good place. I work full time; I come home to my children, and that’s the time when I clear my head. I try to not bring work home, just because if I think about work too much, I just get too stressed. We’re still in good spirits at work though, and we’re able to laugh. I always say, “The people with the worst humor have to be those in healthcare.” We all come to work and enjoy our job. I don’t feel like people are wanting to get out of healthcare because of the stress.

But I think the public is getting very tired. They miss their families, and they miss doing activities that they can no longer enjoy because of Covid. There are some people who could help the situation, even though they feel like their rights are being taken away. Sometimes you just have to give a little to get where you need to be.

At the beginning of Covid, everyone was very supportive and generous. For instance, if they knew you were in health care, they always said: “thank you.”However, within the past few months, that’s disappeared. There aren’t many people who are thanking nurses. Following recommended guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid would be a great way of thanking nurses.

There are many people who aren’t following through with quarantine. I think if they did, there would be less spread. The less people move, the less spread there would bethat’s just common sense, in my opinion.

I’ve seen Covid as a nurse, as a mother, and as a person who’s had it. I don’t want others to go through it.

Allison’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a  time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time. This story was produced by Scott Schultz

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