HAMPTON, Pa. (KDKA) – It has been a nervous month for the family of Hampton native and palliative care nurse Susie Carl.
Working with COVID-19 victims on a daily basis at her job in a surburban Washington D.C. hospital, she was exposed to the virus when a patient sneezed April 8, and within days, she was showing symptoms.READ MORE: 6 Tornadoes Tear Through Western Pennsylvania
Nurse Carl thought she would have a mild course of the virus and be back at work quickly, but the virus had other plans.
On the Sunday before she hoped to return to work, “I woke up coughing and freezing cold and aching. And I was coughing up blood, which was something new.
“I took my stethoscope and listened to my lungs and I heard some faint little crackles and realized I was developing pneumonia in my lower right side.”
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With her breathing sounding like a cat purring and friends insisting, she drove herself to her hospital’s emergency room.
An X-ray confirmed her diagnosis.
The COVID-19-fueled pneumonia was taking over her lungs. But this self-described stubborn nurse did not want to be admitted and took a prescription home to recover there.
Susie left the ER early on Monday morning but by Wednesday morning the virus was winning and she was back in this hospital, this time to be admitted.
“It was almost this feeling of defeat,” she says. “I’m not going to get better at home by myself.”
A new x-Ray showed both lungs clouded over and Susie could feel it with every breath.
“The two things that stick out in my mind the most: the feeling of breathlessness but also the headache, like just this pervasive, intense headache.”
And there was the fever: “My fever came back with a vengeance and that’s when it hit 102 point something. I called my mom that night and just balled my eyes out holding this blanket she sent me and I just felt so so sick.”
The next few days were a blur but she was thankful for the care of her fellow nurses.READ MORE: Pittsburgh Weather: Saturday Showers
“It was just so nice at that point to see a familiar face, people who weren’t afraid to touch me and hold my hand and stroke my head because they were doing that every day and that meant so much to me and to my mom too,” she says.
Electronic contact with her family was also a big help.
“The extremes of the emotions have been all over the place,” she says.
“At the time I wasn’t scared because I didn’t have room for it. It hits me now, especially being back at work, seeing the people who aren’t making it, still knowing that my colleague and her husband are still fighting for their lives and looking back at my x-ray — now that I’m not in that acute moment, it’s horrifying.”
To the applause of her the hospital staff, Nurse Carl was released from the hospital on Sunday.
On Monday she tried to return to work.
“It’s hard for my brain to tell my legs to slow down but my lungs did.” She got winded just walking from her car to the building and it didn’t end there. “After I saw one patient I told my boss it’s too soon.”
So she’s back home recuperating and experiencing things that have taken her by surprise.
“The fear hit me after and it’s something I’m still trying to work through. Like I started having nightmares the past few days, being in a horrific car accident and being dead and then realizing I’m okay.”
Susie says the outpouring of love and support has been extraordinary, “It’s so nice to feel so loved and supported.”
She’s cuddling with her cat, Professor Theodore Pawfield, and taking walks with her dog Elle to help build up her stamina.
She’s planning to return to work the first of next week but wondering, “How can I continue to do the work I’m doing and not feel inundated by the grief and sorrow that have pummeled me in the last few weeks?”
Susie is also wondering about her own full recovery.MORE NEWS: Two-Year-Old Boy Battling Cancer Dresses Up As His Doctor For Halloween
“I still feel the pain in my side. I know the pneumonia is not completely cleared and I know I’m going to have trouble breathing for weeks if not months, this is no cold.”