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What recovering from COVID-19 looks like from a healthcare worker going through it

Advanced Nurse Practitioner Lisa Merck answered our questions about recovering from COVID-19 eight days after she received her positive test result.

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — More than three weeks after Lisa Merck said she first experienced symptoms, the advanced practice nurse tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

As a healthcare worker herself, Merck has a unique perspective.

We asked her a series of questions about her experience and thoughts on best practices to protect healthcare workers and the public.

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(Editor's note: Answers have been edited for context and clarification

9NEWS: We're speaking via FaceTime. Where are you now?

Merck: I’m in my house. We’ve been here since March 8. We’ve just been kind of staying in our confined little space. 

Are you feeling stir crazy yet?

Merck: Not really. I’m just more scared about things. I’m doing a lot of research. I’m doing paperwork that I haven’t done for a while. Now, with these new rules from President Donald Trump, I'm trying to set up telehealth at my house. 

What are you afraid of at this point in time?

Merck: I’m just scared because I don’t know how long I’m going to be a carrier for. There’s a lot of fear right now. Fear of the unknown. A lot of my friends are nurses and I have a lot of doctor friends. They say, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to come home and expose my family after working in the emergency room or what’s going to happen.’ 

How did your symptoms evolve?

Merck: It started out with a runny nose. Then my body started aching, I had joint pain. Then it progressed into a fever. Once I got a fever, my husband got a fever as well. That was the first, second and third of March.

Then during that week, I started getting short of breath. I started getting really clammy and diaphoretic. I got really sweaty every time I stood up. Lots of nausea. No vomiting but just lots of nausea. I didn’t really want to eat anything.

I started to have lower back pain. That's what brought me to the hospital on March 8, the lower back pain and shortness of breath. I was just feeling really crummy like I wanted to collapse when I stood up.

What treatment did you receive at the hospital?

Merck: They did a workup on me. They tested for influenza. The influenza A & B were negative. Then they did a chest x-ray on me. They noticed some pneumonia in the lower lobes of my lungs. They also did blood work on me and noted that I had a low white blood count. Then they did the COVID-19 test on me. They started an IV and gave me Toradol for some relief. Then sent me home. I got my test results back on March 11.

When will you return to work and what requirements will you need to meet before that's possible?

Merck: If you went to my website, it says that I’m not seeing patients until further notice. I will return to my patients when I get a COVID19 test that is negative. Until then I will just do telehealth.

I received conflicting information. Initially, it was that I had to have two negative COVID-19 tests that were 24 hours apart. A few days later, the public health department said I just need to quarantine for 14 days and don't need to be retested. As a healthcare provider, I want to get retested just to make sure I’m not a carrier.

(The Colorado Department of Public Health told 9NEWS, "Currently, Colorado health care workers who test positive or who were potentially exposed to COVID-19 are excluded from work for 14 days, following CDC guidance.")

What is your concern level for healthcare workers in Colorado?

Merck: I am concerned for all the healthcare workers out there, not just in Colorado but everywhere around the world. I think we’re faced with a massive crisis and not enough supply. It all boils down to supply and demand and right now, we don't have enough supply. It's a scary situation. I have friends of mine that are nurses and they’re just super scared. They don’t know if they’re exposing their family every time they go into the hospital.

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