By Clint Confehr
ANTIOCH, TN — An Aquinas College Nursing School graduate feels obliged to warn people about COVID-19 because of an oath she made upon graduating six years ago.
The Davidson County mother of four recently recovered from COVID-19, as did her husband who got it from her. She’s a nurse who contracted the disease from a patient.
She says: Health care workers shouldn’t wear the same mask for 12-hours; Patients should be tested before they’re admitted; Home schooling may be better than crowded classes; And COVID-19 pain feels like being eaten by a grizzly bear.
“Nursing is teaching,” says TeQuila Fitzgerald, 41, of Antioch. She’s “torn” about not naming her employer. It’s among many Middle Tennessee hospitals with similar conditions.
“It’s deeper than what people realize,” Fitzgerald says. “Am I scared now? I’m terrified.”
She was infected two weeks after Easter. Positive test results came 3-4 days later. After Memorial Day, a second negative test cleared her for work. Unrelated surgery kept her home.
When she began feeling bad, nurses were told to list those who’d served a suspected coronavirus patient. Without test results, the patient was moved to another room.
The night before, “I had tickle in my throat,” Fitzgerald said. Suspecting allergies, she took Zyrtec with Tylenol, and again before work. By noon, “When I turned my head from side to side, my whole neck and head hurt. It hurt to blink. I had a major headache. My whole body was tender. I gave my reports to another nurse, saying ‘Hurry up. I feel like I’m going to pass out.’” She told a superior, “‘I think I have it.’
“When I got off work, I could barely walk. My legs and back ached from sitting in my car.” On a 1-10 pain-scale, “It was definitely a 10 … more than the flu.”
She drove home, told her husband, undressed, and went to bed.
The next day was worse. Her skin had a burning sensation from touching sheets. Shivering from chills caused pain inside. She decided against hospitalization.
Fitzgerald told friends and family as soon as possible. She prays they won’t get COVID-19. “Nobody wants to come around … It’s like a different kind of discrimination.”
She had “breathing issues” her first two weeks. By the third week of May, she’d improved. She had three positive and two negative tests. She was cleared to work shortly before unrelated surgery.
Fitzgerald was furloughed a couple of times, waiting days for test results. She tried to get paid for those days. Workers compensation paid 66 percent of her starting wage.
“The only thing I did wrong was go to work and take care of people. I feel like they failed to protect me. This isn’t retaliation. The public needs to know … There was a mask shortage, but wearing the same mask 12-hours a day and taking care of 45 patients; that’s not safe.” Fitzgerald says she: isn’t a complainer; was named employee of the month; and wasn’t barred from news interviews.
Her husband, Ulysses Fitzgerald, got sick within 3-4 days. His health department test results took longer than hers from work. He lost his taste and smell, suffered chills, and a three-day headache. His taste and smell returned in a few weeks.
He slept in a recliner. She stayed in bed. Neither had a fever. They sprayed disinfectant; wiped switches, door knobs and hand-held devices. They stayed home when possible.
One son suffered fever and sore throat for 24 hours. Since his parents were sick, they couldn’t get him tested.
She says, with Tylenol, temperature checks before entering buildings aren’t the best way to stop sick people. “And how would you know if you were in contact with someone who has COVID-19?”
Dr. Mitchell H. Parks, a former clinical researcher at Meharry Medical College — now with a non-profit for health disparities reduction — says, “If you can measure the temperature of people entering a closed space, you should. Health care professionals use screening to broadly characterize someone’s health, but they’re not absolute. Tylenol can make you feel better. It can’t cure infections that causes fever, chills and muscle aches.”
Fitzgerald suggests “a finger prick” test before shifts. “It’s more accurate” than swabs. She had a finger prick before surgery.
Dr. Parks says “Nasal swab tests are designed to allow more false positives than false negatives. It’s only a screening.” Mass production of those tests for antibodies isn’t readily available. Results could take days.
Fitzgerald has washable and disposable masks to go shopping, or elsewhere. She’s discarded 10-15.
As for children returning to school: “If the necessary steps are taken, then we’d be OK with it. If not, we’ll probably go with home-schooling…
“People are being careless. They don’t think about others around them, or the domino effect of this disease. I think there will be another spike by winter if a vaccine isn’t found.”