By Carol Stiffler

As COVID-19 slowly infiltrates through our peninsula, a collection of our friends and neighbors have stories to tell. They now know what it feels like to have coronavirus.

There is very little in common with their stories.

Deb and Daryl Kalnbach, Lakefield

“It’s been miserable,” said Daryl, who isn’t sure where his household picked up the virus. He came down with it first, at the start of October, then his father-in-law, then his wife, Deb.

“It wouldn’t be so bad except for the body aches that come with it,” he said. “The loss of taste. Nothing tastes good. You don’t feel like doing anything. A little diarrhea on top of that. It just took time to get to the point where we are feeling better.”

All three of them are now out of quarantine and moving around more, though they’re tired and only just beginning to taste food again.

What surprised Deb wasn’t necessarily the symptoms – it was the lack of health care after their diagnosis.

“They tested us in the parking lot at the hospital,” Deb said. “You don’t see a doctor, because that’s compromising our healthcare system.”

The Kalnbachs grew sicker – beyond what they’ve ever experienced with a cold or flu. “It’s worse,” they said. Though they were in daily contact with the LMAS District Health Department, they asked about seeing a doctor or receiving medication and were refused an office visit.

“They tell you ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ Nothing,” Deb said. The Kalnbachs were told to take Tylenol for their fevers and Kaopectate for diarrhea, and to drink Gatorade. Eventually, they were brought in for chest x-rays to rule out pneumonia, which it turned out they did not have.

Deb is extremely displeased, and she doesn’t see any good reason to go get tested for the virus. “It does nothing for you. It’s not going to get you any kind of treatment,” she said. “Right now, hospitals and clinics are places for doctors and nurses and other healthcare, because it’s’ definitely not for the sick.”

An area couple

Another couple, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had taken all the precautions. Proper mask wearing, social distancing, limited public exposures, and hand sanitizers for the whole family. But their kids attend school, were exposed there, and brought it home.

“They’re dirty little petrie dishes,” said their father, who admits they carefully considered whether or not to send their kids to school in person. “They bring everything home… Everything that runs through them, we get, too.”

When symptoms started, they didn’t want to believe it was the coronavirus.

“I started with a really bad headache,” said the woman. “I just kind of chalked it up to allergies.”

Her husband had been complaining of muscle soreness, but they had just purchased a new piece of exercise equipment and they figured the pain originated from there. Their kids had runny noses.

A few days later, the woman couldn’t taste her coffee, and she knew they had to go get tested.

“Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it until Friday, when she said she couldn’t taste the coffee.”

But they felt it was their duty to society to know if they had COVID, so they drove to the Sault and completed the rapid test at War Memorial Hospital. At the testing drive-through, you swab the end of your own nostrils. Their positive results came later that day. The couple was told to recall the first day of their symptoms, and count forward 10 days after that. That’s when they could leave quarantine, the nurse said.

The LMAS District Health Department contacted them daily to see how they’re doing, but they never saw a doctor.

It did get a little worse around day 6 or 7, he said. “I could tell I was sick. It was more of an annoyance. It wasn’t like lay-in-bed-all-day sick.”

The worst part, to him, was the pain in his skin. “It kind of felt like I had shingles. It was real tender to the touch,” he said.

The pair are now out of quarantine, and their kids are doing well. They gave it a few extra days before emerging into public in any way, living off their well-stocked pantry in the meantime.

“I am still struggling with a little bit of fatigue and headaches,” she said on Sunday. “This morning was the first day that I’ve woken up without a headache. That’s been my biggest fight.”

Their family is doing well now.

“We have not been very sick,” she said. “It’s been the best outcome possible.”

Linda Grant, Newberry

Linda had the second known case of COVID-19 in Luce County after getting diagnosed in May. At age 75, she was at greater risk of serious illness and complications. She was quite sick, but doesn’t remember it well.

“My kids are telling me things that I don’t remember having,” she said. “Things that I said, and how badly I felt.”

Grant remembers coughing, and sheer exhaustion. Her son, Rick, had to take care of their farm animals. She was eventually given an antibiotic that she believes helped her get better.

“They say that the antibiotics weren’t working, but I don’t know what else it would have been,” she said.

She is better now, and gathers her energy to work in spurts around the farm.

“I do have some residual problems,” she said. “I still have the tiredness, and the memory, obviously.”

Linda also suspects her balance is off as a result of the virus, and she recently fell in her home. She broke her arm in two places, and trusts driving more than walking these days.

Overall, she is pleased with her recovery.

“Everything is hunky dory. I’m a tough old broad and I’m going to live forever,” she said. “God is good. He treats me well, and gives me all my friends, and it’s wonderful.”

A doctor’s perspective

Dr. Michael Beaulieu is Chief Medical Officer of Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, and though he hasn’t been diagnosed with COVID, he says the hospital has seen coronavirus patients from Luce, Mackinac, and Schoolcraft counties. Most people haven’t been overly sick, but a couple have had to be moved to other hospitals that can treat the virus more aggressively.

“For most people who have it, we are still recommending what we call supportive treatment,” Beaulieu said. That includes taking Tylenol for a fever, and ibuprofen for muscle aches. “As far as specific therapeutic medications, there’s not a whole lot of that yet. What there is is being reserved for the most ill.”

Helen Newberry Joy Hospital doesn’t even have any Remdesivir, he said. That’s the new antiviral that has at times offered hope in the fight against the virus. Other treatments, like the antibody injections President Donald Trump received, aren’t technically available yet.

The arrival of an effective antiviral will be a game-changer, Beaulieu said.

So should a COVID patient even reach out to his or her doctor? It depends on how sick you are. Beaulieu said if the patient is unable to get out of bed, or vomiting and unable to eat, it’s time to head to the Emergency Room.

For everyone else, he recommends giving it time.

“I’d love to say come on in and we’ll take a look at you,” he said. “Being the serious illness it is, we want to minimize our exposure to hospital staff. If one of us gets sick, we get pulled off duty. We are working a skeleton crew as it is in Newberry.”