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‘It’s freaking COVID. It’s kind of scary’

34-year-old University Place woman shares her experience with the virus

The first week of August gave Ashley Hall a double reason to celebrate. Her 34th birthday marked the end of her COVID-19 quarantine period.

An early learning teacher now working on her master’s in elementary education, Hall acquired the virus last month despite being young, healthy and with no known high-risk factors. After she tested positive, she spent the last half of July and early August away from her 6-year-old son and isolated in the downstairs portion of her parents’ house in University Place.

She is “back to normal” now, but her experience underscores that the virus can reach virtually anyone at any time. Even someone who thought she was taking the proper precautions.

Hall visited with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department communications staff recently to tell her COVID-19 story.

Ashley Hall

When did you develop symptoms?

It was a Monday (July 20). I woke up and was really tired. I started to get a headache. It was not a big deal. I just said it is like allergies. I was sleepy, so I woke up and drank an energy drink. It’s like ‘mom life.’ You get back to business.

By Friday, I had lost all of my smell and taste. I thought, ‘OK, never had that happen before.’ I still went to Point Defiance into the woods to go for a jog. I jog every day. All of a sudden, it felt like a pinched nerve (in my back). Now, I realize it was chest pains like you feel when you have pneumonia or something. It started out of nowhere just from jogging. I took a deep breath and was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I turned around and went back to my car.

I did not think I had COVID. There’s no way. I’m so healthy. But there was something nagging me—this no taste and no smell. I think I need to get tested. So, I went in Saturday and made an appointment at the urgent care (and was tested). And then two days later, I came back positive.

I can see how people can get pretty scared because that was pretty intense. I work with kids, so I’ve been sick a lot. It was definitely the longest, toughest. … It was definitely a bit more rigorous than the standard flu.

Where do you think you picked it up?

On the 15th of July, I fell through a glass table and sliced my ankle all the way down to the bone. I thought, ‘Huh, do I get stitches or not?’ I really didn’t want to go to the ER because of everything that is going on. I really didn’t want to expose myself, so I didn’t get stitches. But a couple of days later —probably four days later— it was super swollen. I ended up going to the ER.

I was scared to go to the ER because of COVID. I should have gotten the dang stitches. Listen to your body. I feel like my immune system might have gotten down. I really feel like my body was trying to fight off that deep wound and my immune system was down. And I was exposed, and I got it. Who knows? I could have still gotten it.

What was your attitude about precautions before testing positive?

My thoughts about it were I’m not scared of getting sick. I would never want to get someone else sick, so I always masked up in public. I haven’t gone out to dinner as things have opened up. I visited a few friends, but mostly just work things. For the most part, I followed what we are instructed to do. I didn’t really sanitize. Some people are very good about sanitizing. I think I might be a little more aware of that. That’s for sure.

How did you find out you were positive?

It was the urgent care, and they just put it in what’s called a My Chart. They sent it to UW. They didn’t call me or anything. I had to keep looking. They are so busy, that’s fine. They told me 96 hours, but I heard back within 48.

Just for the record, if we had not experienced COVID, I would not have gone to the doctor for this flu. I would not have thought they were related. I would have thought the back pain was separate and, honestly, I would have gone to work.

What was the moment like when you found out you were positive?

I was stunned. I sat there. I was in my car. I had just gone on a walk in the cemetery. I tried to go to places where no one was there just to be safe. I had to be out every day. I look and I see blah, blah, blah… ‘I’d like to inform you that your test is positive.’

My mouth dropped. I’m staring at the word positive. What? No way. Instantly, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, who have I hurt?’ Not hurt, but what have I done? I was just so worried.

I haven’t seen my son in two weeks. He’s with his dad. I wasn’t worried about myself. I was worried about harming someone else. It was surreal. It was totally unbelievable. I didn’t want to tell anyone. It’s like they are going to drag me out back and bury me in a hole. It was emotional.

Did you get a call from the health department?

It was a couple of days later. That was so good. The woman who called me was so sweet. She asked about my symptoms. I was joking around with her. She asked who I’d seen and kind of traced the personal information and followed up. It was a really easy process. It felt very comforting. More comforting than the doctor, I guess.

Was it comfortable giving out the contact information?

I kind of felt I just needed to come out with it so that I could be safe. Luckily, I haven’t been too crazy. I have my close people. I didn’t feel bad about sharing that. I knew that tracking would keep them safe.

How did your parents and friends take the news?

I was so scared to tell them. They both work from home. They tested back negative. Everyone else came back negative. My son, my stepdad, my mom. I don’t know how or why it decides to do what it does, the virus. But I know it’s been so hard on people’s mental and emotional sort of state because of not being able to see each other.

How do you cope with the news?

There was a moment there when I was kind of scared. I thought I need to be really thoughtful about not paying attention to this fear. I can’t even entertain it for a second but, you know, it’s freaking COVID. It’s kind of scary.

How is your life going to change?

I think the biggest thing is that I’m going to be better about sanitizing and washing hands. I’m going to start honoring my body. If I had listened when I was tired the first couple of days instead of just pushing through. I keep getting the picture of how the flight attendant tells you in the airplane you have to put on your mask first before you can save someone else. This is kind of what I keep thinking. We’ve got to keep ourselves healthy.

What treatment did you get?

(The doctor) said if you were positive this is how I would treat you anyway. These are the symptoms you’re showing. This is how we treat it. So, OK. It helped a lot. I didn’t feel necessarily congested except for the fact I couldn’t smell or breathe. As I was taking Mucinex and the Flonase, it was starting to come up and break up. And as that chest stuff was coming up, my back pain was going away. So that’s when I felt that’s definitely helping. It helped a lot.

How long did it take you to feel like you were going to get better?

It was pretty bad for about five days. Five solid days. And then I had mild symptoms for about two to three to begin and then mild symptoms two to three after.

What advice do you have for other people?

For someone who just gets a diagnosis, I think, even if you feel a little mild, you need to rest and follow the rules. Follow what they tell you. Also, I think you need to get the information, a little information about COVID, but after that you need to turn it off. You can’t give fear a second. You need to fix your focus on something positive. This back pain, if I knew it was my chest, I could have really sent myself into a panic attack. Then you can’t breathe even more. No, it’s not all mental, of course. This virus is real. If you give into that kind of fear, you can really cause yourself to spiral really quickly or take longer to recover.

For people who are trying to not get it, I still don’t think being fearful, sanitizing everything, I don’t think that’s necessary. But wear your mask and wash your hands. Just do the basics. Follow the rules. Don’t go out with groups of people. If you get it, try not to have any fear.

What do you think of people who downplay COVID, or even think it is a hoax?

I don’t really pay attention to it too much. It’s a distraction. I know there are conspiracy theories. This isn’t it. Obviously, the virus is real. I just think it’s misplaced frustration and fear. If you think it’s fake, you might get it. You’ll find out then. I have no reason to be upset with them about it. Just protect the other people, dude. Just put the mask on for other people. It’s the kind thing to do. To me, I see it as an act of kindness.

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