Allison Brown hadn’t been feeling well, but life carried on for the Cincinnati mother of four. That’s what mothers do. Bills must be paid and dinner doesn’t cook itself.
So, Brown's daily routine continued until her body ordered her to stop.
On March 20, Brown had an earache and an unrelenting fever. She called and met with her doctor, who diagnosed her with an ear infection and prescribed antibiotics. She thought her condition would improve in a day or so. It didn’t.
Four days later, Brown wrapped her hair, put on a plaid shirt and leggings and called her doctor again, this time about her shortness of breath and the fever that still refused to retreat.
Her doctor set her up with an X-ray appointment at Mercy Health Jewish Hospital. The visit triggered a 12-day battle that now defines her life, one that she says is only explainable through faith.
“About five minutes after I took the X-ray, the radiologist came out and said I needed to go straight to the emergency room because I had viral pneumonia in both lungs,” Brown said.
Nobody said COVID-19. But she and her boyfriend, Jonathan Curtis, 40, headed nonetheless toward the ER.
There, doctors ran additional tests and diagnosed Brown with pneumonia, which couldn’t be treated for antibiotics. She also needed testing for influenza and coronavirus.
“I’m almost certain you do have COVID-19,” the emergency room doctor told her, she recalled.
“'OK, am I going to make it?'” the 37-year-old mother asked, fearing she was far more ill than originally expected.
“I can’t tell you if you’re going to make it or not, but it doesn’t look good,” she recalled the doctor telling her.
A positive coronavirus test: 'They wheeled her back and wouldn’t let me go'
The following day, there was more bad news: She was positive for coronavirus.
Doctors treated her with hydroxychloroquine, but her oxygen levels that had fallen the previous day still didn’t improve. The hospital staff recommended putting her on a ventilator and drew a conclusion: They needed to find out her next of kin.
Despite being with her live-in boyfriend of five years, those duties went to her firstborn – in this case, her 21-year-old son.
The doctors said to “get my family prepared for do not resuscitate,” Brown said. “I was so scared. I know when you put people on ventilators, they don’t make it out, and I just really want to make it to see my kids, my boyfriend and my family.”
On the other side of the hospital, Curtis worried about the love of his life.
“They wheeled her back and wouldn’t let me go,” he recalled.
What now? ‘All I could do was send her 'I love you’ text messages'
But, Curtis had an issue of his own: PHe’d lost his sense of smell and taste and had a slight cough.
When the waiting at Jewish became exhaustive, Curtis drove to his personal doctor, where he was tested for COVID-19, and eventually returned to the couple's apartment to care for their children.
“I cried myself to sleep. I had so many thoughts in my head. I wanted her to come back home to us,” Curtis said. “All I could do was send her 'I love you' text messages. I listened to Scriptures and sermons.”
Curtis leaned on his faith. Brown’s condition was yet to be determined.
The family’s troubles worsened days later when Curtis’ COVID-19 results came in positive. By then, he said, his symptoms had subsided and his cough was gone.
Still, Curtis self-quarantined in his bedroom to keep the children from becoming infected.
“Family dropped off food and cleaning supplies to disinfect the apartment,” he said.
She survived coronavirus: 'I was spared by a higher power'
Inside Jewish’s ICU, Brown said her doctors weren’t making any promises.
The medical staff said being young and resilient was in her favor for beating COVID-19. What wouldn’t help was lupus. Brown was diagnosed in 2003 with the long-term autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue. People with autoimmune diseases are among those most vulnerable to coronavirus.
“The first few days (in the hospital) weren’t looking great, but let me tell you about God,” Brown said, acknowledging her faith. A deeply spiritual woman, she said she studied multiple religions before settling on Christianity.
“I was spared by a higher power," she said. "God definitely blessed me. So many people don’t make it back from COVID-19.”
While sleeping one night, Brown said she accidentally, or maybe while half-conscious, pulled out her ventilator.
“I excavated myself,” she said.
The next time she awoke, Brown said, “I was not on a ventilator anymore and my oxygen levels were coming up. My throat had no damage. The doctors hadn’t seen anything like it.”
That was the first inclination she was beating the odds. Each day thereafter, her conditioned improved. “It’s a testimony. God sent his angels around me,” Brown said.
After 12 days in the hospital, she returned home last weekend.