Editor’s note: Reporter Kristen Barton writes about her experience after she was diagnosed with COVID-19.By Kristen Barton

On July 10, I clocked out of work ready to have the next week off. I planned to go see my cousins and their new baby the next day with my mom and grandma.

After returning from my trip July 13, I had a sore throat I attributed to allergies. When I woke up two days later, I was exhausted. I couldn’t even make coffee before I had to lay back down.

Within two hours, my temperature hit 101, and I had a heart rate of 160. I drove myself to Hospitality Health ER in Longview and waited in my car.

Nurses came to my car to check my vitals and then took me to a tent for an EKG since my heart rate was so high. They swabbed me for COVID-19 — which came back positive — gave me vitamins, medications, fluids and an antibiotic in an IV as I sat in my car (something so unique to the times we are living in.)

I was eventually taken to a different tent to get a CT scan on my lungs, then moved inside to wait for a room to become available.

I can’t say enough how thankful I am for the nurses and patient advocates I had at Hospitality Health ER. While I was freaking out, they explained everything they were doing to treat me and comforted me when I couldn’t have any friends or family at my side. They brought me food and a change of clothes and were available to me in a time when I was truly scared and did not know what was going to happen.

I kept thinking, “If this virus can make my temperature and heart rate spike as high as it did in two hours, what can it do to me in two days?” And even worse, I kept thinking about all the family I had seen in the past few days. Even though I had no symptoms when I visited my cousins, I would have to tell them I exposed them to this nightmare of a virus. How on Earth was I going to tell my cousin and his wife, who I love, that their baby was exposed to COVID-19?

The virus hit me like a truck.

I wore a mask everywhere I went. I limited my social gatherings. I’ve been working from home since sometime in March. I only do grocery pick-up, and I haven’t been to any concerts or large parties. And it wasn’t enough to protect myself. I still have no idea where I contracted the virus.

At around 2 a.m. in the Hospitality Health ER room, I woke up to have my IV changed and do an oxygen treatment.

My mom walked into my room. At first, I thought she was being stupid and had just insisted on seeing me even though she could get sick.

Then I realized the nurses were preparing a bed for her. I can’t describe the guilt and panic I felt in that moment, but I can say it is nothing compared to a few days later when my grandma tested positive as well.

The doctor spoke to my mom and I the next morning before releasing us. He said we could quarantine together at my apartment, and he was prescribing us antibiotics and other medications, vitamins and an inhaler. We would need to stick to a plant-based diet to fight any inflammation and help with the body aches (I’m not sure if this is something every doctor dealing with COVID-19 patients prescribes, but we did it and had very few body aches, so I would recommend it to someone with this virus).

Over the next few days, we experienced strange symptoms. Both of us had a cough, trouble catching our breathe at times, and what I can only describe as eyeball pain. Moving our eyeballs hurt. We could both only look straight ahead without being in pain. While we never lost our taste, my mom did lose her sense of smell. My fever went away at Hospitality Health ER, but it took days for my mom’s temperature to become normal.

The fatigue is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Just taking my dog out or doing the dishes was so exhausting that I needed to lay down and rest. My mom and I alternated making meals, but we ended up not eating as much as we probably should have because preparing food was too tiring.

I feel guilty saying I was glad to have my mom with me. Of course, I wouldn’t wish this virus on anyone, but I can’t imagine enduring this alone. When we were able to stay awake, we watched “Gilmore Girls” or movies. Her company kept my anxiety at bay.

My family and I are mostly recovered now, but still quarantining to be sure we’re not contagious. We’re very lucky that none of us required extended hospitalization or had other complications.

I’m lucky to have family and friends who left food at my door, went to the grocery store and picked up medications for us and sent us gift cards for food. Not everyone who contracts this virus is so lucky.

COVID-19 is unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s been more than two weeks since I came home from Hospitality Health ER, and the smallest tasks still exhaust me.

This is not “a hoax.” It’s not something the media is making up numbers about to scare readers. This is a real virus with real pain that is hurting people and their families.

My mom, Barbara Barton, is an administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic School. She is preparing to welcome students back to campus in just a few weeks. All our local schools are doing what they can with the state guidance to open schools safely for your children, teachers and administrators. So please, if your child has symptoms or is exposed, keep them home. Please do what you can at home to teach them about social distancing, keeping their hands to themselves and wearing a mask.

Following public health guidelines is the bare minimum of what we can do to keep our community safe.

— Kristen Barton covers education for the News-Journal. Email: kbarton@news-journal.com .