Barbara Barry posed by a blossoming cherry blossom and lake.
Wearing sunglasses and a gray marbled sweater, she took a picture, smiling for the camera.
Just a week earlier, sick with COVID-19 and isolated in her home, the Frederick woman said she thought she was going to die.
Barry, 67, was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, on March 23. She was likely one of the first eight cases in Frederick County and among the four cases announced by the Frederick County Health Department on March 25.
Barry said her symptoms started with gastrointestinal problems. Then came the lethargy. She was exhausted, she said.
“And I thought, maybe I just have a little bug,” Barry said.
Her daughters — Barry has three daughters and a son — also felt sick. Barry called her doctor, who decided to test her. Barry got tested in the parking lot of her doctor’s office. She sat in her car while a health care professional stuck a very long swab up both of her nostrils.
It was not until she looked at diagrams later that she realized how far the swab went in her nasal cavity, she said. That was on March 18.
A physician assistant called her five days later, first asking her how she felt. Then Barry learned she had COVID-19.
“And my first feeling was, ‘Oh, my God. Where’s this gonna go?’ Because now I was really starting to feel sick,” Barry said.
Between being tested and learning she had the disease, Barry said her symptoms started to get much worse. She had a sore throat and developed a fever. Her skin felt weird to touch, her knee joints hurt. She tired easily. Coughing hurt, her chest did as well.
She just felt very weak.
She was so lethargic, she said, that she could not get up to make sure she ate or drank. She became dehydrated, although she did not realize it until her daughter, who is a nurse, came over to take care of her.
“I was really lucky because when I was really sick, my daughter is a nurse and she gowned up and masked up and came over,” Barry said. “And she did my vital signs and so forth, and she said, ‘Mom, you’re really dehydrated.’ And she got me on some Gatorade, which was incredibly helpful.”
Barry experienced shortness of breath, in addition to the cough she still has, she said.
“It felt like I had been exercising and couldn’t catch my breath,” Barry said.
She also experienced one of the unique symptoms associated with COVID-19. She lost her sense of smell.
“That was terrible,” she said.
She had hyacinth flowers in the house. She could not smell them. Nor could she smell steaming, hot coffee.
During her time in isolation, her doctor’s office called to check in. As did the health department. She first spoke with Dr. Randall Culpepper, the county’s deputy health officer. Then another person from the department called everyday to check in and see if she needed anything.
“And they were wonderful,” Barry said.
She was alone in isolation.
“I was so sick it didn’t really bother me,” Barry said. “I was happy to be here and not at the hospital.”
Her sense of smell is coming back, she said. And while she has been cleared to leave isolation, she is still cautious. She was not tested again to ensure she had a negative test result, something she would have liked.
She went out to the store to get items she needed since she was isolated in her house for about 19 days. But other than that, she said she is nervous to leave her home. She does not want to get anyone else sick.
That’s been her thought the entire time.
“I hope nobody else gets this,” Barry said. “I felt like I know I’ll get through this because that’s my nature, and I knew that my family members are keeping a close watch on me.”
A family affair
Barry’s boyfriend Jim Quinn was with her the days before she started feeling symptoms, he said. He left knowing something was wrong with her. He chose to self-quarantine since Barry was symptomatic.
He never developed symptoms, he said. He’s staying in his house, even now. He doesn’t want to risk catching it. Barry visited him the other day, he said.
But while she was sick, he said he was concerned. He couldn’t see her and he knew Barry was getting sicker.
“I knew it was rough,” he said. “She could hardly talk.”
He knew there was little that he could do for Barry, but he felt confident that she was in good care from her daughter.
“It’s been an experience to say the least,” he said.
He worries for Barry’s daughter who cared for her while she was sick. She was tested and received a negative test. So did another of Barry’s daughters, although Barry is skeptical since her daughter had the same symptoms.
Barry had also visited another daughter in the days before she got sick. Barry does not know where she contracted the illness, but it is likely that she passed it along to her daughter Katie Downes.
Downes, 34, is pregnant. She lives in Prince George’s County, one of the two counties with more than 500 confirmed cases of the disease. She received her test on March 24, a day after her mother learned she was positive. Downes received her positive results on March 27, she said.
Downes did her test at the Anne Arundel Medical Center since her doctor is in Anne Arundel County, she said.
When she first started getting symptoms, she thought that she was getting a cold, she said. She had a mild cough and some heaviness in her chest. Her job as a mental health therapist requires her to talk often, and she often had to clear her throat.
But then she started to develop more of the symptoms that her mother had. She had congestion, fatigue and headaches. She also lost her sense of smell and taste, which have not come back yet, she said.
The lack of smell and taste is “bizarre,” she said.
When she would sniff something hot, it felt like sniffing regular, cold air, she said. She thinks she might be getting some sensation back. But as someone who is 24-weeks pregnant, it is frustrating to not be able to smell or taste food since her appetite is bigger.
“I’ve been trying to enjoy the foods that I’m eating as if I can remember what they taste like,” Downes said. “And smell like.”
Finding out she was positive for COVID-19 scared Downes, she said. She knew her mother had a rough time and she was not sure what her experience would be like with the disease.
“When I first found out that my mom was actually positive, I kind of broke down a little bit, and gave myself a day and a half and cried because ... I was just scared of what does this mean for me?” Downes said.
She knew from doing some research that it was unlikely that she could transfer the disease to her baby.
“But at the same time, if I’m not OK, he’s not OK,” she said.
She was concerned about developing a fever or pneumonia. She had not taken medication during her pregnancy and she did not want to start taking something because of having COVID-19.
“So I was terrified. At first, I was like, ‘What does this mean?’” she said. “And I don’t want to die and I don’t want to have pneumonia.”
And she worried for her mom. She lives the farthest away of her siblings, and she felt a little helpless. She was very concerned for her mother, she said.
She started isolating after being with her mom because she did not want to potentially spread the disease. Then she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
She continued to telework while sick, never having to take off, she said.
Lessons from COVID-19
The disease affects everyone differently, Downes said. Her advice to others is to eat well, exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If people start noticing symptoms that are worse, then they should not hesitate to go to the hospital. People should trust their instincts.
And people should take their family into consideration and stay home to try and slow the spread of the disease.
“Even if we are overreacting with all of this, I would rather overreact than underreact,” Downes said.
Barry posted on Facebook throughout her time with COVID-19, she said. In her posts, she encouraged people to stay safe and social distance. She misses her grandchildren and family, she wrote.
So does Quinn, who is isolating from his family to keep them safe. But Barry and Quinn both want to keep their families safe and prevent the spread of the disease.
Barry wants people to know COVID-19 is not the flu and that it should be taken seriously. On her first day out, she ran into two people downplaying the disease. She told them off, she said.
Like Downes, Barry said people react differently to the disease. Some get mild cases, others can die from it. And with it being widespread, people never know where they might get it.
Barry does not want anyone else to get sick. Now that she is better, Barry is looking to see how she can help.
She reached out to the National Institutes of Health to volunteer for their clinical trials to test those who have recovered. She heard back Friday.
Now, she hopes that as one of the 20 people who have recovered in Frederick County, she can help expand the understanding of COVID-19.