TACOMA, Wash. - “There will be no one to take care of anybody if the health care workers are sick,” said Tammy Edwards, a nurse at Tacoma General Hospital who has spent the past seven months recovering from COVID-19.
Tammy, who works in the birthing units, caught the coronavirus at work in April. Soon after, her husband Brian started showing symptoms.
“We both thought we were going to die. We took turns sleeping. And I'll never forget it, you don't know if you're going to wake up,” she said.
While Tammy would consider her own case to be moderate at the time, Brian’s quickly turned severe. By mid-April, she called 911 and he was taken away in an ambulance.
“I just fell to my knees,” Tammy said. “And I was thinking, ‘I’m never going to see him again.’”
Brian spent 26 days at the hospital, 11 of them on a ventilator. Fighting for his life, he eventually pulled through.
“There was a lot of guilt,” Tammy said. ”I still feel really bad that he was so sick and nearly died.”
While Brian’s case of COVID-19 nearly took his life, Tammy’s case is now taking her quality of life. She spent seven months unable to work and is considered a COVID-19 ‘long hauler,’ someone who still battles symptoms months after contracting the virus.
“It almost feels like you're constantly recovering from the flu or you feel like you've been hit by a bus,” she said.
This month, she returned to work for the first time, to the same floor where she first caught COVID-19. Her third shift back, she came face to face with the virus, assigned to a COVID-positive patient.
“It hit me kind of hard,” she said. “I’m extremely worried. It was passed onto me very, very easily.”
“Who's to say that I don't bring it home again and get [Brian] sick again. I need people to do their part.”
On the front lines, health care workers like Tammy are risking their own health and the health of their family to treat people. As COVID-19 cases surge in Washington state, so do hospitalizations.
“And we're losing people, people are dying,” Tammy said. “And if we keep going at this rate, it makes me really sad, because it's so easy and so simple to do.”
Tammy is giving a personal plea to the community to wear masks outside the home and avoid gathering in groups. Containing the spread is the only way to lessen the risk to the community and all health care workers. Health officials said this week that COVID-19 is spreading in the state at rates not seen since the start of the outbreak.
“Just think about your elders or the people that you love,” Tammy said. “Just think about them being gone, not here anymore, never to talk to them again.”
It was her worst fear with Brian. Clutching his hand, she thanked him for being alive, for fighting, for not giving up.
“Every time we think about it we start to cry,” she said as they both chuckled off the overwhelming emotion of nearly losing a partner.