Amy Driscoll never thought when she fell ill earlier this month that she would be diagnosed with COVID-19 — but that’s exactly what happened to the Ohio mother of four, and she’s now sharing her story in hopes that others will take the virus seriously.
“I knew what was happening [around the world]. I just didn’t know it was going to be happening to me, which is probably the truth for most of us,” Driscoll, 48, tells PEOPLE. “For a long time, we all saw it in China, and we saw the cruise ships, and it seemed somewhat remote and far away from all of us.”
“Then it was Italy, and even in Italy, it kind of still seemed really far away, and now it’s not Italy, it’s here,” she continues. “For me, that was the biggest wake-up call … like, ‘Oh, wow. It’s real, and it’s here, in my small town in Hudson, Ohio.'”
Driscoll, who works in the medical insurance industry, says her symptoms came on suddenly after a lunch with her boss on March 11.
“I come back, and I turn to her later in the afternoon and I said, ‘Man, I don’t feel good. I feel really run down… just beat up, just not myself,'” she recalls. “She goes, ‘Oh, gosh. I hope it’s not COVID-19,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’m sure it’s not’ — just jokingly.”
However, by the time she got home that evening, Driscoll says she had a 99.2-degree fever, had trouble breathing and could not walk up the stairs to her bedroom.
“It felt like I had a vice grip around my chest,” she explains. “My heart was racing all over the place. A cough that was just consuming. I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve never felt quite like this. I don’t feel right.'”
Unsure what to do, Driscoll texted her cousin, who works as a nurse, and eventually drove herself to University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center, per her cousin’s urgent suggestion.
As soon as she arrived, Driscoll says she was met outside by staff in “full gear, face mask and gloves” and then put into an isolation room for testing. Over the next two days, she was given IV fluids and antibiotics, while doctors ruled out other illnesses.
“Thursday night into Friday morning, my fever got real. I felt like my skin was melting off. I was so hot,” she says. “It was tough. It was really not like anything I’ve ever felt before, and I’ve had the flu.”
By midnight Saturday, a nurse told Driscoll that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I just turned to her and I went, ‘Are you kidding me?'” she says. “It was a little bit of a shock.”
After notifying everyone she had recently come into contact with, Driscoll says she was told by doctors on Saturday that she was “through most of the worst of this illness” and could go home to quarantine herself.
Driscoll’s 14-year-old son has been her caretaker at home, while her three other daughters stayed away. (Her eldest daughter is pregnant and living with her boyfriend; another daughter returned from college but is living with her father, Driscoll’s ex; and the other one lives on her own.)
Though her life was unexpectedly disrupted by the COVID-19 diagnosis, Driscoll found that when she returned home, many others in her community didn’t understand the severity of the illness.
“I had gotten on Facebook for the first time in a couple of days… and I was just kind of shocked like that everyone was still making plans for spring break,” she explains. “Then I got to a post from a high school friend who said, ‘Is COVID-19 even real? I don’t know anyone.’ They had tons and tons of responses, and everybody was like, ‘This isn’t real. This is the government trying to make us do things. I don’t know anyone.'”
Wanting to make a point that the virus was, in fact, real, Driscoll came forward with her story on Facebook.
In the post, the mother of four — who goes by her maiden name Brock on the social networking site — explained that she was healthy before becoming Summit County’s second coronavirus case, had no idea where she contracted the virus and urged people to take it seriously.
As of Friday afternoon, there have been at least 15,650 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 202 deaths in the U.S., according to the New York Times. In Ohio alone, there are at least 120 reported cases but no confirmed deaths, according to the Times.
Since Driscoll opened up on March 14, her post has been shared over 30,000 times.
“People identified with what I had to say, and that I was a real person, and that my story was real, and that it made them understand the illness, and what it does to people in a really very real way that they really hadn’t had a lot of exposure to before,” she explains.
“I just have high blood pressure, which they didn’t necessarily consider an underlying condition,” she continues. “Even still, I was struck. I was struck like a lightning bolt. It can happen to people who are young and healthy with no underlying conditions.”
Now in isolation with her teen son — whom Driscoll says has shown minor symptoms of the virus this week and might have COVID-19 — the mother has been recovering and adjusting to a new normal.
“It’s been really weird. I’m a single mom, and I work full-time … and I’m not doing any of that,” she explains. “But, I’m grateful that I’m not exposing anyone else to this and I’m totally willing to do that if that means that I’m not risking the exposure.”
Once this virus is officially behind her, Driscoll says she looks forward to giving back to her community, including those who have delivered dinners to her home and made her life easier.
“I’m hoping that soon I’m immune,” she explains. “I’m kind of grateful in that way that I got this early and now I can be a helper. I can go out in my community and get groceries for people. I can go and help people who may be sick, or whose family will be sick. I’ll be able to repay some of the kindness that’s been shown to me.”
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.
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