COVID-19 patient shares ‘nightmare’ journey

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Laura Wendholt of Jasper stands in her window for a portrait at her home on Tuesday. Wendholt is slowly regaining strength after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in April.


JASPER — The worst days were interrupted by gaps in her memory.

Pauses that erased the stabbing pains. Lost time that lifted the elephant from her chest.

Laura Wendholt can’t remember everything from the weeks she lay in a sedentary haze in her Jasper bedroom — her terrified mind turning off and on as the novel coronavirus ravaged her body.

She believes the worst has passed. But as Wendholt gradually regains strength and reteaches her muscles how to move, she has a message for those who doubt the dangers of the novel coronavirus.

“People just do not take this serious,” Wendholt said. “People need to take this serious.”

For much of the past six weeks, the 36-year-old woman’s life has been a living nightmare.

A pharmacy technician, she first learned of COVID-19 in early March, back before the illness spread inside her. Back before it afflicted her with bronchitis, pneumonia and pulmonary embolisms in each of her lungs.

The virus seemed far away back then. Wendholt remembered thinking it was like the flu.

Near the end of that month, she developed what she thought was a stomach bug. Her condition deteriorated a week later, as dizziness, chest tightness, a cough as well as rotating bouts of chills and hot flashes told her something was wrong.

Tylenol didn’t alleviate the symptoms. So, she went to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s screening site in Jasper. She said she was given a chest X-ray and tested for “everything except COVID-19” because she didn’t qualify for a test. After all the results came back negative, Wendholt was sent home, frustrated, with a Z-Pak.

“And then everything kind of just went downhill from there,” she recalled.

Intense fatigue. A resting pulse rate of up to 120 beats per minute. Worsening chest tightness and an inability to catch her breath.

Wendholt — who, aside from having a couple of autoimmune conditions that doctors said shouldn’t have put her at a higher risk of complications, was in good physical health before falling ill — couldn’t walk down a hallway in her home without feeling winded. Her gasps for air prevented her from sleeping, but she stayed in bed, praying that she would make it through.

“I just prayed every day to God that this nightmare was going to go away,” Wendholt said.

Her condition worsened further — to the point that she couldn’t stand up without having to catch her breath. Wendholt returned to the testing site on April 10. Two days later, after losing her senses of taste and smell and developing pink eye, she was informed that she was officially the 13th confirmed case of COVID-19 in Dubois County.

Her life did not improve after the diagnosis. She visited the emergency room twice when symptoms intensified, was given medication for her complications, and told each time to monitor herself at home and return if her body’s reaction took a sudden turn.

“If you fall asleep, you’re kind of scared if you’re going to wake up or not,” Wendholt said of the fear that comes with fighting from home.

When she was at her worst, she was barely coherent. She can’t remember some days at all. Her husband, Nathan, would don a mask and make sure Wendholt drank fluids. Days passed when she didn’t eat a thing.

Her and Nathan’s children, Kaleb, 12, and Reid, 9, were kept away from Mom as much as possible, and being away from them made her lonely. Now, six weeks after she believes the virus began its attack, Wendholt is improving.

She is out of quarantine and engaging in physical rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital to bring back her strength. The confusion that plagued her consciousness has dissipated. She can sit up and even walk around the house and up the stairs again — slowly — without being totally out of breath.

Still, these literal small steps forward are only the beginning for Wendholt.

“It’s so slow,” she said of the process. “Normally, anytime you’re sick, you’re always used to bouncing right back. And it is so slow. This is just taking forever.”

She sleeps for hours during the day and thinks she’s “maybe halfway” to where she was before. But medical professionals don’t know when she’ll get back there — if she ever will. Due to the virus’ many unknowns, she’s also been told there’s a chance she could contract the virus again someday.

To date, Dubois County’s case count sits at 58, with 26 recoveries (Wendholt is considered a recovery) and two deaths. Wendholt hopes her story highlights the serious, potentially debilitating nature of the illness. She stressed the importance of wearing masks, washing or sanitizing hands and staying at least 6 feet apart from others.

The Herald wants to tell the stories of others who are fighting COVID-19. Contact to share yours.

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