As Sarah Sumner awaited results for her coronavirus test, she spent 12 long days in self-isolation, trying to keep both her physical and mental health strong.
“I just felt terrible,” Sumner said. “There were definitely hard days. It was almost like a grieving process where I was angry then finally came to acceptance.”
On March 26, Sumner received confirmation of what she long suspected: She tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the fourth confirmed case in La Plata County since testing began in earnest earlier in March.
As of Tuesday, La Plata County had 23 confirmed cases, though it is unknown exactly how many tests have been conducted.
“It was pretty intense, but then I was able to accept it and move forward,” she said.
Sumner, 61, who has lived in Durango since 1978, was initially reluctant to come forward with her story about surviving coronavirus. But after some thought, she decided it would help inform more people about what the virus is like and provide an opportunity to remind people how to prevent its spread.
“At first, I was fearful,” she said. “But we have to normalize this. We haven’t even seen the biggest impacts in the U.S., and certainly not in our county. I thought I needed to share my story in order to help others.”
Sumner’s story begins at the end of January when she visited Oregon, where she attended a couple of large events and shook the hands of hundreds of people.
At the time, coronavirus was a far-off threat, isolated to China. She was aware of a more common seasonal flu people were getting, so she took precautions, washing her hands and being careful in the airport.
Around Feb. 10, back in Durango, Sumner started experiencing a fever, body aches and shortness of breath.
“I got sicker than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she said “I just thought it was the flu, but everything was so extreme.”
She self-isolated and took care of herself, but she was taken aback at the seriousness of the symptoms.
“I’m a very healthy person and hardly get sick,” Sumner said. “But one night, I thought if it gets worse, I’ll need to go to the ER. That was the first time it hit home … that an older person or someone not as healthy could die.”
Because coronavirus wasn’t as high on health officials’ radar, Sumner wasn’t tested during the height of her symptoms for the disease. She recovered and things went back to normal – until she got another fever March 12.
With coronavirus on everyone’s mind, Sumner pushed to be tested at Mercy Regional Medical Center on March 14, which took about 30 minutes and involved getting a swab test of her throat.
Mercy now offers tests only to people showing severe symptoms to conserve testing kits that are in low supply throughout the country.
As Sumner awaited the test results, which took 12 days, she took a lot of vitamin C and Tylenol when needed, as well as herbs aimed at healing the body. She also watched a lot of comedy movies and meditated to keep herself positive.
Both Mercy and San Juan Basin Public Health declined to talk about Sumner’s case, citing patient privacy laws. Sumner provided The Durango Herald with her test results.
The illness itself was milder than the one she went through in February. By March 18, her fever went down. But to this day, she still deals with bouts of fatigue.
Sumner brought her story forward, she said, to highlight the fact the entire country, the world even, needs to band together to get through the pandemic.
“It’s brought people together, in a way,” she said. “Humans really come together in crisis, I’m seeing that, and it’s really reassuring. We’re all in this together, and together, we will get through this.”