SPOKANE, Wash. — Leslie Laursen declined a party invitation on June 18, keeping social distancing in mind during the coronavirus pandemic. She began experiencing her first symptoms of COVID-19 the same day.
Laursen said she was out in her garden at home when she felt fatigue that she described as "beyond overwhelming." An excruciating headache and body aches that hit every joint followed close behind.
The Spokane woman, who is approaching 70 years old, also spiked fevers that climbed above 102 degrees and experienced full body chills that lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to an-hour-and-a-half.
“It was like your whole body was just involved in this overall trembling, shaking that you had no control over. The chills were from the inside out – it was like your bones, everything inside of you, was just rattling," Laursen said.
Her other symptoms included nausea, sweating, hallucinations, chest pain and a cough later on in her illness.
Laursen's husband took her into urgent care several days after her symptoms developed, as she began to feel debilitating chest pain. She said it felt like "something very heavy" was sitting on her chest and it hurt to bend over.
“It was really frightening because the last thing I wanted was to go to the hospital and end up on a ventilator. And I told my husband, ‘Do not let them do that to me. I want to be here,'" she said.
During her urgent care visit, Lauren was tested for COVID-19 — and the results came back negative. She received the same result just several days later after she was tested by her doctor in Post Falls. Two chest X-rays also came back clear.
However, both medical providers Laursen saw diagnosed her with COVID-19 in the absence of a positive test due to her symptoms. Laursen said her doctor told her that medical providers had seen a pattern of negative results among people who had symptoms of the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone can test negative for COVID-19 if they were not infected at the time the sample was collected or the sample was collected too early.
"A negative test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing or that your sample was collected too early in your infection," the CDC website reads.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But Laursen experienced symptoms of COVID-19 for just over five weeks, with severe fatigue that lasted until July 24.
Doctors are still searching for answers as to why some formerly healthy people have COVID-19 symptoms that lingers for many weeks or months. Some of these patients refer to themselves as "long-haulers."
“Someone did use that term, I believe it was my doctor [who] said 'long-hauler.' And I wasn’t sure what that meant, but now I know," Laursen said.
Laursen described an experience where she woke up from a nap on July 12, weeks after her symptoms began, feeling disoriented and unsure of where she was. Her husband, who was her caretaker while she was ill, had gone on a golfing trip that day.
That's when Laursen called her daughter, Lindy, who could tell her mother was likely suffering from a panic attack. She drove over to her mother's house and sat with her for four hours while wearing a mask.
“I was terrified to leave her because I didn't know what was going to happen next. I didn't know what cycle we're in, I didn't know if COVID had gotten in her lungs all the sudden," Lindy said.
PHOTOS: Leslie Laursen and family
The severe symptoms of COVID-19 have passed for Laursen, but she said she is still experiencing some fatigue and brain fog almost two months later.
“I’m not really that concerned right now. I think I’m over it," Laursen said. "I do worry...because I don’t know if you can get it again, I don’t know if I’m immune. But I am fearful of getting it again.”
Laursen would be considered a "recovered case" under criteria outlined by the Spokane Regional Health District: 28 days have passed since symptom onset or the date tested, the person's illness did not result in death and they are not currently hospitalized.
Following her battle with coronavirus, Laursen wants to reiterate that it's not like the flu.
"I've had the flu. I know what it's like. I know it lasts for 24 hours, or maybe a couple of days, and you feel yucky and then it's done. This is not the flu. This can do harm that can last a lifetime or it can kill you," Laursen said.
Her story also serves as a reminder that people following guidelines outlined by health officials can still contract the virus. Laursen said she always wore a mask to the grocery store, which she only visited every one-and-a-half to two weeks, and made sure to shop during the early morning hours.
Laursen also encouraged the wearing of masks in public, which is mandated in Washington state.
“You do not want to get COVID and you certainly do not want to give it somebody else or a family member. It’s a simple thing. You wear a mask," she said.
Her daughter, Lindy, wants people to know that coronavirus can manifest itself differently for every person.
“For me, I think my message to people would be to just not assume that COVID is going to hit you like it’s going to hit somebody else, like it’s going to hit the person down the street. And that it’s real. It’s not a hoax," Lindy said.