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Sick and concerned: Arizonans talk about their coronavirus experience

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 3/19/2020 The Arizona Republic

Our Arizona community is hurting right now. Here are stories of people who are concerned about their health and COVID-19.

a woman standing on a beach: Madeline Snyder, a Northern Arizona University student, tested positive for the new coronavirus while studying abroad in Greece. © Submitted by Madeline Snyder Madeline Snyder, a Northern Arizona University student, tested positive for the new coronavirus while studying abroad in Greece.

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NAU student: Stranded in Greece

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Madeline Snyder planned to travel to Barcelona this weekend and to Crete after that. Then a trip around Europe to see friends.

Instead, the Northern Arizona University student, who is studying abroad at the American College of Greece outside Athens, ended up with the new coronavirus.

The 19-year-old from Chandler was tested March 11, when a doctor in protective gear came to her university housing complex and stuck cotton swabs far up her nostrils. By later that night, she knew she had tested positive. She believes she got it from a friend who also tested positive.

Now, she’s stuck in isolation in Greece for the time being, away from her family back in Arizona.

“I just really have to take a step back and put it into perspective: Everyone is being asked to do things they wouldn’t normally do,” Snyder said.

Other people are losing out income, becoming sicker and missing out on major milestones, she said.

“My situation is more a funny little mishap as opposed to people whose lives are going to be drastically impacted ... (coronavirus) has really humbled me in that sense,” she said.

She has been isolated in her apartment for a week so far, but she can still see friends on their balconies if she steps out on hers. She’s been passing the time first with rest, then with books, movies and music. She also has homework to do; her classes have moved online.

NAU has been in touch with her to provide support, as has the U.S. Embassy. She’s also regularly talking to her parents, who offered to fly over to take care of her. She’s coping by making jokes and maintaining her sense of humor, despite the strange times she’s living through.

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She hopes people are taking COVID-19 seriously and making efforts to keep themselves and others safe. Before the virus arrived in her community in Greece, it seemed like a faraway idea. She was traveling a lot and spending a lot of time with other students before she got symptoms.

“How quickly it changed my day-to-day activities was pretty crazy,” Snyder said.

Her symptoms from coronavirus, like aches and fever, are subsiding, although she ended up with a sinus infection on top of it.

She’s not sure when her quarantine will end, if she’ll have to take another coronavirus test to ensure she no longer has the virus or how the process will work once she reenters the United States. There could be long lines, canceled flights, uncertainty around forms that need to be filled out, she said.

“I know I’ll get home eventually,” Snyder said.

Once she’s back, she looks forward to flushing toilet paper (instead of putting it in a waste basket) and drinking sweeter iced coffee than what’s typical in Greece.

“I’m mostly just excited to see my family and friends — eventually.”

— Rachel Leingang

Hospitalized after trip to Disneyland

Crystal Parker of Gilbert was at Disneyland with her daughter and eight other families from the Valley on March 14 and was admitted to a Mesa hospital with breathing problems March 15.

a person wearing a hat posing for the camera: Crystal Parker and her daughter Cassidy Parker pictured at Universal Studios in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. They went to Disneyland in the days after. © Photo: Submitted by Crystal Parker Crystal Parker and her daughter Cassidy Parker pictured at Universal Studios in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. They went to Disneyland in the days after.

She worried that it might be the coronavirus.

She was discharged March 17 with no answers about whether she is infected.

“I have a right to know if I have coronavirus,” said Parker, 41, a mother of two. “The Arizona families I traveled with have a right to know if I have it or not. And the Valley’s coronavirus statistics should accurately reflect whether I have it or not.”

Parker, who works in information technology,  said she was tested for the new coronavirus, also called COVID-19, as soon as she got to the emergency room at Banner Desert Medical Center. She was struggling to breathe, was admitted to the hospital, and said the workers who treated her wore full-bodied personal protective equipment.

In addition to breathing problems, her symptoms included a dry, non-productive cough and a sore throat. But the worst part was the breathing. It felt as though her lungs were on fire, she said.

The hospital is following state testing guidelines that say severely ill people should be tested but only if other respiratory illnesses have been ruled out, Parker said — a fact Banner officials confirmed with The Arizona Republic, though they stressed they cannot comment on individual cases due to patient privacy.

Parker tested positive for rhinovirus, and so her COVID-19 test was never processed, she said.

“A rhinovirus is like a cold. I’ve never been hospitalized for a cold,” Parker said, her voice shaking. “We were in Disneyland with eight other families, and all these families are now on lockdown.”

Banner officials said if Parker is still feeling ill, she should call her primary care physician. Parker said she just wants to know the results of her test.

Seeking additional help, Parker called the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 844-542-8201 but said the only advice she got was to stay home.

“If I am positive, the impact is huge. We were at Universal Studios before Disneyland,” she said. “I just feel so crappy now that it’s hard to fight.”

The families were all in California because Parker’s daughter and her dance troupe were going to perform at Disneyland. The performance was canceled.

When she was discharged from the hospital, Parker said she was sent home with a stack of masks and told to self-quarantine herself and her kids for two weeks.

She’s behaving as though she’s positive for COVID-19, even though no one will tell her whether or not that’s true. 

— Stephanie Innes

Living in 'COVID-19 purgatory'

Wilamina Smith first became ill on March 8, with a general achy feeling that turned into a severe cough and a burning feeling in her lungs.

By March 11 she was running a fever of 102 degrees, and her cough became deeper and so painful that her ribs were sore.

The 62-year-old Peoria resident on Wednesday remained at home living in what she called “COVID-19 purgatory.” She’s sick, has been trying for days to get a test, and doesn’t know when she should stop her self-isolation.

a woman smiling for the camera: Wilamina Smith said she had been trying for days to be tested for the coronavirus. © Photo: Submitted by Wilamina Smith Wilamina Smith said she had been trying for days to be tested for the coronavirus.

Smith said she received several notes from her primary care physician saying there’s a lack of tests and personal protective equipment in the community that’s making it too difficult to test everyone who wants a test.

“I can’t get tested. It’s completely impossible right now,” said Smith, who is a shopper for a grocery store delivery company.  “I’m afraid to go to work.”

Smith is also an Airbnb host but has given that up while she’s ill.

“I’m way better than I was, but I am frustrated,” she said, adding that she’s needed at work. “My friends wanted to come over and help me but I had to tell them, ‘Don’t come.’ I am totally on this island, alone.”

Smith said she’s losing faith in the public health system because it’s so unclear how many people are infected with COVID-19. She tries to take care of her health and has had both a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine.

“It seems no one wants to know or admit the seriousness of the issue. Just shut down the world and hope for the best. Ridiculous,” she said. “This doesn’t feel like a cold or the flu. I’ve had both over many years.”

— Stephanie Innes

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sick and concerned: Arizonans talk about their coronavirus experience

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