HCMC nurse with COVID-19: ‘I’m doing much better’

Jennifer Vongroven

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer Vongroven, bedside nurse, HCMC

I’m doing much better. I still sound a little crappy and have a bit of a cough, but I’m returning to work this evening. 

I have been home for two weeks [with COVID-19]. A lot of those days I was just lying in bed. I’d get up to make something to eat a couple of times a day and that’s pretty much it. The fever lasted about five, six days, and I’ve had a sensitive stomach, but it’s been mostly just a cough, general weakness and shortness of breath. The strangest symptom has been eye pain. It felt like the muscle that runs along the top of the eye — superior rectus — was inflamed, and my eyelids were swollen for days.

I typically get between 12,000 and 17,000 steps on an average workday, and I was getting less than 1,000. My goal for the past three days has been to walk 10,000 steps a day before going to work tonight so I don’t die. [Laughs.] We’ll see how things go. It’s just a short eight-hour shift and then I’m off for a couple of days, so it’s a little intro. 

It’s going to be hard for my dog Kaia when I go into work tonight because she’s been by my side the entire time, and so now I’m worried she’s become a little too attached. 

I haven’t talked to my co-workers too much during the surge. I’ve been using the time to convalesce, relax, heal and focus on my daily lung exercises. I do have a lot of messages from people saying, “We can’t wait to see you.” I’m looking forward to seeing my coworkers again, though I am nervous because I don’t know what my energy level is. I haven’t had to maintain anything for any period of time. I am trepidatious, but I’m ready to try! 

Next weekend I’m working three 12-hour shifts, which is really terrifying. I’m going to try to stay as active as possible this week to mentally and physically prepare my body. Because after two weeks of doing a whole lot of nothing, I need to be able to move. 

Am I less afraid of contracting the virus now? Heck yeah. I’m full of antibodies as we speak. I’m not going to make any changes in how I use PPE because I could still spread it to others. Also, we don’t know a lot about this disease. We think the antibodies last 90 days, but for some it’s longer and for others they’ve disappeared by that point. So I’m not taking any risks. But there is a freedom to be able to hug someone and know I’m not going to get sick or give them the disease at this moment — per our knowledge thus far. It’s nice to have a bit of a leeway, but it’s not going to change many things for me. 

The last person in my family who I saw at the wedding while I was contagious got their COVID test result today, and it was negative. I got that news today, so officially nobody who I was exposed to got it. 

I have a roommate and she has gotten a negative COVID test. Every time I left my bedroom to walk around the house, I had a mask on. I performed hand hygiene every time I left my room. My roommate is still quarantining before going back to work just in case — but masks work, hand hygiene works. I feel validated by science. It feels really, really good. There are a lot of people sick right now and they need some healthy nurses.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.