The U.S. is failing in the fight against COVID-19. States are setting new records for infections on a daily basis. Hospitals are approaching capacity. Reopenings are being rolled back. And PPE is again running scarce in some places.
Recently Maryland Matters reporter Bruce DePuyt spoke with Sharrarne Morton, a 54-year-old Prince George’s County resident who contracted coronavirus in March.
She survived, but only thanks to family members, who refused to leave her side, and her medical team.
In a candid Q&A, Morton, who hosts a weekly business program on Sirius Radio, reflects on her harrowing experience, the debate about masks, and why people must remain vigilant, even as social distancing fatigue invariably intensifies.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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Maryland Matters: Do you remember the moment you started to feel bad?
Sharrarne Morton: Yes. I felt excruciating pain in the middle of the night. I got up to try to go to the bathroom and I literally couldn’t move my legs out of the bed. Of course I was terrified. I wasn’t thinking COVID. I just didn’t know what was going on and I was scared.
I screamed out for my daughters and they came running in. I was crying. And I told them I can’t move and I’m in such pain. They practically carried me to the bathroom, but I couldn’t get off the toilet by myself. I couldn’t move. That’s when it hit me.
MM: Did you have any reason to believe you had been exposed to COVID-19?
Morton: No. I didn’t have any coughing or sore throat or fever. No temperature. Nothing. At first I thought it was a deadly disease or something and then the symptoms got even worse. And I figured it was coronavirus.
MM: So you went to bed feeling fine, and this was the farthest thing from your mind.
Morton: Of course. In fact, a couple of days before, my daughters were teaching me how to do some of these dances that are circulating on social media. We posted a video of it on Facebook and we’re laughing and having a good time and we got all these likes. That was three days before I got sick.
MM: What happened next?
Morton: I took Alka-Seltzer Plus and thought by tomorrow I should be feeling better. I couldn’t believe I was going to get coronavirus because I was in good shape and in good health. And the next day I thought I was going to die. The pain got worse. It was all over my body and I still couldn’t walk. That was the scariest part.
I stayed in the bed terrified. My kids were scared. I was especially afraid because they had come in to help me the night before, and I didn’t have on a mask and they didn’t have on a mask. In fact, this was back in March, we didn’t even have any masks.
I kept telling them stay away, but they wouldn’t stay away because they said ‘you’re going to get worse.’ Which was so true.
And I made the mistake of not going to the doctor right away. I just stayed at home, taking home remedies and thinking I would get better. And I got progressively worse.
MM: Did you call the doctor?
Morton: I had to go to the hospital. By this point my mother is horrified and so she moved in temporarily, which I don’t want, because she’s an elderly person. She said, ‘I’m not going to let my daughter go through this without me helping her.’
They had two big tents in the parking lot at the hospital. You had to go into the tents — alone — and get your temperature taken and answer all these questions. They’re dressed in HazMat suits and all the PPE you can imagine. Some have air packs on their backs for oxygen.
They had no cure. They don’t know what to do. The emergency doctor told me, ‘Listen, we have no clue about this virus. We’re guessing every day.’
She said, ‘I can look at you and tell that you have it because we’ve been seeing dozens of people every day. But we have no cure and no clue. The only thing I can do is send you back home and have you and your family self-quarantine.’
So they sent me back home and I got worse. I couldn’t walk around or fix myself something to eat or anything.
MM: That’s awful. I’m sorry you had to go through all this.
Morton: Thank you. I’m just glad I’m alive to tell you this story.
MM: What happened then?
Morton: A friend of mine who is a doctor — after she heard what I was going through — she said it has attacked your digestive system. Because I was losing my appetite and my sense of taste. And everything that I would attempt to eat or drink — with the exception of Gatorade — would come back up. So I was projectile vomiting everything. Even chicken noodle soup, which my mother was trying to feed me.
I had lost 13 or 14 pounds over that 10 days.
I had so many friends who were dropping off remedies and food and Gatorade, because my family was growing desperate. They could see where this was headed.
After about five days, my daughters drove me to Kaiser [Permanente] and went into urgent care and they told me my vitals were bad, my blood pressure was through the roof. My body was devoid of potassium, magnesium and other minerals. I was in bad shape. So they gave me all these IV’s to keep me from dying, but there still was nothing they could give me for the virus.
MM: Had you ever felt this bad before?
Morton: It was the worst thing ever. Worse than labor.
They kept me overnight and sent me home. But I ended up going back three or four days later. I kept spitting up tons of mucus every day. And I later found out from a doctor that that was a good thing, because it could have stayed in my lungs, and I might have ended up on a ventilator and might not have made it.
I ended up at Holy Cross [Hospital] and they kept me overnight because by this point the virus hasn’t just attacked my digestive system, it’s attacked my liver. My numbers looked like I had cirrhosis. They were like, how much do you drink — and I said none!
I also had hyperthyroidism, out of the blue, which I’m still taking medication for.
It was so crazy that this virus did all these things to me.
MM: How did you keep it together mentally?
Morton: I think I drew on the strength of my daughters and my mother. My mother just kept telling me, ‘Sharrarne, don’t lose faith. God is not going to let you leave.’ And my children kept telling me, ‘Mom, we’re not going to let you die.’ They just kept telling me that.
If I had been by myself, I know I would have died. I willed myself to live because of my family.
At one point I pulled out my will and my life insurance policy and went over it with my kids, because I thought God is just calling me home. But my mother said you can’t lose your faith.
MM: When did you start to feel better?
Morton: On the last hospital visit, on the third day. They gave me so many IV’s and so much medicine. They were really on it. And I’m so grateful to them. I could walk without assistance. I started getting my appetite back.
On the fourth or fifth day they did a COVID test and I was COVID-free. And I could tell because I felt like I wasn’t going to die.
MM: It’s hard to imagine that doctors and nurses have been dealing with this pandemic every day for months.
Morton: I owe my life to them. I can’t imagine being a mother of small children like some of my nurses, and coming into a hospital full of COVID patients every day. The courage that it takes to show up for work every day as a front line person. And not just the doctors and nurses but the janitors — they were there cleaning up — and the ambulance workers and EMTs.
The strength that it takes to do those jobs — I just take my hat off to them and I thank them. So many of us owe our lives to them. They’re taking care of strangers, because they believe in what they’re doing.
I had a great doctor. He had a great sense of humor, which my made my stay better. Because it’s a lonely stay when you can’t have family and friends come visit you. You’re in there all alone.
MM: What do you make of the spikes that we’re seeing in so many states?
Morton: It angers me, because of what I’ve gone through. To see so many people being selfish and stupid. And willing to risk the lives of their family members. To be purposeful about not having protection or social distancing.
And for crazy politicians to say the increase in positive cases is a result of increased testing.
Their job is to ensure that your constituents are safe, and one of the ways to do that is to show that you care about them.
It makes me very angry, because I know what I went through and I know people who’ve gone through even worse. I just don’t get how these people who don’t want to wear masks and don’t want to socially distance can call themselves human beings.
It’s really painful to see it, to be honest.
MM: Even people who are vigilant may get precaution fatigue.
Morton: I am fatigued too. I used to be a very outgoing person. This is a challenge for me as well, but I think we all have to not be selfish and think about the greater good. And of course that’s not easy, but some times we have to think about the faster we get closer to flattening the curve and getting a vaccine, the closer we can get back out again.
I fixed up my deck. I walk around the neighborhood. I FaceTime and Zoom with people. We’re going to be doing things differently if we want to remain safe.