Tammy Cheatum thought her allergies were acting up. With a scratchy throat, the 54-year-old Orchard woman was sure the fall season was taking its toll. But when her temperature reached 101.4, she decided she should be tested for COVID-19.
“I was sure I would be negative,” Cheatum said over the weekend. “I was tested on a Friday, and by Sunday, they called and said I was positive. I started crying. I didn’t want this.”
Cheatum, who is a staff developer at the Educational Service Unit 8 in Neligh, became the 25th positive test in Antelope County. Her husband, Glen, 55, was never tested but had common symptoms. Because there are so many questions with COVID-19, the couple wanted to share their experience in hopes of helping others.
“It affects people differently, but for me, I’ve never been this sick in my life,” Tammy told the Antelope County News. “I didn’t know what to expect, so I just thought sharing my experience might help someone else. I was very sick and fatigued, but I was also very lucky. I don’t want to scare people, but I do want to help them.”
Tammy, who said she considers herself very cautious in public, said it’s believed her case was community spread, meaning someone was asymptomatic and likely spread the coronavirus without even realizing it.
“What’s scary is somebody I got it from didn’t have it as bad as I did and probably didn’t even know,” she said. “I want people to take that extra precaution. Right now I don't think we can let our guard down because everything is not OK yet.”
Tammy said she understands how easy that can happen since her husband didn’t run a fever. Because he quarantined with his wife, Glen may have kept from spreading the virus.
“They said I could have exposed people the 48 hours before I showed symptoms,” Tammy said. “Glen didn’t have symptoms for days later and never ran a fever, so he could have been at games before he knew he had it. That’s the scary part. It’s different for everyone, and you can expose people before you know you have it.”
Tammy said she lost her sense of smell and appetite about four days after her positive test. That’s also when fatigue struck, making it difficult to walk to the bathroom, much less up the stairs. Tammy said the rest of the week was a blur of sickness and fatigue. She tried to eat fruit and peanut butter for protein. By the beginning of the next week, she was weak enough she contacted her doctor, who agreed to see her at the end of the day when other patients were gone.
“I was worried about pneumonia because I was coughing so much, but my oxygen level was at 94,” she said. “He said my lungs sounded clear, and I was so relieved. I had packed a bag because I didn’t know if I’d have to stay, but I got to go home.”
Meanwhile, Glen had lost his sense of smell and taste. He had body aches, a cough and no energy. He never did run a temperature.
Tammy said she felt so poorly that isolation was easy. She simply didn’t want to be out with people. As for Glen, he was able to work because “it’s pretty isolated in a tractor by yourself,” Tammy said.
They couple, who will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary on Wednesday, avoided people. Avid sports fans, they watched their nieces play volleyball online instead of attending. Friends left groceries and meals on their front steps.
“People called and checked on us. They brought us meals because we couldn’t go out. They were wonderful,” Tammy said.
Glen’s sense of smell and taste have returned, and Tammy can smell again as well. Although both have surpassed their isolation and quarantine timeframes, Tammy is still not returning to work in Neligh until later in the week. She’ll be using Zoom for several half days, giving herself extra time to recover from the lingering fatigue.
Tammy said she still has questions about her illness, such as if she’s now considered recovered by the North Central District Health Department. She also wonders if she can contract the virus again or if she has antibodies against it.
While her questions remain, Tammy said she wants to provide answers to others who wonder what the virus was like for her — even though it may be different for someone else.
“I never want to be this sick again,” Tammy said. “I will never take my health for granted again. I realize not everyone will get extreme symptoms, and even I wasn’t put on a ventilator, but this is something to take seriously. You don’t know who you are exposing to it if you don’t have symptoms.”