There is no denying that SARS-CoV-2 has impacted our community and as of this writing, there have been 2,487 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 20 deaths in Door County. Earlier this year, we spoke with two members of the Door County Community to understand how, on an individual level, Door County residents had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. We spoke with Katie Smullen—elementary school teacher and mother of two girls ages 6 and 5, and with Katie Rankin—occupational therapist at Sunset Elementary School and mother of a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has your life been affected since COVID-19 came into our world?
Katie Smullen: I have two girls, so in March, I immediately went from working part-time to home schooling full-time and still working part-time, which was a lot for my two young girls. We took it very seriously from the beginning—just hunkered down. I learned how to bake bread and we stopped going to restaurants, we stopped going to church—we really stopped going anywhere that was unnecessary.
Katie Rankin: Life since March has been challenging, and very stressful. Trying to explain to my kids the reasons we can’t go places—to the park, to see their grandparents—that has been the biggest challenge. Both sets of grandparents are getting older and have health issues, so we’ve really had to limit our contact, and that’s been hard for the kids, and for us as well—we miss those contacts.
Walk us through your personal experience with COVID-19.
Katie Smullen: It was the end of the week, and I thought, “I’m so tired,” but we have so much going on, so of course I’m tired. On Saturday of that week we went to say goodbye to my husband’s parents because they were going to Florida, and the next day I felt really yucky—something felt wrong. I called into work and told them I was getting a test. I got the test on Monday, and then, I started to feel better, and immediately guilt set in because I’m an elementary school teacher and I know we’re short on subs and I felt like I was letting everybody down—you know, it was like, “I’m better, I think I was just tired and exhausted.”
So, when the results came back on Wednesday that I was positive, I immediately thought of my in-laws. We don’t really see anybody, but we weren’t going to see them for a long time, so we went to say goodbye, and as a result, I was in their house with them—without a mask—and I kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, I could have just exposed two people, who are in their 70s, who I love and who welcomed me into the family.”
It was the next day, following my positive test that I started to feel really sick. In the end, I had a pretty mild case, although the headaches were pretty wicked. My whole family had to quarantine. All of my students had to quarantine, which felt awful because my kids love to be at school, and anybody I had been in contact with at school had to go home and isolate. I think my youngest may have been infected because she had some mild symptoms, but that’s why we quarantined and didn’t go anywhere.
Katie Rankin: My COVID-19 experience started with your basic sore throat. I was thinking that it was maybe just allergies or it’s a cold—the school year is starting and we all plan to get sick, it’s just something that happens. Then my husband tested positive, so I thought I should also get tested, and shortly after my results came back positive, I completely lost the ability to taste or smell anything.
Pretty quickly after that, my heart began to race—pretty much non-stop, all day. By that point I was already in bed with body aches, feeling like I couldn’t really care for myself. So, I would be lying in bed and my heart would be racing, and I would take a deep breath to calm myself down from what I thought could be a panic attack. But, I was unable to take deep breaths—this was about 5 days into my experience with COVID-19—and it continually got worse, so that even shallow breaths began to be painful.
At that point I said to my husband, “I think I need to go to the hospital.” Thankfully, my sister-in-law, who is a healthcare worker, masked up and drove me (with the windows down) to the ER. Once there, the ER team figured out that what they initially thought were blood clots, was actually pneumonia caused by the COVID-19—that’s the reason I couldn’t breathe—my lungs were pretty full of fluid and pneumonia had set in.
The team at Door County Medical Center was really great, and I was able to go home and continue recovery. But, I contracted the coronavirus at the end of September, and to this day I am still affected by it. My sense of taste and smell comes in waves, and I still struggle with breathing—taking a shower and getting dressed in the morning results in me needing to sit down and catch my breath. And, I’m told there could be potential damage to my liver from COVID-19.
Your experiences with COVID-19 must have been really scary?
Katie Rankin: Yes! This whole journey has been terrifying. I can’t explain to anybody how scared I was and the feeling of being alone because you have to physically distance yourself. And even now, wondering, “Will I have these breathing difficulties forever?” or, “What is the long-term damage to my body?” I’m still very fearful of that. I’m not quite sure what the future will hold for me—I would not wish this upon anybody.
Katie Smullen: Honestly, my biggest fear was who had I exposed to the virus. I was really worried about exposing my husband. And I know kids, in general, fair well. But then, there are these rare exceptions where they don’t fare well—so there was that added fear. And, more than that, there was the daily call to my mother-in-law to check on how she was feeling…
What do you want to ask everybody—your friends, your family, and your neighbors—to do to stop the spread of the coronavirus?
Katie Smullen: One of my biggest fears is that we take the COVID-19 seriously—but not completely. Like me, if I’m being really honest, I took it very seriously, but still thought, “Oh, I’ll just say goodbye, and that’ll be fine.” And it wasn’t. It could have been really devastating. This would be a totally different interview if my in-laws had tested positive.
So, I would love it if everyone would wear a mask—that covered their nose—and hunker down. Support our restaurants by getting take-out, and do what you can to support the businesses you love in Door County, but also, we really need to stop gathering. I’d like to remind everyone that you could unknowingly give this to somebody. So, stay home and make it through—the light is at the end of the tunnel.
Katie Rankin: We all have to work together in order for this to go away, so lowering our guard and saying, “I’ve been cooped up for months now and I’ve been wearing this mask. I think I’ll go out with my friends just this one time.” That one time is all it takes, and then you could end up like me, or worse. So, I ask the community, my friends, my family, anybody, I’m begging you, as someone who has had COVID, to please just follow the protocols—follow what science and doctors are putting out there - wear a mask, keep a distance. It’s not just about one person—it’s not just about yourself.