As the number of new COVID-19 cases grows daily and the Outer Cape braces for the coming wave of severe illness, now expected to peak in mid-April, two local residents who are recovering from coronavirus disease agreed to describe their alarming symptoms in interviews with the Independent this week. Their stories show the swells of both fear and kindness coursing through the community.
A recent study suggests that 40 percent of the population in every community will be infected with the virus in the next year, and 20 percent of those infected will require hospitalization. Both patients who spoke about their illnesses considered going to the hospital but decided against it.
Shoshannah DeVries-Dibble, 43, grew up in Eastham, graduated from Nauset Regional High School in 1994, and now lives in Orleans. She had traveled to Costa Rica and Vermont in the first half of March. Bob Keary, 40, a bartender who lives in Provincetown, had also traveled in early March, to New Orleans, before being sickened by an outbreak that some local residents insisted was being overhyped.
“It’s real,” said DeVries-Dibble this week as she began to feel better, “and it’s scary.”
On Monday, March 16, she had just returned from her two-week vacation and she needed to catch up on errands, but she felt utterly exhausted.
“I was worried I was getting the flu,” she said.
At first she had none of the telltale respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, but she has severe asthma. “I was petrified I would get sick,” she said. “I was Purelling everything.”
She consulted her doctor at Nauset Family Practice, who was confused, she said, by the absence of breathing difficulties. She would never have received one of the severely rationed tests for the virus if not for her high-risk status and her recent travel, DeVries-Dibble said.
During that first week, she suffered from a high fever, headaches, and joint and body aches. She took Tylenol and aspirin every four hours and lay under a weighted blanket for relief.
After a week, her COVID-19 test came back positive. The next day, the virus hit her lungs.
“It was a small dog sitting on my chest,” she said. She always keeps a nebulizer and inhaler nearby, and she needed them badly that day.
The next day, her respiratory problems were acute. A friend who is an I.C.U. nurse at Cape Cod Hospital advised her to pack a suitcase and go there.
“But I really wanted to stay home,” she said. “I didn’t want to be cared for by nurses who were caring for everyone else.”
She battled rising fear.
“By the way, if you panic with breathing problems, that makes it so much worse,” she said.
Both her children, Zoe, 21, and Logan, 19, quarantined themselves at home with her. Test results on Monday confirmed both children had it, though their symptoms were very mild.
On Thursday, March 26, DeVries-Dibble felt “a little wave of better,” and then on Friday her fever broke.
She posted her diagnosis on Facebook to warn her friends that this is real, and it can get really bad. Friends from high school remembered her asthma and called her when they heard the news.
As of Monday, she was still receiving food, medicine, and visits from friends. They spoke to her through her glass door.
“It’s like I’m an animal in a zoo,” she said.
Her doctor cleared her to go outside again on Monday because her fever was gone for several days and her first symptoms were so long ago. Her children are quarantined until April 2.
She still wonders, “How long are people going to think I’m the plague?”
From Talk to Lockdown
Bob Keary traveled to New Orleans for a friend’s birthday on March 12. While he was there, the country went from talking about coronavirus to locking down.
Keary said he watched police drive down Bourbon Street honking and telling people to go home.
“It got really scary,” he said.
Keary was among a circle of 20 to 30 people who went to different events related to the celebration. He shared a house with 15 friends; none of his travel companions has become sick, he said on Monday.
When he returned to Provincetown on March 16, everything had changed. Restaurants were serving takeout only. Though he felt fine, he and his husband decided to self-isolate and left their house only to get food or walk on the beach.
On Friday, March 20, Keary woke up with fever, chills, and body aches.
“It was sudden and it was bad,” he said.
Dr. William Shay of Outer Cape Health Services, in regular contact through phone and email, did not order a COVID-19 test at first because Keary had no respiratory symptoms. But over the weekend he started to cough, lost his sense of smell, and became short of breath.
“I couldn’t make it up and down my stairs without getting winded,” Keary said.
On Monday, March 23, Dr. Shay swabbed him in the parking lot of the Provincetown OCHS clinic.
The results came back positive Wednesday night.
“It was sort of comforting to have that confirmation, I guess,” Keary said.
Keary said he has never been so sick for so long. His fever lasted nine days. He had two days of severe nausea; he couldn’t even sip water.
“I could hardly breath,” he said, “and I had no appetite.”
A regimen of Dayquil, Nyquil, and Tylenol kept his pain down.
When the vomiting with fever and sweats got overwhelming, he considered going to the hospital. His doctor advised against it unless the fever topped 102 or “you really cannot breathe and you cannot stand up without losing breath or balance,” Keary said.
Living in Provincetown, Keary has watched as Facebook metastasized with hateful posts about second-home owners bringing the virus here and other finger-pointing.
“I have sick friends who are afraid to say anything,” Keary said. “And I thought, this isn’t right. You shouldn’t feel afraid to admit you’re sick.”
He hoped that by posting about his own illness, people’s better natures would emerge, and they did.
“Everyone — year-round and part-timer — offered to help,” Keary said. “That to me is really Provincetown. Not what you’re seeing on Facebook.”
Devin Sean Martin contributed reporting to this article.