Katherine Emmert-Kozo sums up her experience with COVID-19 in one word: maddening.
The nurse at Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center is now recovered from the illness, but a series of inconclusive tests and other complications forced her to isolate from her husband and young triplets for nearly six weeks.
“It was so difficult,” Katherine says. “I’d never imagined ever spending that much time physically separate from my family. Each day was harder and harder.”
Katherine began feeling flu-like symptoms — body aches, coughing and headaches — on March 5. At that time, so early in the pandemic, there was no documented “community spread” of the disease in San Diego. Katherine hadn’t traveled out of the country recently, so she didn’t meet the criteria for a COVID-19 test. At urgent care, she tested negative for the flu, but was advised to stay home from work for three days.
A few days later, the coughing and headache returned in force.
During a second trip to urgent care, Katherine received a COVID-19 test under newly expanded guidelines. Her doctor told her to self-quarantine at home for 14 days while she awaited the results, which took several days to get back. Katherine distanced herself from family by staying in her own room.
“My kids are 8 years old; they wanted their mom to hug them and kiss them and didn’t understand why I couldn’t do it,” says Katherine. “It was an emotionally difficult and challenging time for all of us.”
Katherine’s husband slept in the guest room and prepared all of her meals. When she did leave her room, she wore a mask and stayed 6 feet from her children. When one of her children took a fall, it was difficult not to run to him.
“As a mother, it’s my right to protect my kids, even if it’s from me,” says Katherine. “Not being able to touch them was like losing part of my body.”
Katherine’s test results were inconclusive, so another test was ordered. That one came back negative, but urgent care staff believed it was a false negative based on her ongoing symptoms. She was told to continue isolating herself.
Alone at home, Katherine’s symptoms were brutal — a crushing sensation in her chest, vivid dreams, high fevers, shortness of breath when talking, lack of energy to eat, night sweats, sore throat, massive headaches and radiating body aches.
Finally, a third test — taken nearly a month after her first urgent care visit — confirmed she had COVID-19. Luckily, her husband and children all tested negative, but Katherine had to stay away from them for another two weeks. She tried to read, journal and pray, but at times it was hard to motivate herself to do anything.
In spite of this, Katherine feels she was lucky and credits her husband and children with helping her get through the illness. She tested negative for COVID-19 on April 24, and was finally able to hug her triplets, a moment that made her feel overjoyed.
After nearly six weeks, Katherine returned to work. Although she was worried about co-workers treating her differently, she says she received overwhelming love and support.
Katherine is an advocate for COVID-19 research. She’s participating in a vaccine research study and encourages people who have recovered to donate their plasma to the San Diego Blood Bank or the American Red Cross.
Katherine still has a lingering cough and headache, and tires easily. She urges others to heed her story — stay home when possible, be safe, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
As for the future, Katherine is looking forward to enjoying the warm weather with her family.
“I’m going to hug and love on my babies and absorb every minute of it,” Katherine says. “My eyes have been opened to the fragility of life. Embrace family time, slow things down and appreciate each other.”