Covid stories... Area residents’ experiences range from no symptoms – to death
The covid-19 pandemic continues to impact Ozark County with increasing numbers of cases occurring. While only one “official” death has been reported to the Ozark County Health Department, postings on social media have reported the deaths of other Ozark Countians who had active covid infections.
In nearby counties, these covid deaths have been reported since Sept. 21 – a little over five weeks: Baxter (Arkansas), 8; Howell, 33; Taney, 3; Douglas, 4.
These positive covid cases have been reported during that time: Ozark, 112; Baxter, 302; Howell, 972; Taney, 686; Douglas, 186. (For the last week’s statistics, see the covid dashboard at left.)
Last week’s Times included the stories of three Ozark Countians who had survived the virus: Brenda Miller, Rhonda Suter and Melanie DeWeese. This week, we share eight more stories from individuals and families who have been hit by covid. Their experiences range from no symptoms at all – to death.
The Miller family: taking symptoms seriously after a loved one’s death
Gainesville pre-school teacher Brandi Miller was getting in the car to head to school with her two younger children, Libby, 7, and Brayden, 12, one Monday morning recently when Brayden started complaining about the berry-scented hand sanitizer his younger sister had just opened.
“Libby! That’s overwhelming. You have to stop,” Brayden demanded.
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Libby replied.
“That berry smell! It’s overwhelming,” Brayden repeated.
“I can’t smell it,” Libby answered.
Smelling the strong berry scent herself, her kids’ conversation stopped Brandi cold. She got out a container of the strong-scented essential oils she uses. “Can you smell this?” she asked Libby.
“No,” Libby said.
Brandi immediately called her husband, Larry, who was driving to his job with Uchtman Masonry. “Libby has no sense of smell,” she told him.
Larry immediately turned around and came home, and Brandi and the kids went back into the house. Larry had been working on deer stands out in the woods all weekend and had what he’d thought was his usual case of fall allergies, plus some mild achiness. He reached for the Vicks VapoRub and sniffed. Nothing.
“I can’t smell it,” he said, sounding worried. “Do you think it’s covid?”
It’s not surprising that the Miller family responded with such seriousness to two members’ loss of their sense of smell. It’s one of the most common symptoms of the covid-19 virus, now spreading around the globe – and throughout Ozark County – at pandemic levels.
A few weeks earlier, their family had experienced a heartbreaking loss due to covid.
Larry’s dad, Donnie Miller, 75, was admitted to Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains on Sept. 2 for colon cancer surgery. Before being admitted, he had a negative covid test. The doctors believed the surgery successfully removed all the cancer, but there were complications during Donnie’s recovery from the operation, and he remained hospitalized several days. Due to the hospital’s covid restrictions, only his wife, Beverly, could visit for a couple of hours. She was there every day.
On Sept. 12, Donnie was taken by ambulance to Cox South Medical Center in Springfield, hoping doctors there could determine why his recovery from surgery wasn’t going smoothly. Before being admitted, he was again tested for covid. The next day the results came back: positive.
He was moved to the hospital’s covid floor, and even though he was exhibiting no symptoms of the virus, covid treatments were immediately started, Brandi said. On Monday, his colon issues seemed to be improving, but his oxygen was dropping. Doctors tried a machine called a “B-Pap,” hoping his breathing would improve without a ventilator, she said.
Meanwhile, Beverly had had a positive covid test. She lost her sense of taste and smell, but otherwise had mild symptoms. She was quarantined, though, unable to leave their home in Gainesville. Brenda Brown, Beverly’s daughter, was also quarantined due to her contact with Beverly, but Brenda tested negative twice for the virus.
On Tuesday, Donnie’s condition deteriorated, and doctors said he had to be put on a ventilator. “But he’s always been adamant about his family,” Brandi said. “He told them they couldn’t put him on the ventilator until he called Beverly.”
The doctors and nurses – who Beverly said were “wonderful” – helped him make that sad call. “And that was the last time anyone was able to talk to him. He died Thursday, Sept. 17,” Brandi said. “It was very hard. When you think of loved ones going to the hospital, knowing they might pass away, everyone rushes to the bedside to say their good-byes, but we couldn’t do that. None of us could be with him.”
That’s why, on that morning a few days later, Larry and Brandi were so alarmed when covid symptoms appeared in their family.
Brandi immediately headed to West Plains with Libby, where they both had rapid tests that came back positive. Within another day, the rest of the family, including Brexton, 18, a student who commutes from home to Missouri State University-West Plains, had all tested positive for the virus.
With their loved one’s death on their minds, Brandi and Larry were fearful about how the illness would impact their family. Fortunately, they all came through it with few problems. Libby had no symptoms other than the lost sense of smell. Larry had mild, flu-like symptoms and the continued achiness, and he also lost his sense of smell but not taste. The rest of the family had virtually no symptoms at all, Brandi said.
Knowing how bad it could have been – and how bad it had been for their family, “I really feel blessed the way it happened,” Brandi said. “If it hadn’t been for Libby losing her sense of smell, we would have gone on to school, and Larry would have gone to work, and Brexton would have gone to West Plains, and we would never have known we had it. And look at all the people we would been in contact with.”
Jerry Crownover: A lingering cough, but fine now
Popular syndicated columnist and former Ozark County resident Jerry Crownover also feels lucky that he had a mild case of the virus and recovered quickly with no lasting effects.
Jerry was apparently exposed to the virus in early August while he attended auctioneers school in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was in the same room with 24 other students 14 hours a day for eight days straight.
“On the night of the fourth day there, I began to experience alternating bouts of chills, followed by sweating,” he told the Times in an email. “I thought I just had a summer cold because the people that run the school were taking our temperatures every morning at 8 when we arrived, and every afternoon at 2 when we returned from lunch. None of us ever recorded a fever.”
But when he got back home to Everton, he got an email from the auctioneers school, advising all former students to be tested because one attendee had already tested positive.
Jerry’s test came back positive too. “Since I met four of the underlying conditions (old, fat, diabetic and heavy smoker) that are supposed to lead to death, I’m surprised that I lucked out with only mild symptoms,” he said in his email.
Through calls and emails, he learned that more than half the class had tested positive, with most having the same mild symptoms Jerry experienced. “Only one young man complained that it was severe for a couple of days, but even he was never hospitalized,” he said.
“In no way am I trying to minimize the danger of the disease,” Jerry said, “but I also want to reassure people that everyone who gets it is not going to die. I was quarantined for 10 days and, as far as I know, I didn’t spread it to anyone back home. I had a lingering cough for about a month but seem to be perfectly fine now.”
His wife, Judy, never showed symptoms of the virus, he said.
Brenda Warren: ‘I just sat and bawled’
Like Larry Miller, Brenda Warren thought she had seasonal allergies when her first mild symptoms occurred. “One afternoon I had a dry cough, a tickle in my throat. The next day, I was stopped up. I didn’t feel good, but mold was high in the county, and mold always does that to me,” she said.
Then a friend from her church, Mammoth Assembly of God, called to say she had tested positive. They had been near each other at the church’s Sunday service. Brenda had a rapid covid test the next day, and it came back positive. For four or five days, her symptoms were pretty mild. “Then I lost all sense of smell,” she said. “I didn’t lose taste as much as smell, but sugar and salt were the only things that tasted good. Coffee was bitter, and nothing tasted right.”
She also had nausea and diarrhea, and next, the fatigue hit. “I spent 12 days in my recliner, just lying around,” she said.
About the time Brenda thought she had turned the corner and was getting better, she developed “horrible back pain,” she said. Even the weight of her clothes seemed intolerable.
One night, she was coughing so much she couldn’t catch her breath and thought for a while she would have to go to the hospital. But eventually she felt better and managed to stay home. Another night “after nine or 10 days of thinking it would turn around and still being sick, I just sat and bawled,” she said.
Her husband, Sam, thought she was scared. But that wasn’t it. “I was mad,” she said. “I’ve never been one to get sick and stay sick, and there I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. I was just miserable.”
Brenda said she “prayed hard” that her elderly mother, Maxine White, who lives next door to them, wouldn’t get the virus. And she didn’t. “I thank God for that,” she said.
Somehow, Sam didn’t get the virus either – at least he never tested positive for covid. “I don’t know how he didn’t get it, because our recliners are side by side, and I coughed all over that man. In fact, he felt really good most of the time I was sick – which was annoying,” she said.
Carl Kruger: recurring dreams, weaker memory
Working at the Lost Woods Golf Course in Theodosia on Sept. 4, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Carl Kruger wasn’t feeling great but didn’t really feel sick either. Still, knowing covid was spreading in Ozark County, he went to the Theodosia Medical Clinic for a test.
Unaware that the standard recommendation is to quarantine while waiting for covid test results in case it’s positive, Carl worked at the golf course on Labor Day weekend and went about his normal life.
Then, on Tuesday, the clinic called with the test results: positive. His boss at the golf course sent him to the Burton Creek Clinic in West Plains for a second, rapid test, and it, too, came back positive.
Carl immediately went into quarantine, following the instructions of the Ozark County Health Department, which advised him to notify people and businesses he had visited over the holiday weekend. That meant calling the Antler and Smokin’ Joe’s restaurants and Town & Country Supermarket in Gainesville. A receipt from an out-of-town gas station had the business’ phone number, so he called it too.
His symptoms were mild: a low-grade fever, brief loss of his sense of taste and smell, and some on-and-off headaches for six or seven days. “I took Tylenol once in a while for headache, and I didn’t sleep well,” he said. “My dad was always big on vitamins, so I took vitamins A, C and D.”
He stayed as active as possible during his quarantine, he said, and took walks in the evening “when no one was around” – but also spent a lot of time on the couch.
Now, a month later, “My body feels great,” he said, “but I’ve had some recurring dreams – not nightmares but the same dream again and again, and my memory just isn’t the same. Nothing bad, but I’ve noticed that sometimes I just can’t remember things I should be able to remember.”
Gene and Penny Britt: ‘We dodged the bullet’
Like the Millers, Gainesville residents Gene and Penny Britt and their family felt lucky to have had covid without getting sick. “We dodged the bullet,” Gene said last week.
Penny tested positive “but had no symptoms at all – nothing,” said Gene. “I was a little under the weather for a couple of days. I didn’t get tested, but the health department wanted me to quarantine because of contact tracing, so I did.”
The Britts’ daughter, Aspyn McCanless, and her husband, Lain, who live north of Branson, also had relatively easy experiences. “After testing positive, Lain had a little fever for two days and didn’t feel good. He worked from home for his job with Robbins Nest Media but then bounced right back.”
Aspyn had no major symptoms, Gene said. “The hardest thing was, she was out of school for four weeks because she had to quarantine with her husband, and then when she got ready to go back to school, because of the way things worked out, she needed to quarantine another two weeks. After those four weeks were over, she had to be tested, and she tested negative”
Their daughter Ally, who lives in Springfield, has had no symptoms.
The Britts’ daughter Abby, a para-professional in the Gainesville preschool, was tested at Burton Creek Clinic in West Plains on a Saturday in September after she lost her sense of taste and smell. The test came back negative. But Burton Creek nurse practitioner Marti Warden told Abby her loss of taste and smell were classic covid symptoms, and because Abby works with small children, Marti advised her to be retested the following Monday. That test came back positive.
The loss of smell and taste remained Abby’s only symptoms – but those losses continue. Now, nearly two months later, she still has no sense of smell or taste.
“She said it drives her crazy,” Gene said.
Bonnie Peter: Suddenly coming back to life after being at death’s door
A go-round with covid was not what Bonnie Peter needed so soon after breaking her leg in four places in June while hiking on the Appalachian Trail with her daughter. But during the first week in September at the Ozark County Health Department, where she works as a registered nurse, Bonnie started feeling “off.”
“I had a headache all day and a little congestion in my throat that sounded like a dry, hacky cough. By 7 that night, I had hard chills; I got under five quilts. And then I had high fever. It would go up, up, up. It was 101.8 a lot of times. For the next 15 days, I had fever,” she said last week.
A week into her illness, she had a “virtual visit” with nurse practitioner Starla Smith, who Bonnie said was very helpful. “By that time my chest felt heavy; I had developed fluid and then a cough. I could not expand my lungs, so I had to breathe more frequently. When you take 20 respirations a minute, that’s a lot. I was doing 30,” she said.
Smith ordered a nebulizer treatment, which improved Bonnie’s breathing. She also recommended that Bonnie have a chest x-ray in the OMC emergency room. It showed pneumonia. She advised Bonnie to go to a hospital and tried to get her pre-admitted at Mercy Hospital, but Mercy refused and said Bonnie had to come in through the ER.
Bonnie did go to the Mercy. But that didn’t go well.
“I thought at first they were going to take care of me. After a while they put me in a large waiting room. It kind of looked like a shed they drive ambulances into. It was very cold and uncomfortable. I sat there in a wheelchair for six hours, feeling pretty alone and isolated. A nurse did eventually bring me a blanket,” she said.
After about six hours, she was taken to a patient room, and after another wait, a doctor came in – “and he chewed me out for being there, basically,” she said. “I felt attacked. I felt bad for being there. I didn’t feel welcome at all.”
Among other things, the doctor asked Bonnie, “Why are you really here?”
When she told him she had covid, “He told me, ‘That’s is the first thing you should have said!’ I told him, ‘I came in seven hours ago to your ER and told them I have covid.’” She also told him a previous nurse practitioner had seen pneumonia on the x-ray.
The doctor fumed, “We don’t admit pneumonia here. We’re too busy.”
Bonnie continued, “And your nurse just left two minutes ago, and I told her I have covid. So it’s in my chart.”
Bonnie told the doctor she’d “been led to believe covid pneumonia was a scary thing.”
He seemed upset that she hadn’t had a chest x-ray, but Bonnie told him that had happened soon after she arrived at Mercy. The doctor left the room and came back after seeing the x-ray. “It looks like what we always see with covid, and your lab work seems fine. I’m going to discharge you,” he said.
Bonnie was too sick and frustrated to argue. “Just send me home,” she said.
The nurse took out the IV in Bonnie’s arm, but Bonnie took off her own electrode-monitoring patches and pulse-ox sensor. While she’d been taken in a wheelchair to the treatment room, she had to walk herself through the hospital corridors to the exit and outside to the pickup, where her husband, John, had waited in the parking lot since they had arrived seven hours earlier.
Back home, she felt worse that night and the next day. “I was extremely weak. I couldn’t eat. I drank ice water. I lost taste and smell and had no appetite. People would say, ‘Let me make you some soup.’ But that’s the last thing I wanted – soup. I did try a little chicken soup once, and I thought, ‘I’ll never eat chicken again,’” she said.
Describing her time with covid, Bonnie said, “You’re absolutely tired – the weakest and most tired you’ve ever been. All you can do is walk from one chair to another chair, or from a chair to bed, or get to the bathroom.”
At one point a few days later, Bonnie went to the Gainesville Medical Clinic. “I saw Dr. Henegar out in the parking lot. I trust his diagnosis, and I wanted someone to physically listen to my lungs – something you can’t do in a virtual visit. He did that, and he said, ‘Well, you’ve got crackles.’ Then he had the nurse draw labs to make sure I hadn’t shifted into bacterial pneumonia,” Bonnie said.
When that issue was ruled out, Henegar told her, “You’re just going to have to tough it out.”
On Sept. 18, Bonnie suddenly started feeling better. “You come to life after being at death’s door up to that point. It happened suddenly,” she said.
But even though she’s more than a month out from her covid experience, Bonnie still has some lingering issues. Like Carl Kruger, she said, “I do not remember as well as I did before. Covid makes your brain fuzzy.”
Also, “there are certain things I can’t smell or taste as vividly. I think that’s another brain thing,” she said.
She hopes those problems resolve themselves. She’s thankful that her energy level is “about 90 percent back,” and she’s happy to be walking and working again.
Even though her husband, John, was her caregiver, he had a negative covid test and never developed symptoms.
Jenny James and son Jasper: ‘He didn’t know what the big deal was’
Covid hit 12-year-old Jasper James suddenly. “He was with his dad (Heath James) pouring concrete with a neighbor. On the way home, he fell asleep in the truck,” Jasper’s mother, Jenny James, told the Times. “Heath sent me a picture and said, ‘I wore him out.’ I said, ‘Is he sick?’ and Heath said, ‘No, just tired.’ But I knew if Jasper falls asleep that fast in the truck, he’s sick.”
When Heath and Jasper got home, “I could tell Jasper had a temperature,” Jenny said. Sure enough, when she checked it, it was 100.4.
“Then, the next day, he lost his taste and smell. I probably wouldn’t have had him tested if it wasn’t for that,” she said. She did have him tested, and it did come back positive.
Jasper’s symptoms remained mild. “He didn’t know what the big deal was,” Jenny said. “But he had to stay home for almost two weeks. He didn’t like that.”
Last week, Jenny tested positive for the virus too. She lost her sense of taste and smell and “had a little bit of cough and congestion. Mainly extremely tired and bad headache and body aches. Occasionally a stomachache,” she said in a message to the Times.
Her husband, Heath, she said, has had no symptoms but has been in quarantine while she and Jasper had the virus.
Pam and Eddie Ogden: “At first, I was so sick, and he had nothing’
While young Jasper James “didn’t know what the big deal was” when he had covid, Pam and Eddie Ogden had a far different experience. On a Saturday at the end of August, they both starting feeling unwell. But other than being really tired – “You wouldn’t believe how tired we were!” Pam said – each of them had different symptoms.
They had rapid tests at Burton Creek Clinic in West Plains on Sept. 1, a Tuesday. Both came back positive.
“Eddie had more cold-like symptoms at first, but I started out full-blown, with body aches, headache and low-grade fever, and my back would hurt,” Pam said. “I didn’t have any appetite. I didn’t lose taste and smell, but food tasted terrible. Even Sprite tasted bitter. I even broke out in hives on my legs one night. I was up all night long – and I was miserable at night trying to sleep anyway. “
Meanwhile, Eddie was still feeling like he had little more than a cold.
Their daughter, April Britt, told Pam later, “Mom, you were acting like you were aggravated at Dad.”
“But at first I was so sick, and he had nothing,” Pam said last week, laughing.
Things changed on Sept. 7.
“I started feeling better, and Eddie took a turn for the worse,” Pam said. “He started running a fever. He would chill. And then, 30 minutes to an hour later he would be sweating. That went on for two days.”
The next day, Tuesday, Sept. 8, “He got up and had a dry cough, and he couldn’t hardly walk from one room to another without losing his breath,” she said. She had called some medical clinics in the area, asking if he could be seen there. “But they said if he’s already tested positive he needed to go to an ER. So I took him to the ER at Cox,” she said.
Their daughters April Britt and Tina Henry wanted to drive them up there, but Pam insisted she could do it herself. April had already had covid and had been very sick with it, Pam said, “but she’s a schoolteacher, and I didn’t want to keep her from going to school.” Tina is a nurse at an Ava medical clinic, and of course they didn’t want to expose her to the virus in an enclosed car. (The Ogdens also have a son, Derek, who lives in Kansas City.)
At Cox South in Springfield, Pam walked into the ER with Eddie and helped get him signed in. “I’ll bet there were 35 people waiting, all in a big area. They did have everyone spaced out. I said, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ But Eddie, even as sick as he was, joked about it. He said, ‘Look at it this way: We can’t get it. We’ve already got it,’” she said.
After Eddie signed in, “they made me go back out to the car,” Pam said. “I kept calling him and saying, ‘You OK?’ And he would say, “Yeah, I’m fine.’”
She stayed in the car the rest of the day. “It was a nine-hour process between when we got there about 1 that afternoon until they called me and said they were admitting him,” Pam said. “They said the x-ray showed he had covid pneumonia, and his oxygen was in the 80s.”
As Pam drove home late that night, the hospital staff “kept calling and giving me updates,” she said. “They started treating him right away with dexamethasone. Thank goodness Eddie didn’t have to be put on a ventilator.”
In last week’s Times, covid survivor Brenda Miller described spending three days in a covid ward at Cox South with 25-30 beds lined up along the walls in each of two big rooms. But Eddie was put in a semi-private room on the covid floor with just one other patient.
He responded quickly to treatment, and the next day, Wednesday, he was moved from the covid floor to a regular room in a medical department.
Pam drove back to Springfield Thursday. To convince hospital personnel she was safe to visit Eddie on the medical floor, she carried a note from the Ozark County Health Department confirming that Sept. 10 was her last day of quarantine. She spent the night in a motel, and Eddie was discharged to go home, with a portable oxygen device, on Friday, Sept. 11.
Now, six weeks later, Eddie’s still recovering from his illness but is still using occasional oxygen, Pam said. He operates a mowing service during the summer, and now “he tries to get out in the yard and do stuff,” she said, “but he has to come in, just worn out. He’s doing better every day, though. He just has to take it slow.”
Like other Ozark Countians who’ve experienced covid, the Ogdens are thankful to have survived it. “We were always cautious because we knew we are in that older age group, and it scared us. We were real careful,” Pam said. “Everywhere we went we wore masks, except at church.”