At the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, Katie Klatt, a nurse on a COVID-19 infection control team, received the news that she had contracted the virus herself. “I wasn’t too surprised,” Katie said. “I kind of knew, but the actual confirmation was a little bit scary. It was early on so no one in the US really understood how bad it was.” A healthcare professional, Katie’s background includes working as a PICU nurse and she had just moved to Boston to pursue her Master in Public Health at the Harvard Chan School. Now fully recovered, Katie is a patient participant in a COVID-19 antibody clinical study. This is her story.
Katie contacted her primary care physician when she started having symptoms. “I was treated in two different ways. The first week I was seen via telehealth, and that was literally the same week that so many medical professionals and patients were turning to that option. My doctor was retiring, so I didn’t really have anyone following me. The onus was on me to check in and report my symptoms.” At the end of the first week, Katie was advised to be seen in person, at an urgent care clinic. However, being symptomatic, she could only be seen at the urgent care if she was a previous patient. Being new to the area, this was not the case. Her only other option was to go to an emergency room.
“At first, I didn’t think I was sick enough to go to the ER. I didn’t want to take an Uber and infect anyone else and I was too tired to ride my bike. So I waited until the Tylenol kicked in and walked 40 minutes to the hospital. At the emergency room, they were really well set up. When I walked in, people started to call ‘Rule out!’ which means a COVID-19 patient is entering the area, so people started to move away from me as I passed by. After I was seen, Security escorted me out the back door to protect other patients and staff,” Katie said.
The hospital pharmacy was closed, so Katie was handed a paper prescription to have filled elsewhere. Even though she was wearing a N-95 mask her mother had sent to her a few weeks before she got sick, Katie realized that she should not enter a store. She was also concerned about handing the paper prescription to a pharmacy technician. Katie called a friend who met her at the pharmacy with a clear plastic sandwich bag. She dropped the prescription in it and her friend brought it inside and had it filled.
In addition to having COVID-19, Katie also had a sinus infection. When she was diagnosed, Katie knew what to do. “Stay at home, isolate, hydrate and rest,” Katie stated plainly. “As a healthcare provider, we tend to minimize our own complaints because we’ve seen so much worse, so my view of it was skewed. Having a 103 degree temperature for 10 days, it was almost like I got used to having the chills and feeling exhausted constantly.”
Katie socially isolated from her roommates, staying in her room and only entering the kitchen when they were not present. “I had the presence of mind, despite the high fever, to clean everything I touched – that’s from my nursing background. I’m happy to say my roommates didn’t get the virus.” Family and friends sent care packages and checked in with phone calls and texts which helped buoy Katie’s spirits.
A few days after starting medication, Katie began to rapidly recover. She attributes this, in part, to being a lifelong athlete, playing in Australian and Gaelic football leagues. “When I got COVID-19, I lost about 10 pounds in a week and I lost a lot of my fitness. When my taste started to come back, I was able to eat more and work towards regaining my fitness.”
Katie is using her experience with COVID-19 to assist others. “A friend of mine who is a nurse told me about a clinical study, so I registered for it. The purpose of the study is to monitor levels of COVID-19 antibodies present to see how long they last in a recovered patient’s body. It’s a two-year commitment.” On a monthly basis, Katie’s blood is drawn and analyzed. Currently, she has not been notified of recent results and she hopes to be informed soon.
In her role as a nurse on the COVID-19 infection control team at Boston Emergency Medical Services, Katie shares her story with EMTs and paramedics who have been exposed to or have contracted the virus while treating and transporting patients. “This is an isolating disease,” Katie explained. “Not having a stigma attached to it is important. It helps them when I explain what I went through when I was sick.”
When asked if she is concerned about contracting COVID-19 again, Katie said “I probably should be. I have reached the same fatigue that everyone in the world has now, around COVID-19. It’s hard to maintain that level of high alert. But I am being careful, more for others than for myself. I wear a mask everywhere, even when I am running outside. I do it because I don’t want anyone else to get it.”
Katie cautions others to be just as vigilant. “Just because we’re opening up, it’s not over. Wear a mask to protect yourself and others. Keep talking about it so that people don’t forget.”