Three cases show variety of impacts of ‘invisible enemy’
By Randy Keck
The Community News
The numbers for COVID-19 continue to climb in Parker County and in Texas. From July 2 to July 8, Parker County’s number of confirmed cases increased 52 percent from 304 to 464.
Statewide, the number jumped 25 percent as 44,587 new cases were reported for a total of 220,564. (Note: The Community News provides daily updates on COVID-19 at www.facebook.com/The-Community-News-Covid-19-Information-106199201150855).
While increased testing has contributed to the increases in reported cases, testing does not account for the increases in hospitalizations seen in metro areas of the state. Some hospitals have reached their COVID-19 capacity.
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mandated that all Texans in counties with more than 20 cases wear masks.
“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another.”
The challenge posed by COVID-19 is that it has a wide range of effects. Some who contract the virus have no symptoms while others can potentially die from it.
The Community News spoke with three people who have or had COVID-19, and the three cases reveal differences in the way the virus affects individuals.
Shawn Callaway is the executive director of the Aledo Education Foundation and serves as the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board.
Callaway attended a chamber board meeting on June 24 and woke up about 3 a.m. on June 25 with chills, body aches, and a slight cough.
“I thought I was having allergies and some allergic reaction to something, so I got up and took some Tylenol and a Claritin and went back to bed,” he said.
Callaway’s symptoms subsided, but out of caution, he was tested on Monday, June 29. On Wednesday, he and his son Cameron started the drive to West Point, where Cameron is a cadet.
Callaway thought he was suffering from allergies when he received the phone call telling him he had tested positive. At that point, he and Cameron were in Washington, D.C.
“I’m supposed to quarantine by myself until (July 13). Cameron called West Point and talked to his tactical officer. He told him to come in early,” Callaway said. “It’s the weirdest thing. He sat next to me in the car in the passenger seat and we drove two 11-hour days to West Point. When he got there, he was tested and he was negative. Nobody else in my family is sick. It just seems to be me. I have no clue. I was not around any large gatherings or anything like that, so I don’t have a clue where it came from.”
Callaway said he had a minor cough with no discharge that would indicate infection.
One symptom of COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell, but Callaway said he has not experienced the loss of either sense.
“It’s more to me like an iron taste in my mouth,” Callaway said. “You know, if you ever get a tooth pulled or you get hit in the mouth and you bleed a little bit, and then the taste of the blood kind of has an iron taste to it. It’s real minor like that. I’ve been reading since then, like 45 percent of the cases being tested right now are asymptomatic.
“Beforehand, I was very paranoid because you know, I’m overweight, in that age category so I was very nervous. I’m very thankful that it has been very mild. So I don’t take it for granted.”
Callaway was supposed to visit with a cousin in Connecticut on the trip but decided to cancel that visit when he learned he had COVID-19.
“They are doing everything they can up there because they have seen so many people that she was close to that have passed away,” he said.
Callaway said there is a difference between “playing defense” to keep from getting the virus, and having it.
“You definitely feel like a leper to some extent. West Point was very clear, I mean, when we pulled up there, like, do not roll down the window. They took Cameron straight to the hospital, and he got out and I was escorted off the post. I was not welcome to be there for any length. So you kind of feel like a leper, which I totally get, and people need to wear masks because you never know. You can have it. I obviously had it for four or five days and didn’t even know I had it.”
Ryan Newsome was a star receiver for the Aledo Bearcats in the class of 2015. He went on to play football at Arizona and is now a youth pastor there.
Newsome was back in Texas in March to participate in marches that occurred in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
He thought he might have been exposed to the virus during the marches in Fort Worth or Aledo, but his doctor told him that was not necessarily the case.
“The doctor said, ‘Mr. Newsome, it really doesn’t work that way. There could have been a lot of potential places where you could have gotten it.’”
The doctor said he could have picked it up at the gas station, grocery store, or from someone he knew.”
“You can never really pinpoint where you actually got it unless somebody you know actually has it, and then you come in contact with them,” Newsome said.
Newsome said he had symptoms of strep — in addition to fever and body aches, he had a very sore throat.
“It got so bad I just ended up checking myself into the hospital (going to the emergency room).” The hospital tested for strep and COVID-19, but both tests came out negative.
“I was like, ‘okay, well, how do you explain the 102 fever? You know, I mean, chills, sore throat, and all of that’” he asked.
“And then the next day, my symptoms got worse, for I couldn’t breathe,” Newsome said. “So I headed back to the hospital (Harris Southwest). Because it got that bad. I also had loss of taste and smell — I could kind of deal with those symptoms, but when it comes to my breathing, I can’t play about that. And so I had to go back up there because it was tough for me to catch my breath. Like, I really couldn’t breathe well on my own.”
While he got almost immediate attention on his first visit, he spent a couple of hours in the ER waiting room the second day, but when the staff saw him he was immediately isolated.
“They just put me in a room by myself and I was in there for hours, and it was cold. I felt like they were doing the best they could, but for whatever reason, kind of like they were really nonchalant about everything. So I had an issue with that because my mom, my dad, and my wife, they couldn’t come back there to see me,” Newsome said.
A blood test came back and confirmed that Newsome did have COVID-19.
Newsome said his mom was leery about the negative result the day before and advised him to go ahead and quarantine himself.
“My mom worked at Walgreen’s for 30 years — she was a pharmacist there,” Newsome said. “So she knows just about the whole everything going down. So she said ‘just quarantine yourself,’ so I did that anyway.
“I care about people a lot, so if I see people dying, you know, I’m gonna quarantine myself. I’m not gonna be in contact with nobody,” Newsome said. One of the things that was disquieting for him was knowing there was no treatment.
“As humans, we’re just so used to having medicine at will, or there’s over-the-counter meds or whatever. But you don’t have the liberty to take anything when you have COVID — you literally just have to wait it out, because I was asking the doctor what can I do — it was like pretty much nothing. As humans, we’re not used to hearing that. You can’t do anything for this sickness — it’s not the flu, it’s not mono, it’s not strep throat — it’s none of that. So I was forced to sit there for 14 days and wait it out. That frustrated me.”
Newsome said he had trouble swallowing when he had the illness.
“I felt lightheaded,” he said. “I’m trying to swallow when I’m sleeping. It’s too painful. So I just sat up, you know, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I lost my appetite. So I was really weak. And I lost 8-10 pounds.”
Newsome grew up with asthma, but the need for inhalers subsided as he got older.
He got an inhaler during his bout with COVID-19.
“I used my inhaler, and it didn’t work, and that’s when I got scared. Because of the shortness of breath, it’s like it’s a part of the virus, so it’s not like it just goes away,” he said. “So when it didn’t work, that’s when I started panicking.”
Back in Arizona now, Newsome was asked if he had any words for his friends back in Texas.
“I just want everybody to be safe and I want us to go back to normal just like the next man, but at what cost? If I see people dying now, I’m not gonna take that risk. You know, people are saying it’s like the flu— it’s not like the flu. That’s one thing I’m trying to tell people, it’s not like the flu.
“I’ve had the flu before, plenty of times when I was younger. I’ve never lost my sense of taste or smell. And I’ve never been able to not catch my breath. But that was not a part of the symptoms that I had when I had the flu.”
Newsome said that, like many in his age group, he didn’t take the virus seriously at first.
“I’m only 23 — I’m pretty healthy,” he said. “And so I was one of those people, probably a month ago or two months ago, where I saw stories and I was like it was another testimony. People saying ‘take it seriously.’ And it just went over my head — it went in one ear and out the other. It was so sensationalized in my mind. But then I ended up getting the virus. So it definitely humbled me.”
Clay Russell graduated from Aledo High School in 1998 before attending the University of Texas at Arlington. On July 5, 2003, Russell and some musician friends took the big plunge and moved to New York, seeking careers in music.
Among his songs and albums that can be purchased on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon is “Willow Park Will Always Be My Home.”
In addition to his music, Russell works at Rockefeller Center. “So yeah, I’ve run into Al Roker getting lunch more times than I can count,” he quipped.
“I started to feel ill on March 31,” Russell said. “I started to feel achy and had a cough — something that I found out later, which was kind of eerie is, when you have a cold and you cough up mucus — with this, I was coughing up something that was clear, which I’ve later learned was pieces of your lungs while parts of your lung are dying off, which is kind of incredible. I initially knew something was wrong right there. And then within four days, you are completely fatigued. I remember for a solid four or five days I had to sleep with a beach towel underneath me because I would wake up every day and it would be soaked in sweat — it was just awful.”
Russell also doesn’t buy into the “it’s just the flu” scenario.
“People keep saying it’s just a bad version of the flu, and I’ll tell you right now, it’s definitely not the flu,” Russell said. “I’d never been sick like this before. When you do have the flu or a cold or even food poisoning, you kind of get all the symptoms at once, and then it eventually goes away. The thing with this that I remember as I was suffering through it, is it almost felt like this thing is testing your different body systems to see what’s vulnerable.
“You start off achy with a cough, and then that suddenly goes away and you go into fatigue and night sweats. And then you wake up and that goes away. And then I went through about five days of a constant headache with a complete loss of taste and smell and you can’t necessarily eat. So I went about five days without eating. And then right when you think it’s over, you know, I woke up and didn’t have a headache and thought that it was over, but then I realized that I couldn’t take a deep breath.
“I’d never been through something like that — I felt like it was just going through phases. I consider myself to be healthy. As a healthy 40-year-old I was shocked at how much this thing floored me.”
Russell said there was some information he kept from his parents in Willow Park to keep them from panicking.
“My downstairs neighbor was found dead from it,” Russell said. “And I imagine I probably got it from him, you know, touching the doorknob from the building. This was about a week into my symptoms and I was starting to take a dive and I still remember hearing my neighbor’s brother screaming when he discovered him. And the paramedics showed up. And just to show how surreal this was, they showed up and declared him dead and then had to leave his body in the apartment for the rest of the day because they didn’t have time to take bodies to the morgue.
“It was so bad in New York, they had to go to other emergencies to try to save lives. I’ll never forget at 11 o’clock at night just staring out the window because you couldn’t do anything else. And just seeing a rental truck. The city didn’t have enough vans for the morgue so a Hertz rental truck pulled up in front of my building to take his body away. It was something that I’ll never forget. And hopefully, no one in Parker County has to see what I saw.”
Russell said New York has learned lessons that he hopes will save lives in Parker County.
One warning he gave was about the lower death rates as compared to the outbreak in New York.
“Supposedly you have it for two weeks before you feel symptoms,” Russell said. “So you’re spreading this thing to people for two weeks. After two weeks, you have about a week to two weeks of going through all the symptoms before it gets bad enough where you need to go to a hospital. And then when you get to the hospital, it takes about another month before it actually kills you.
“So, the fact that Parker County only has one death at this moment — I hope that’s not a false sense of security for people because it is about a month process from the time that somebody goes down to this thing before it gets to the point where they need to remove the ventilator.”
In one experience that mirrors some other cases, Russell said that two days after his symptoms started on March 31, he did not feel sick.
“That second day, I assumed that I just had a cold because I felt fine,” Russell said. “There’s actually a photo of me walking around the street on day two with COVID-19 jumping up and down because I’m fine. And then, 24 hours later, I couldn’t get out of bed. It took about 16 days from the time that I started to feel bad until the time when I was convinced that I was recovering and not getting worse.
“I fully understood how this can kill so many people because as a healthy 40-year-old, it knocked me down for 14 days, and you’re just exhausted — you haven’t eaten for four or five days, and you’re exhausted all the time. Apart from anything else — apart from the respiratory problems and breathing and all that, it just wears you down.”
Russell said the only lingering effect of the illness to his knowledge is that he gets styes in his eyes.
“I’d never gotten these, and in the past month and a half since I recovered I’ve had four of them.”
He also pointed out that within a two-mile radius of his home, 134 people have died of COVID-19.