It’s been about 60 days since Emily Geisler first contracted the coronavirus and she’s still taking prescription headache medication and nausea pills developed for chemotherapy patients.
Her olfactory sense is off: She misses the aroma of coffee in the morning; microwave popcorn smells like tuna salad.
The 41-year-old Pocatello title company manager is active and physically fit. Prior to getting sick, she assumed she was part of the low-risk population regarding the pandemic and it might be best to simply contract COVID-19 and build up immunity. Now that she’s endured the longest prolonged misery of her life, she’s warning people in the community to take every precaution to avoid the virus.
“I assumed I probably would get it because of my job, but I didn’t think it would hit me as hard as it did,” said Geisler, who still feels the effects of COVID-19 weeks after public health officials cleared her to end her quarantine. “I absolutely thought, ‘If I do get it, I probably won’t even know I have it.’ That was totally not how it played out.”
Geisler also aims to correct a common misconception about COVID-19 — that businesses can effectively screen for infected people by taking temperatures. In Geisler’s case, COVID-19 never caused a fever or any upper respiratory symptoms, as she recently explained during a dental visit in which the staff asked to take her temperature before a cleaning as a precaution.
Geisler is a self-described rule follower who took Idaho’s stay-at-home order seriously after it was issued and maintained social distancing to the greatest extent possible, though it sometimes offended her acquaintances.
At work, she suggested that her customers wear a mask, though she assured them it was optional and some still commented that her request infringed upon their constitutional rights.
“If what you’re doing could have a negative impact on someone else, then don’t do it,” Geisler said.
Geisler’s illness was traced back to a customer she served while working at her company’s Salmon office — despite the fact that she was wearing a mask and protected by a Plexiglas barrier.
She and another colleague in the office both exhibited their first symptoms on Aug. 1. They got tested the following Wednesday. Her colleague took a 30-minute test that returned positive results that same day.
Geisler started feeling nausea the day after she was tested, but it took a full week for her positive test results to come back. Prior to receiving confirmation that she had the coronavirus, she thought she had extremely bad allergies because she didn’t have a fever or any cold-like symptoms.
“Everything that we had been told and led to believe said a fever would be present if you had COVID,” Geisler said.
By day nine, she could no longer smell her food. She said she was in misery for three full weeks.
The oddest symptom she experienced was when the skin on her hands began to peel. A friend who is a doctor explained to her that the peeling was a result of her body trying to shed the virus and inflammation in any way possible.
Her husband developed similar symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19. He, nonetheless, suspects he got the coronavirus, though his doctor told him he likely had the flu.
Three weeks after her exposure to COVID-19, she started feeling better. Though the headaches, fatigue and nausea persist, she said every day brings gradual improvement.
In addition to the physical discomfort of COVID-19, Geisler said it took an emotional toll. She admits she felt like a leper, and she didn’t divulge her sickness to friends until she made an Aug. 19 post on Facebook. By then she was already on the mend.
“It makes me sad when people say it’s not that big of a deal. ... This could really have a huge impact on people’s lives,” Geisler said.
Geisler was one of two local COVID-19 patients featured in videos filmed and edited by Pocatello municipal staff and posted on the Southeastern Idaho Public Health Facebook page to impress upon the public the gravity of the disease.
A video featuring a third patient is in the works, said public health spokeswoman Tracy McCulloch.
“We thought it was important for an individual who has experienced COVID to share their story with the public to encourage people to follow the recommendations and guidance to prevent additional people from experiencing COVID,” McCulloch said.
McCulloch believes people who watch the videos will be surprised to learn that both case studies were previously healthy individuals, and they experienced dramatically different symptoms. She said Geisler’s story is also interesting in that it shows how long COVID-19 can linger, and that people may have it without running a fever.
McCulloch said there are 11 common COVID-19 symptoms.
“That’s what we have seen with COVID. It affects everybody different, so we wanted to show that these were healthy individuals who had COVID and continued to experience symptoms with COVID,” McCulloch said. “... We see with people their symptoms will improve but they continue. A lot of people think it’s two weeks and you’re good. That’s not the case with some individuals.
“They’re not contagious any more, but they continue to experience symptoms.”