Grace King came home to her parents in Janesville from UW-La Crosse on March 13.
Her spring break had started. It was also the day the first positive test for COVID-19 was recorded in her home county.
The family—Grace, her parents and little brother Owen—had planned a weeklong trip to Hawaii. The public knowledge of the pandemic was scant at that point. Rock County didn’t announce its first COVID-19 case until March 19.
That was the same day Wisconsin announced its first two deaths.
Grace’s mother, Sara, said Hawaii had fewer COVID-19 cases than Wisconsin at that point. She and her husband decided to go.
“Who’s to say? How do you know where you really got it?” Sara said.
They returned March 23, and three days later, Grace was running a fever.
The disease’s incubation period could be as long as 14 days, so it’s possible she brought it home from college.
Rock County statistics show 14 residents had tested positive by March 23, but Grace was not yet one of them.
The 18-year-old had the disease, but she wouldn’t know it for sure until eight days later. No one else in the King family got the disease, at least that they know of. Grace said she knows no one who had it.
“I just kind of felt overall gross,” she recalled.
She went to her doctor March 30. The county had recorded 21 positive tests by then and reported its first COVID-19 death the next day.
The doctor ordered a chest X-ray and an influenza test. The doctor’s office called after test results came back. They told her the X-ray showed “a bit of pneumonia.”
Pneumonia is an infection that clogs the lungs. COVID-19 is one of the many viruses and bacteria that can cause it.
Get the COVID-19 test, she was told.
The test was unpleasant. Once the swab encounters resistance, they push farther, Grace recalled. It made her sneeze, and her nose ran.
“I described it to my parents as a Q-tip lobotomy because that’s how far they put it in your nose,” she said.
She was given antibiotics and started an in-house quarantine in her bedroom.
She used one of the house’s two bathrooms. Everyone else used the other one. Her mother became her nurse, coming to her room wearing a mask.
“As a parent, you still have to be there to help them and give them food,” Sara said.
Sara was the obvious choice, as her husband, Aaron, was the breadwinner.
As the disease progressed, Grace was short of breath and found it difficult to do normal things.
“It got to the point that even walking to the bathroom I got really out of breath,” she said.
The fevers, sometimes over 100 degrees, continued. Dehydration was a concern.
“I was really worried,” Sara said.
Some COVID-19 patients have reported losing their sense of taste or smell. King did not.
“Everything still kept getting worse,” she said.
“So that’s when I went into urgent care and they gave me the second COVID test, and that’s when I went into the hospital,” she said.
That was April 5. The county public health department that day reported a total of 33 positive tests and a second death.
Grace’s first test came back the next day. It was negative. She was told some tests were giving false negatives at the time.
On the third day at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, her second test came back positive. The county had reached 37 positive tests by then.
Grace was moved to the COVID-19 area and put in a negative-pressure room, Sara said. And she was put on hydroxychloroquine.
The malaria drug had helped in other cases around the country, but no study had proved its effectiveness. Doctors told Grace they were not sure it would work.
A study released last week found the drug did more harm than good for a group of Veterans Administration patients.
But the five-day, twice-a-day med helped. Grace and her family noticed she perked up when she got the dose and then faded later in the day, perking up again with the second dose.
Grace said nurses had to monitor her because hydroxychloroquine can affect the heart rate, but she felt no ill effects.
“I felt really good once I started taking that,” she said.
Mercyhealth issued a statement confirming the health system uses hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients.
“This is a known medication with no major side effect that has been around for years,” spokeswoman Barb Bortner said in an email.
Grace kept in touch with her parents using a video conferencing app. They could not visit her.
Her second night in the hospital, she had trouble breathing. Her temperature shot up to 102.9. She texted her parents a photo showing her with an oxygen tube in her mouth. Her mother got the text the next morning.
“That was really scary to wake up and see that,” Sara said.
But Grace was fine. Two days later, she went home. Sara and the family dog greeted her outside the hospital.
“I wanted to hug her so bad,” Sara said, but that was not yet possible.
The doctor said she should take Tylenol and antibiotics. They advised bringing her back if her fever went over 100 or she had trouble breathing, Sara said.
But she continued to improve, and she was out of her room by Easter, Sara said. That was 21 days since she started feeling ill, a week after entering the hospital.
Grace’s experience might help the rest of us deal with COVID-19. She said she has been contacted by Promega, a biotech company in Madison, which wants her blood to help develop a test for antibodies for the disease.
Promega confirmed it is working on a test for immune response to COVID-19.
An antibody test is expected to be one of the tools health authorities use to track the virus, knowledge that could keep people—including medical workers—safer.
On Friday, Rock County reported the number of residents testing positive reached 120, boosted in part by an increase in testing. About 40 of those people have been hospitalized.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths held steady at four.
There’s nothing like clutching a capsized boat in the deep swells of the Indian Ocean with friends to discover their true nature.
Or racing across the unforgiving sands and mountains of Morocco on child-size motorbikes to discover inner strength.
Just ask Walker Richardson and Andrew Thompson.
The former Edgerton residents prefer epic journeys to rugged and faraway places with no backup, no support and no guides.
During the week, the thirtysomething men hold professional jobs. Richardson, who lives in Columbus, analyzes data for an insurance company. Thompson, who lives in Madison, works as a financial adviser.
But when it comes to travel, they don’t want anything to do with exclusive resorts or sunny beaches.
Instead, bring on the challenging waters of the Zanzibar archipelago, the unknown back roads of Sri Lanka or the wild bears of Romania while traveling in hollowed out mango trees, rickshaws or on monkey bikes.
The men have been friends since fourth grade and graduated from Edgerton High School in 2005. While they were undergrads at UW-Madison, they discovered a travel group based in the United Kingdom called The Adventurists.
The group’s founders create adventures with beginning and ending points, but they largely leave it up to the participants to find their ways in between. To make sure travelers are challenged, they use unsuitable vehicles prone to breakdowns.
Well, the founders explain it like this: Once upon a time, people had whole continents to discover. Now, satellites have scanned the entire Earth and shoved the contents into our smartphones. For some, life is too easy. People crave real adventure.
So, they offer the uncertainty of a trip that requires problem-solving with people who often don’t share your language or culture but do share a common humanity.
“For us thirtysomethings, the world has been ‘shrank’ by the internet as we’ve mapped every corner of the planet, and information travels faster than ever. So the yearning is to try and find a gap or a hole in that system and get yourself lost for a little while.”
“In my generation anyway, not many know what it is like to not have a cellphone telling them the answer to every question, or to have to leave a note for someone to buy milk, instead of just texting them, or to actually have to approach a stranger for directions or help.”
Richardson and Thompson credit a college friend, Jake Gafner, for inspiring the merry band of adventurists.
Gafner started his own business called Lost Travel Co., which created the Driftless 250. The annual canoeing, biking and paddling trip through Wisconsin’s Driftless Region is completely unscripted and unguided with sister trips across the U.S.
Thompson and Richardson pioneered the first “Drifty” in 2018 and have done other trips offered by the travel group.
“Andy and Walker are on our Board of Prospectors,” Gafner said. “We invite them on all our new trips because we want their perspective on how it went.”
Gafner, Richardson and another friend took their first leap into the unknown in the summer of 2016, when they went to Tanzania for a sailing race like no other across the Zanzibar archipelago.
They harnessed the wind in a traditional dugout canoe made from a mango tree during the Ngalawa Cup.
On the third day, huge waves capsized their boat in the Indian Ocean.
“All three of us were hanging onto the boat with waves crashing over us,” Richardson said. “All of our stuff floated away in different directions.”
Richardson called the incident “quite traumatic overall” and said that a rescue boat finding them was “like spotting a bean in a swimming pool.”
Gafner called for help on his emergency radio while straddling the hull.
“We couldn’t see land, and we weren’t sure anyone would find us,” Gafner said. “It’s the closest I’ve ever come to thinking about dying.”
Still, the men kept their cool, and Gafner complimented Richardson as “someone who doesn’t get overly dramatic about anything. He’s someone you can count on, particularly when times are stressful.”
Eventually, rescuers picked up the men, dropped them off on a deserted island and promised to be back in a few days.
The adventures did not stop there.
In 2017, Richardson and Thompson drove monkey bikes across hundreds of miles of Morocco. Monkey bikes are small motorcycles that “make any regularly sized adult sitting on one look like a gorilla on a kid’s tricycle,” Richardson said. “They also are notoriously shoddy.”
Consequently, the travelers were forced to fix flat tires with the help of local people. They also traveled up switchback roads in the Atlas Mountains in a blizzard after dark.
“The climate changed rapidly as we ascended up the mountain,” Richardson said. “Going down the mountains, there were no guard rails.”
In 2019, Richardson and Thompson made two trips with friends. One was across Sri Lanka in tippy rickshaws, and the other was around Romania and the Carpathian Mountains on the familiar monkey bikes.
Richardson always appreciates coming home to a place with a hot shower and clean tap water.
“It’s good to hit the reset button once in a while and to remember how fortunate I am to live in a place like the United States,” Richardson said. “It’s fun to bring along people and take them out of their comfort zones to see what they learn from it.”
The trips impact him professionally.
“If something goes wrong or someone doesn’t like my idea, it really isn’t a big problem when I remember there are people who have no drinking water in parts of the world,” Richardson said.
Thompson shares his sense of discovery.
It is important to get out and “see how the rest of the world works rather than taking someone’s word for it,” Thompson said. “For me, it’s always about expanding my comfort zone. I suppose it’s a little testing of my mettle to see what I can handle. These trips are not for everyone.”
He added: “I find more value in being on a motorcycle somewhere not in a travel magazine to see who the people are and how they live.”
On every adventure trip, Thompson met someone who restored his faith in humanity. On every trip when something went wrong, he found people to help. When he remembers them, they bring a smile to his face.
“I try to carry their kindness forward,” Thompson said.
He and Richardson were supposed to go to Mongolia for an epic mini-motorcycle race in September, but Thompson does not think it will happen because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When the world reopens, Thompson knows he and his friends will continue to see the planet in unorthodox ways.
He encourages people to get out and experience new places.
“Once you decide to do it, you will feel better,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of world to see.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email email@example.com.
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