Recovered: county’s first COVID-19 case gives firsthand account

By Dave Taylor

Cheryl Gammon made headlines as the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Hancock County, but now she’s making them again as the first confirmed recovery from the virus in the county.

Gammon, who retired this year from the county school system, was diagnosed in late March but was given the all clear on Monday of this week, a bit of good news in a flurry of panic over the pandemic.

“I’m much better,” Gammon said Monday morning. “Still a little weak but over the worst.”

She’s been quarantined in her home in Hawesville with her husband George, who had to take time off of work at Century Aluminum to be quarantined too because of his exposure.

For all of the fear over the virus, Gammon said her experience, while not good, wasn’t as bad as the panic would suggest.

“That first week, I won’t lie, it was rough,” she said. 

She said there were one or two days that were the worst, and the rest of the time she was just worn out.

“I still every now and then I’ll gasp for air, but that’s just where my lungs have been weak,” she said.

That exhaustion was her first clue to something being wrong.

“I think it was the last Tuesday of March my husband went to work and he tried to call me and text and I didn’t answer,” she said. “I was on the couch with a fever and just feeling awful. So he left work to come and check on me and had to shake me to get me awake.”

They called her doctor in Owensboro and had a video chat, after which Gammon was scheduled for a drive-thru test in Owensboro that Wednesday for a swab to her nasal cavity.

Then Saturday her positive result came back, but she was already self-quarantined at home by then.

No one can say for sure how long she’s had the virus, but Gammon wonders if it was longer than some might think.

“To be honest I think I’ve been working on this since November,” she said. “My mother passed away on March 5 and we’ve been through a lot the last eight years with her with a stroke and I was just taking my tiredeness as just being worn out. 

“After we got her buried and I got home it’s just like my body stopped,” she said. “That’s when I knew no, something’s not right.”

After testing positive, she and her husband simply had to stay at home and send the health department their symptoms and temperatures each day.

Otherwise, she said, her experience with having the virus wasn’t that much different than those who are trying to avoid it.

“You know, just sit here watching TV, take naps,” she said. “If I felt tired I just laid down on the couch and rested for a while and then I was fine.”

The treatment was about the same. 

“No medicines at all. You just had to wait it out,” she said. 

Gammon said she was healthy before getting the virus, which she believes helped her overcome it, and the distancing she used at home meant her husband never got it.

“We literally didn’t touch at all,” she said. “He had one bedroom and I had the other. I stay on the couch and he probably is eight foot across the room in the recliner.”

Although she’s been given a clean bill of health now, she’s still following the same guidance as the rest o the public, staying home for another week or two, until her husband goes back to work on April 13 and to just give more time for people to understand that she’s recovered. 

“I’m not going to get out in stores because I know people are panicking,” she said. “I know when people see me they’re going to run the other way, and I understand that.”

While no one can say for sure where or when she contracted the virus, Gammon thinks it must have had something to do with her mother’s funeral, because on Monday her own sister in Irvington tested positive for the virus too.

“She wasn’t feeling good at the funeral and I felt OK,” she said. “I could’ve got a little bug from her and my immune system was down and I caught it.”

Luckily Gammon can walk her sister through what to expect for the next two weeks or more.

“Her symptoms weren’t as bad as mine,” she said. “Hers is more of a cough where mine was more weakness and breathing.”

“She’s just got to stay inside now and take care of herself,” she said. “I’m sure that she’ll take three or four weeks and get herself back in shape and be where I’m at.”

Gammon said that unlike normal illnesses, her positive test for the coronavirus made her the center of attention, but not always in a good way.

“That Saturday when they said we have one case in Hancock County and it started spreading that it was me and everything, I felt like I was kind of like oh no, here we go,” she said. 

“We had some people to contact my husband with a few questions and it’s almost like they threw you under the bus at first because they were scared. I wanted to say just educate yourself with it and you’ll be OK. Stay away from me and I’ll stay away from you and we’ll be fine,” she said. 

But some of the attention was good, with people dropping off food and stopping by to, at a distance, ask how she was doing.

“I have found out there’s some good people in my area,” she said. “When the going gets tough they’re there for you. They might not be able to come right up to your face but they’re there for you.”

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