South Bay Resident Helen Kawahara Shares Her Recovery Experience From COVID-19

My Covid-19 story.

Soon after Los Angeles issued its safer-at-home order, South Bay resident Helen Kawahara got sick—sick enough to call 911 but not sick enough to be taken to the hospital. Helen shares what recovering from COVID-19 at home was like for her, the challenge of obtaining a test when tests were limited, and life after having the coronavirus.

How soon after Los Angeles began its safer-at-home order did you suspect you may have COVID-19?

I started having a sore throat on March 18 but did not get a fever and the rest of the symptoms until March 20.

What symptoms did you experience? 

I had a sore throat, fever, chills, body ache, cough, shortness of breath, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, lost sense of smell and taste.

When did you seek medical attention? 

I went to see my doctor on March 20. She thought it was a sinus infection and put me on antibiotics. I returned to the doctor on March 22, and they refused to give me the COVID-19 nose swab. I called 911, and they refused to take me to the hospital, stating I was a mild case and that the hospital was in bad shape.

When were you able to get tested for COVID-19? How would you describe the testing process? 

April 3 was my first nose swab, which came back positive two days later. The nose swab was uncomfortable but quick. At the time I took my test, they were still very short of tests, so it was hard to convince the doctors to [test me]. Their argument was that if they gave me a test, it didn’t change anything. So they wanted me to assume I had COVID-19 and isolate. Even if my test had come back negative, they said I could get it the next day.

“Even when you’re well, people look at you differently, as if you’re still contagious. Don’t take it personally. Educate them. I always say, “I’m the safest person around.”

Once you were diagnosed, what was your treatment plan? 

I tested 16 days after my symptoms started, so at that point I was not lying in bed wishing I was dead. But before the test I was isolated in my bedroom, and the rest of my family were quarantined in the house. My treatment plan was just rest. What else could I do?

What was your quarantine experience while recovering? 

It was a very lonely time. I watched a lot of Food Network. I couldn’t go outside my room because my husband—who was working from home—had to follow me around disinfecting everything I touched. It happened once, and then I was banished to my room until April 13 when I took my second swab test. When that test came back positive, I was isolated in my room again.

I retested on April 23 for COVID-19 for the fourth time. I also tested for antibodies, and the results in 15 minutes showed that I had antibodies. I received the test results for [the COVID-19 test] on April 25 as negative.

Did anyone else in your household test positive? 

My husband and two sons went for the antibody test. My husband tested positive for antibodies, which meant he had COVID-19 at some point. He felt a little off at the beginning of my illness, but his symptoms were very mild or asymptomatic.

My older son’s test showed positive for antibodies and COVID-19. So at that point he was given the nose swab test, which came back positive. He retested a week later and his COVID-19 test came back negative. My younger son tested negative for antibodies.

How would you describe your health today? 

Good. No lingering symptoms.

Any words of advice for those who may test positive or care for someone who tests positive with COVID-19? 

Everyone has different degrees of this illness—different symptoms. I would say there is a light at the end of the long tunnel. It was five weeks for me. Be patient and rest.

Even when you’re well, people look at you differently, as if you’re still contagious. Don’t take it personally. Educate them. I always say, “I’m the safest person around.”

For the caretakers, thank you. My husband thought I would stop breathing and checked on me numerous times at night. The poor guy was on the couch for five weeks.

It has made me think differently about being safe and staying home. I know we have to open up and get the economy going, but I think we should be courteous of others and wear our masks.