Martha Mitchell, one of Danville’s COVID-19 survivors, is grateful to be able to tell her story.

Mitchell, 72, didn’t have the usual symptoms of the virus, so at first, she didn’t suspect that was why she was feeling so badly. She had also been staying at home with only her husband, Jimmy, for almost three weeks before she became ill.

“I called them the first day a positive case was announced in Danville and told them they were not allowed to leave home,” said their daughter, Michele Holt, a registered nurse. “I told them they needed to be careful because my dad is being treated for bladder cancer.”

But then Mitchell, who runs a clothes closet for children at Fairview United Methodist Church, went to the church to get clothes for three families who needed them. She said she came into contact there with someone who was not aware yet they had the virus.

Then three days later, March 29, she started feeling bad.

“I had had back surgery a year ago and thought that was why my legs hurt. I could hardly walk,” Mitchell recalled. “But I never had a temperature or a cough, so it didn’t occur to me that I had COVID.”

She laid around for a week and was not getting any better. By that time, she knew her friend had tested positive and she had been exposed.

Getting sicker

On April 3, a Friday, she called her doctor and asked if she should be tested. She told him she felt like she had a sinus infection. She still did not have a cough or a fever. She later lost her sense of smell and taste, but those had not yet been added to the list of COVID symptoms.

The doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic, felt she should be tested but didn’t know where that could be done on the weekend.

On Monday she went to an urgent care facility and tested negative for influenza. She asked for a COVID-19 test and it was done. Two days later, the facility called and said it was positive.

“By then I was so sick I can’t really remember much,” she said. “I did go lie down in the front of the house so the rescue squad could get in easier.”

Holt said she met the rescue squad out in the street and they were in full protective gear, having been told her mother had tested positive.

Treated like Princess Diana

“The care was excellent,” she said.

Mitchell said she felt like she was being treated like Princess Diana as she was transported to Sovah Health-Danville on April 9.

“When we got to the hospital, I was put on a bed and they started in on me. My RN never left me,” she said. “I’ve had cancer surgery and back surgery, but I had never been this sick. When you can’t breathe, you are fighting for each breath.”

She continued to get worse and told the staff she was too sick to make any decisions and for them to go through her daughter.

“She got worse after admission and felt like she had an elephant on her chest and was diagnosed with pneumonia,” Holt said. “She didn’t have to be intubated though, and was given a trial medication of azithromycin plus hydroxychloroquine.” Being intubated would mean going on a ventilator, a machine that basically breathes for a patient.

Then two days later, Mitchell started feeling better and began to beg to come home.

She said she could have looked the world over and not gotten any better care than she got at Sovah.

“No one came into my room who didn’t treat me so great. No one was afraid to be in there,” she said. “And the nurses would just pat my hand.”

Holt said she would call her mother in the hospital, but she was so short of breath that Holt would tell her not to talk.

“Not being able to be there with Mom was the hardest thing,” Holt said. “But I will always be appreciative that there were nurses standing there in the gap for me. They were always there. The doctors and nurses would call every shift to update me on her, and I never felt like they were rushed. They always asked if I had any questions and that was comforting.”

A strong faith

During the time Mitchell was hospitalized, her husband was by himself at home, but he said he wasn’t afraid.

“It was more anxiety,” he said. “I knew how serious it was, but I have a strong faith so I was trusting in the Lord. I did a lot of soul searching when I was here by myself day and night.

Then he laughed and said he also was a phone operator during that time with so many people calling to check on his wife.

“There were wonderful people taking care of Jimmy,” Mitchell said. “Our son-in-law and his friend took care of him, and we feel like we have a new son. Some things you will never forget.”

After a week in the hospital, she was able to come home on home health care. She didn’t even realize Easter had come and gone.

She had to stay separated from her husband for 14 days, which he said, “Seemed like 14 months.”

“I had a hard time with my strength coming back. Last week I felt like I had run a marathon when I was doing a load of laundry in the basement,” she said. “But on [May 12] I finally didn’t have any shortness of breath.”

Her husband said that he is glad this time is over.

“I was a medic in the Army. I never went to Vietnam, but I knew somewhat what to do for her. I was not afraid. I was just in the midst of it and tried to do the best I could,” he said. “It was such a gut-wrenching time.”

Mitchell is getting back to her normal life, starting to cook again and go to the grocery store. On her first trip to a store though, gloved and masked, she got upset so few people had masks on.

Her husband knows she’s getting well too.

“She’s starting to give a lot of orders,” he said with a laugh.

The couple celebrated their 51st anniversary May 11.

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at or (434) 791-7991.

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at or (434) 791-7991.

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